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Michael Hsu Office of Architecture
As many prepare to transition back to the office, it would be safe to conclude that things will not “go back to normal.” With a long list of requirements for businesses looking to get back in-house, it can seem dreadful to coordinate one’s office space in compliance with the seemingly countless precautions. However, this recent time has introduced a new need for spatial experts, a role architects have filled for centuries. Today, we are seeing more firms embrace a role as a consultant in contrast to a more traditional designation as “designer.” Firms are stepping up to capitalize on workplace expertise, informing and guiding clients to fruitful re-opening strategies. Moreover, architects themselves have also been planning their return-to-office strategies, many of whom have communicated their thoughts with us, as we will share in this article.

In this piece, we’ll look at some insights from the industry concerning the return to work, reviewing the new research done by a handful of practices. We will also explore what a number of architects are planning for their internal teams in the coming months and what strategies they are preparing to employ upon reopening their studios.

Novel Research for Novel Times

While many firms have endeavored to address the spatial challenges we’re facing during this time, the research and insights of three practices will be explored to provide a taste of the type of work the industry is participating in to tackle what lies ahead. Think of it as a small sample of a much bigger picture.

The Reimagined Workplace

With the rising need for creative ways to rethink the workplace, architecture firms have stepped up to offer resources to help with the new environmental needs at work and have also embarked on new research tackling the issues we face today when it comes to shared space. International architecture and design firm Woods Bagot is a great example. The global practice has taken this time to reimagine how the workplace can be designed and used by occupants. “The WFH experience will see HOME forming an extension of the WORK more so than ever. The challenge is how to execute this while ensuring organizations have physical time together to build their culture,” the group writes in its white paper titled Where do we work from here?.

In the paper, Woods Bagot outlines four case studies created to explore possible future approaches to designing the work environment. The firm believes that most organizations will likely adopt some form of two or more of these four models. Model 1 is the Culture Club which imagines the office as a “collaboration hub” where focus work is done from home and people only travel to the office when there is a need or preference to collaborate physically with colleagues. Imagine a kind of club vibe, but for creative collaboration.

Model 2, also known as In and Out is an approach building on the idea of “agile working.” This is where people decide how, when, and where they work, which would be executed with aspects such as flexible start and finish times, shared spaces, and remote working. The idea is to de-densify the office space since personnel will be using the workplace on a kind of rotating basis. This is a combination of staff working from home and in the office allowing for more floor area in-house due to the decreased headcount.

Model 3 is what the group is calling Community Nodes; essentially a decentralized HQ where people work in a smaller satellite, community-based office closer to their home. A distributive method, this approach addresses the reduced desire to use public transportation and plays off the Culture Club model in that the central HQ functions more as a collaboration hub with focused work occurring at one of the satellite offices.

Finally, Model 4, dubbed Collectives, is a modified version of a co-working space. Collectives cohabitate the same space but are separated into studio-sized “neighborhoods” with shared amenities. Woods Bagot admits this approach is a bit “flawed” as it relies heavily on increased cleaning and hygiene regimes, requiring a high level of operational discipline from users of the space.

Resourcefulness is Key

Architects have naturally recognized the need for coherent thinking when it comes to proper spatial execution when returning to work. In response to that realization,
Perkins and Will, Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, and Arup Group develop scalable solutions for increased testing capacity within high-density and under-served neighborhoods.

n response to the urgent need for more widespread and rapid COVID-19 testing, Perkins and Will's New York studio — along with its Denmark studio Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, and in partnership with multi-disciplinary design group Arup — has designed a plan to retrofit out-of-use school buses into mobile testing labs. The plan is scalable, quick, inexpensive, and easily replicated for worldwide adoption.

As the world battles one of the worst global health crises of recent memory, public health experts agree that insufficient testing and significant lag times for test results are limiting the ability to treat and track the spread of the virus. Additionally, around the world, under-served, lower-income and homeless populations are being disproportionately impacted, both economically and medically, by COVID-19 and face greater challenges in accessing testing and treatment. Mobile testing labs would help address these existing inequities, reduce the risk of contamination en route to or at a larger medical facility, and put to good public use a fleet of currently idle school buses nationwide.

"While no one is immune to the COVID-19 virus, testing and treatment is not a level playing field. It is the under-served communities, including lower-income and homeless populations, that need our urgent help at this time," says Mariana Giraldo, architect and strategic planning specialist in Perkins and Will’s New York studio. "We wanted to harness the expertise of our interdisciplinary team to help those in need during the crisis. We believe the mobile testing lab is a scalable and accessible solution to close the gap on testing in our home, New York City, and across the world."

The concept of the COVID-19 mobile testing lab was informed by Perkins and Will’s expertise in science and technology, healthcare, urban planning, planning and strategy, and IT. The firm’s Denmark studio, Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, lent expertise specifically in industrial design. And the firm’s Innovation Incubator program, which awards research grants to staff seeking design solutions to real-world problems, allows the team to continue enhancing the plan, even today.

The team identified seven key parameters to guide their design process: equitability, mobility, accessibility, speed, flexibility, ease of implementation, and scalability. Retrofitting under-utilized school buses into testing centers met the team's criteria, offering a solution that could be adopted on a national and potentially even global scale.

"As we've been closely watching the evolving circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, we've had the opportunity to look at the international response and learn from other countries," says Giraldo, who conceived of the idea with Enlai Hooi, an industrial designer with Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects.

“While the concept of widespread testing is at the forefront of many countries’ efforts to curb COVID-19, there remain substantial inequities of access to testing that we are attempting to address in this approach,” says Hooi.

Perkins and Will based the layout of the mobile testing lab concept around the newly-approved Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 test, enabling vulnerable populations and isolated groups to be tested and receive their results within minutes. Ideally, individuals would be referred to the mobile testing lab through doctors and appointments would be made through a mobile app, so that crowds could be controlled and social distancing rules adhered to. Of course, given the testing solution’s emphasis on equitability, smartphone access or a referral from a doctor is not a pre-requisite and everyone is welcome to sign-up.

Upon arrival, individuals are greeted by technicians behind a plexiglass shield underneath a canopy. Following a brief check-in process, the technician would take a sample using a swab from the individual's nose and/or throat. Their samples would then be labeled or barcoded and brought into a lab environment on the bus via a pass-through box.

The labs would host two technicians who would run the samples collected through the ID NOW rapid testing instrument. Once results are received, they would be recorded and uploaded to the federal government's official database. Tested samples and the
We began 2020 with the same unbridled optimism with which most new years start. Then our world was unexpectedly turned upside down by coronavirus. In a matter of weeks, we went from a thriving economy, and record low unemployment and vacancy rates in the U.S., to a world nearly shut down by a global pandemic. At the time this article was written, there were more than 450,000 confirmed cases globally, with the numbers increasing daily by the thousands and a world marked by social distancing and quarantines.

And still, the story is not one of all doom and gloom—nitrogen dioxide levels over China have dropped since the mandated quarantine, marine life is returning to the waterways in Italy, and families across the world are forced to slow down and enjoy family dinners, game nights in, and more quality time together.

Yet on the A&D front, business is anything but usual. As an industry that thrives on creative inspiration and human interaction, we’ve been forced almost overnight to transition to a near-complete remote existence.

So, as we tread forward, ThinkLab would like to share insights to help your team transition. Much like our typical research approach, we couple our firsthand knowledge of the topic with crowdsourced information to distill succinct insights as to how to make this easier on you and your team. Here are some thoughts and newfound silver linings in our current scenario from a team that has been 100 percent remote since inception.

Recognize the physical transition is just the tip of the iceberg.

While it is natural to focus on things like ergonomics, good lighting for our newfound affinity for video calls, and other tools to do our job, the physical transition is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also a mental adjustment when you have to completely (and quickly) reframe your workflow from in person to digital as well as—in this instance—a very real underlying emotional one.

While our team has been working remotely since its inception in 2015 (and thus the physical and mental transition is near nonexistent for us), we have had to recognize and acknowledge intense emotions caused by this rapid transition. But after seeing your CMO call in from his daughter’s Frozen 2 bedroom, interruptions from 2-year-old “coworkers,” and the joy of “furry roommates” now on work calls, perhaps this will serve to rehumanize the work experience in the end.

Remote work for designers: Actually, we can!

As part of humanizing, we are also hopeful this makes more room for flexibility for the dual-working families, hobbyists, and empty nesters that love to travel but also love to work. In the past, we were told that our industry couldn’t exist remotely. After all, the creative process feeds on interaction with peers. But in a few short weeks, we’re proving the naysayers wrong, and in a very positive, productive way.

As one designer shares, “Management’s typical excuse for not allowing work from home is that the work needs to be done in the office because of team collaboration, software availability, and keeping an eye on people working. I’m happy to say that we are blowing all of those misconceptions out of the water! Now they don’t have a leg to stand on, and I’m hoping it will lead to more flexibility industry-wide.”

While the thought of a digital product preview or an online client presentation may have been unheard of in the past, today it’s the only way we can keep business moving. And we are taking notes along the way, with the hopes of implementing some real change for our industry’s method of working after the dust settles. We just hope the immersive part of this transition doesn’t scare people away from the idea of flexible remote work.

The biggest shift in remote working is transitioning from owning your time to owning your results.

While many focus on where time is spent, we suggest instead focusing on agreed-upon deadlines and timelines, then ensuring those deliverables are hit.

And while it’s natural for employers to be worried about the underperformers getting their work done when they are not physically seen, our advice is to instead worry about burnout. In scenarios like these, it’s oftentimes your type A’s you may want to worry about most. In this uncertain time, these workers often resort to their job as a sense of relief and
Clarus, the industry leader in glassboard innovation, has provided Clarus™ Healthboards to Seattle Puget Sound VA Medical Center in rapid time to help the site build out their COVID-19 clinic. In this current health crisis, healthcare workers on the front lines administrating care need to reduce bacteria transmission in every way possible in an effort to provide clean, sterile environments for patients.

Clarus glassboards are essential in hospital settings to enable critical communication between doctors and patients. More importantly, healthcare settings require non-porous, anti-microbial fixtures and surfaces to adhere to the strict sanitation requirements. In a recent study, Clarus glassboards outperformed traditional whiteboards, proving that even after extensive bacteria exposure, the boards were fully sanitized to a food-grade safe level.1

"At Clarus, we are passionate about what we do, and we are passionate about helping others and making a difference whenever we can. Every day, we support the healthcare industry by manufacturing glass-writable surfaces that are non-porous and easily disinfected," said Marc Mansell, CEO at Clarus. "You can imagine the amount of coordination and communication taking place today in hospitals around the world as healthcare staff fight COVID-19. When my team heard about the VA hospital challenge, they eagerly jumped into action. It's one of the great things about having your own manufacturing capabilities – our team took this request, produced it within hours, and had it immediately on its way to the people that needed it. I'm very proud of the team and how they responded. We're all eager to support our healthcare professionals in any way we can in this ongoing crisis."

Clarus™ Healthboard is an innovative glass dry erase board that's designed specifically for the demanding needs of the current healthcare industry. Clarus is working with key hospital supply chain, procurement and purchasing professionals to deliver durable and anti-microbial Healthboards, directly to where they are needed most.
The mass work-from-home experiment imposed on us by coronavirus could finally force companies to embrace remote working, says Tom Ravenscroft.

Like many companies around the world, Dezeen has closed its offices and all of our staff are now working from home. We made the decision at the end of the week before last, as the coronavirus outbreak in the UK worsened. In the absence of government guidance, we decided we were not comfortable asking people to come into the office.

At a company meeting to explain the move to the team, there was unanimous agreement that sending everyone home was the right choice. Twelve days later, social distancing is now part of our collective vocabulary and working from home has become the new normal.

The Dezeen staff are part of the world's largest-ever work-from-home experiment. The coronavirus outbreak is the most dramatic disruption to office working culture in our lifetimes. Companies across the world are being forced to embrace remote working and the digital technology that supports it.

The dawn of the internet threatened to revolutionise the traditional office, as near-instant communication promised to free large numbers of people to work from wherever they wanted – by now I definitely should be editing Dezeen from a beachside location. By 2020, slogging to a physical office and back was meant to be a thing of the past; instead, everyone would be "telecottaging", as we quaintly called it in the noughties.

The coronavirus outbreaks have now forced many companies to stress-test working from home at its most extreme

But despite leaps in technology, the office has stubbornly refused to retire. Twenty years after the internet became ubiquitous, while many companies (including Dezeen) have introduced degrees of flexibility, few office workers telecommute on a daily basis. Disrupting long-held working patterns has been limited by both technology and corporate inertia. There has been a fear of the disruption that working from home might cause, effectively slowing its adoption.

The coronavirus outbreaks have now forced many companies to stress-test working from home at its most extreme. Where some businesses were resistant to a single team member telecommuting for a single day, they are now coming to terms with having the entire team working from home indefinitely.

And as many of us are learning, working full-time from home is possible. Of course, at least in these early weeks, it is far from ideal. At Dezeen, a largely online company that is seemingly perfect for a digital transition, the move has been expectably strained.

We have lost the immediacy of face-to-face communications. Conversations that should take seconds have been stretched out over minutes on Slack, ideas and instructions are being lost in translation within emails and we are all talking over each other in Google Hangouts. My own productivity is definitely suffering. The relative, calm of the office has disappeared. Concentrating amid constant cat and baby distractions is tough. Like many, I am now rotating between working in bed, at the kitchen table or in my garden shed-cum-office, which doesn't have WiFi. While all good options, none is ideal.

We are finding ways to make working remotely work

However, as a team, we are learning. And next week will be easier, as we begin to develop personal and company-wide systems to understand how to work most efficiently in this unprecedented environment. We are finding ways to make working remotely work.

Certainly, there will be hiccups and barriers to smooth remote working and technology is not quite up to the task. Internet speeds and variability make downloading large files troublesome, remote server access is a pain, and teleconferences often have a frozen person. There is the constant worry that, with everyone else working from home too, internet services will become overloaded.

But the experiment will force innovation, driving investment and improvement. It will force teams to better understand distance working and try things that were previously thought to be impossible. Joining a meeting remotely used to be a novelty; this week our 15-person editorial meeting happened in a Google Hangout without any major issues. Next week's full-team meeting will be even more efficient.

Once the world returns to normality, remote working will no
As laboratory designers, we want to shed light on a subset of our population critical to protecting us from, and preventing the spread of, severe outbreaks: public health researchers.

Written gratitude does not feel like enough at this moment, but we want to start this piece just by saying THANK YOU to the research teams around the world. You are true heroes in a time when we need you most.

Many of the researchers who work in disease testing, prevention and treatment within the U.S. work at institutions like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and state-, county- and city-run public health laboratories. The U.S. is fortunate to have some of the best biocontainment laboratories in the world.

For those unfamiliar, biocontainment laboratories are where various pathogenic organisms and agents (i.e., viruses, bacteria or toxins that produce a disease) are held and studied in a highly controlled and isolated environment. A “biosafety level” (BSL) is the level of the biocontainment precautions required to isolate dangerous biological agents in an enclosed laboratory facility. The levels of containment range from the lowest biosafety level 1 (BSL-1) to the highest level 4 (BSL-4). In the U.S., the CDC specifies these levels. BSL-1 and -2 laboratories often house research with low-to-moderate risk, while BSL-3 and -4 laboratories handle pathogens with serious or lethal risk.

To keep researchers safe and performing at their best in the midst of pandemics like COVID-19, these laboratories focus on optimizing three key elements: primary containment, such as personal protective equipment and equipment housing infectious materials; secondary containment, such as the overall quality of the laboratory facility; and a relentless adherence to safe microbiological procedures that align with the design of the laboratory.

Thankfully, specialized biocontainment facilities are designed to support very intricate processes and to reduce the potential for errors and accidents that could jeopardize progress. The following are a few elements you will find in many biocontainment laboratories that allow public health researchers to work effectively, efficiently and safely in times of crisis.

During a crisis, outbreak, or natural disaster, public health laboratories are critically important to our communities and must remain operational. To ensure that facilities can sustain operations in such an event, risk assessments of the primary building systems and structures are routinely conducted. A good risk assessment includes an evaluation of these systems beyond the first potential mode of failure.

For example, a back-up generator is extremely valuable when there is a loss of power distribution. What if, however, the generator fails or runs out of fuel? The secondary evaluation would include consideration of multiple generators, prioritization of laboratory facility electrical loads and a reliable source of fuel. For one state’s public health laboratory design, we enlisted the support of that state’s National Guard to deliver diesel fuel to the laboratory as a back-up if normal fuel delivery were suspended.

Primary containment consists of biosafety cabinets, centrifuges (a machine with a rapidly rotating container that applies centrifugal force to its contents, typically to separate fluids of different densities), and in some cases, personal protective equipment. These elements act as the first line of defense between the infectious materials researchers work with and their own personal safety. It is essential for every laboratory to have an adequate quantity and quality of primary containment equipment to handle routine procedures and to accommodate operation at surge capacity in the event of an outbreak.

The laboratory itself and associated utility systems provide the secondary containment, which contributes significantly to laboratory workers’ protection and safety. A few secondary containment design strategies follow:

One way to foster safety and reduce human error in laboratories is to automate processes. Robotics support material washing, high-throughput screening, sample storage and solvent distribution. Another process that has highly effective automated solutions is decontamination. Portable and built-in vaporization systems decontaminate containment suites, thereby supplementing more labor-intensive deconta
Grafton Architects
Dublin firm Grafton Architects has designed a timber research centre for the University of Arkansas' architecture school, which will mark its first project in the US when complete.

Grafton Architects, which is led by 2020 Pritzker Prize winners Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, and local firm Modus Studio have designed the building for the school's campus in Fayetteville.

The team was announced last week as the winners of a competition for the Anthony Timberlands Center for Design and Materials Innovation project, organised by the university's Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design.

The design comprises a timber construction with a zig-zagging roofline that staggers down from approximately six stories at its highest height to one level in the rear.

A render shows the wood construction will be left exposed inside, with skylights bringing in daylight.

"The basic idea of this new Anthony Timberlands Center is that the building itself is a story book of timber," said Farrell. "We want people to experience the versatility of timber, both as the structural 'bones' and the enclosing 'skin' of this new building."

The university building will be used for timber and wood design initiatives within the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design. It will serve as the home for a new graduate programme in timber and wood design, and house the school's design-build programme and fabrication technologies laboratories.

"The building itself is a teaching tool, displaying the strength, colour, grain, texture and beauty of the various timbers used," Farrel added.

Grafton Architects and Modus Studio's design was approved by the university's board of trustees after a committee and an external evaluation team selected the team ahead of six finalists.

The shortlist was chosen from 69 firms that entered the competition and included Copenhagen firm Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter and Tokyo firm Shigeru Ban Architects were among the shortlist.

"The selection of Grafton Architects, in partnership with Modus Studio, for the Anthony Timberlands Center project immediately magnifies the already immense significance of the Fay Jones School's current and future initiatives in the further development of timber and wood innovation for the state of Arkansas," said Peter MacKeith, dean of the architecture school.
Moriyama & Teshima Architects
Toronto-based architecture firm Moriyama & Teshima Architects has unveiled renderings for the new Honey Bee Research Centre, a state-of-the-art research and education facility for promoting honeybee health and awareness that’s slated for completion next month. Developed for the University of Guelph, Ontario College of Architecture, the new center will not only host scholars and researchers, but also welcome visitors of all ages from around the world to its multifunctional Discovery and Learning Space. The project’s mass-timber architecture is reflective of its sustainable mission and will target LEED Gold certification.

The Honey Bee Research Centre (HBRC) spans 19,200 square feet to include research and events programming both inside and out. The building will seamlessly blend into its natural landscape with an accessible green roof featuring a trail that leads to an Interpretative Tower, a public space that doubles as a solar chimney. Inside, the adaptable building will emphasize flexibility to adjust to the needs of the center for years to come.

“Designed to high energy performance and LEED Gold standards, the mass timber HBRC will be a demonstration of sustainability, reinforcing the importance of climate change and its relationship to the vital role of honey bee health and well-being,” the architects explained. “The facility will utilize passive design techniques and features such as natural ventilation, a high performance envelope and mechanical systems, and landscape features such as rain gardens and a green roof system.”

As a research center and home for honeybees, HBRC will host working hives and agricultural plots. To further the notion of a “productive and social landscape,” both the rooftop and surrounding grounds will be planted with pollinator-friendly flora and edible gardens to sustain “Pollinator Pathways” for local species such as bees, butterflies, birds and more, while providing attractive gathering spaces for employees and visitors alike.

With more than a third of the U.S. already ordered to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and millions of others opting to remain put, editor Wanda Lau has compiled some of the best free technologies available to help your business function during the outbreak.

To help flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections, you and your staff ideally have made the rapid transition to remote work by now. As ARCHITECT contributor Evelyn Lee, AIA, wrote in “Maintaining Business Continuity with a Remote Workforce,” ensuring your staff has access to the right software is essential to making the new work setup viable. Because many firms and institutions maintain licenses on specific in-house workstations, several software developers are offering free additional seats, extended trial runs, and more.

Below, ARCHITECT has compiled a list of technologies and tools that are currently available for free; we will add to this list as we learn of more. After all, the pandemic is stressful enough without having to worry about software licensing.

CAD and BIM Software

Designers can get free access to this global tech company’s cloud collaboration products—including BIM 360 Docs, BIM 360 Design, Fusion 360, Fusion Team, and AutoCAD Web and Mobile—by signing up for an Autodesk product trial at the company’s website. “We know this will be an imperfect experience in some ways but … our goal is to give [users] access to this program as quickly as possible. Leveraging our existing product trial experience on Autodesk.com is the most effective way to do this,” notes CEO Andrew Anagnost in a post.

The Columbia, Md.–based developer is increasing the number of existing customers’ E Series license activations by one, allowing them to use its software on two machines simultaneously, according to the company’s website. Vectorworks is also offering free entry to several virtual training courses until June 30.

The Budapest-based developer of ArchiCAD has introduced free 30-day emergency licenses to help users access the software while working remotely. Users need an active ArchiCAD 17 or newer license and an internet connection, writes CEO Huw Roberts. To request an emergency license activation code, users must contact their local Graphisoft partner. Graphisoft is also offering 60 days of free access to BIMcloud, which helps remote teams work together in real time.

Ideation, Presentation, and Enhancement Tools

The maker of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and much more is giving students free, in-home access to Adobe Creative Cloud in place of their schools’ in-classroom licenses through May 31, according to CEO Shantanu Narayen. The company is making its web-based PDF services free through May 31, and its Portfolio and Talent platforms free through May 15. Creative Cloud and Document Cloud team and enterprise customers in Adobe’s Value Incentive Plan (VIP) now have an extended grace period of 60 days to renew their subscriptions.

The New York–based developer of its eponymous iOS app, for everything from ideation to augmented reality visualization, has extended its free-trial period of Trace Pro and Board Pro versions from three days to one month. Trace Pro is a sketching tool enhanced with CAD capabilities while Board Pro enables interior designers to assemble and present mood boards and palettes. The deal will be offered "until the world 'dust' settles," co-founder Toru Hasegawa says.

TestFit CEO Clifton Harness announced that his team of computational designers is ready to assist firms that are designing temporary health care space in response to COVID-19. TestFit is a generative design tool that runs test fits of multifamily units, office spaces, and neighborhoods in seconds—or faster.
Rapt Studio
Architects and designers in U.S. cities under siege talk about how they are running their practices from a distance.

As more cities and states follow California’s lead in shutting down nonessential businesses, and as San Francisco, Boston, and Cambridge halt most construction projects, design firms are lucky that the nature of their work allows them to continue on remotely—albeit with some anxiety about the pandemic’s anticipated economic fallout. We talked to principals at some firms in the hardest hit areas to learn how their working arrangements have changed in response to the crisis.

Mark Jensen, principal of JENSEN Architects, a 25-person firm in San Francisco

Between Bay Area traffic, which has prevented people from driving anywhere, and flex-work policies that allow staff to work from home, we’ve been doing a lot of remote meetings already. A couple of weeks ago, we did some advance planning by working with an IT consultant to give everyone remote access to our server from their laptops or home computers. To collaborate with each other, we use Zoom and Google Hangouts, and then with clients, we use their choice of videoconferencing platform.

We’re only a week in, so I can say that it’s been relatively seamless so far. But I think we’re going to start to miss real “face time” pretty quickly. We all know that in terms of communication, email is terrible. Voice is better, and in video you can see smiles and frowns, but there’s still body language and nuance that you’re missing. There’s the chance of miscommunication.

David Galullo, CEO and chief creative officer at Rapt Studio, a 75-person firm with offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York

We’ve always had a pretty robust work-from-home policy and are constantly working remotely with partners anyway, so it hasn’t been a reach for any of our staff. But now that all 75 people are working from home, there’s been an interesting shift. You see someone’s personal life in a way that you don’t see at the office—one person is in a 500-square-foot apartment all by themselves and are feeling cabin fever, while other employees are at home with two children that they’re supposed to be homeschooling while they’re trying to work. Instead of being homogenized into the company culture, they’re seen as individuals plugging into the team.

It’s amazing how quickly we’re adapting. On Monday, we had our all-hands meeting with 75 people dialing into Zoom, and by Tuesday there was a “digital lunch” set up. It’s a Zoom meeting where you can have lunch and connect with your coworkers. People are missing those informal connections that they had in the studio. We’re also playing with developing meeting backgrounds in Zoom. The idea is to eliminate the distraction of different backgrounds and create more cohesion for the meeting. So if you have five people in a meeting, you send out the background with the meeting invite and everyone has the same one. [Editor’s note: One of Rapt’s backgrounds can be found at the top of this post.]

These are early days and very strange times. I think there’s going to be a huge shift in the workplace. Clients have grappled with working remotely for years, and this is the first global-scale exercise in what it looks like. I’m excited to see what comes out of this.

Stephen Yablon, principal of Stephen Yablon Architecture, a 15-person office in New York City

It’s a work in progress, but things are going much better than I expected. We just had a collaborative design session and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to do it completely online. I’m not 22 years old, so I’m not as adept at some of these tools. We used WebEx to put up AutoCAD and Revit drawings and sketch over them. We were all able to throw out different ideas and make decisions.

Remote construction administration is more challenging. We have four projects under construction, and they’re all at the beginning, which is a very labor-intensive time. We’re doing construction meetings with the contractor and client representatives remotely, which is pretty easy to do. The field visits are still happening, but we’re doing them in the middle of the day, during the sparsest traffic times, and taking precautions like bringing our own helmets to the site. All the submittals are being sent to the project architects’ homes, so they have to find space for all these large samples of materials and products in their homes. One
Electrical Training Alliance
Construction labor unions have scored a major regulatory victory as the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s long-awaited final rule on apprenticeships retains the construction industry’s exclusion from new “industry-recognized” training and education programs for those seeking to enter its workforce.

That exclusion had divided the construction industry, with the building trades and some specialty-contractor groups supporting it and two of the largest contractor associations opposing it.

DOL says that the overall aim of its new rule, announced on March 10, is to expand the use of apprenticeships in industries where such training programs aren’t greatly used.

To achieve that goal, the regulation calls for allowing companies, industry groups, educational institutions, unions and other entities to set up and operate Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs).

Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said in a statement, “This new rule offers employers, community colleges and others a flexible, innovative way to quickly expand apprenticeships in telecommunications, health care, cybersecurity and other sectors where apprenticeships currently are not widely available.”

The Labor Dept. said the new rule would take effect on May 11.

For construction, the key issue related to the regulation was whether DOL would keep the industry’s current exemption from a central provision of the rule.

That provision is establishment of IRAPs, which would take on responsibilities for much of the apprenticeship standard-setting that DOL and state agencies now handle.

The rule also would let companies, industry groups and other organizations apply to DOL to become Standards Recognition Entities (SREs). The SREs would determine the standards for the IRAPs’ training and curricula in specific industries or business sectors. SREs would be subject to DOL oversight.

That would be a significant change from the current Registered Apprenticeship system, in which DOL or state agencies register and validate apprentices and apprenticeship programs.

Wave of comments
The department published a proposed rule last June and was inundated by more than 327,000 comments on that proposal. DOL said the total was the largest its Employment and Training Administration had ever received for a proposed regulation. It added that a majority of the comments were related to "form letter campaigns."

The building trades unions strongly supported keeping the exemption and also wanted to make it permanent.

Sean McGarvey, president of North America's Building Trades Unions, said last summer that nearly 325,000 of the comments supported the unions' position.

Contractor groups that have joint apprenticeship programs and other relationships with the unions, such as the National Electrical Contractors Association, Mechanical Contractors Association of America and Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association, also supported keeping the exemption.

Those opposing the exclusion were contractor groups such as the Associated General Contractors of America and Associated Builders and Contractors. They argued that construction has a major shortage of skilled labor and that IRAPs would provide a way to help ease that problem.

No 'sunset' for exclusion
In the end, the Labor Dept. came down on the side of the unions. In the rule, the department said that it “has determined that programs that seek to train apprentices to perform construction activities…will not be recognized as IRAPs.” DOL also decided not to include a “sunset” provision, that would end the construction exemption after a certain period of time.

It added, “The department’s goal in this rulemaking is to expand apprenticeships to new industry sectors and occupations.
DOL noted, “Registered apprenticeship programs are more widespread and well-established in the construction sector than in any other sector.”

Labor Dept. statistics show that in fiscal year 2018, construction had 166,629 active apprentices, the largest total among industries. Ranking second is the military, with 98,435. Construction's total did decline 5% from the 2017 level.
Ben Willis
"It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either.” —Rabbi Tarfon

On a recent flight, a gentleman sitting next to me noticed, aloud, that I was reading a book about architecture. Daring to engage in a conversation with more than two hours of flight time left, I confessed that I not only read about, but also practice architecture. His next question, with the earnest tone of a newly minted grandfather, was whether architects were “solving the housing crisis.”

“We’re trying,” I said. “But it’s complicated.”

With more clarity of thought, or less investment in finishing my book, I might have admitted that it was a grave exaggeration to say architects were solving the housing crisis. Or the climate crisis. Or whatever crisis-of-the-day was waiting to be delivered by phone notification when the plane touched down.

A species’ ability to survive depends both on how attentive it is to crises and whether it can develop tools to adapt to and survive them. Lately, it feels like our culture has turned the dial from “crisis-attentive” to “crisis-obsessed,” threatening our ability to separate sensationalism from necessary calls to action. But this crisis awareness has also turned up the pressure on all of us—or at least, the responsible ones—to really examine whether we’re burying our heads in the sand while the world burns or doing something to help the bucket brigade.

Enter architects, with our utopian idealism, desire to solve things, and dash of artistic inferiority complex.

Most architects care deeply about the problems intertwined with the built environment—housing, climate, health, social wellbeing—and the evidence is clear that many of these have reached a crisis point, or at least need stronger action than business-as-usual. But I suspect we portray an over-idealistic vision about the power of design to address them. We’re bombarded with articles about building types that can “solve” homelessness, conference sessions about designs for “solving” the climate crisis, and professional organizations lauding architects’ ability to “solve” the loneliness epidemic. These big claims are marketing efforts on steroids, thrown around the profession to generate clicks and ease our own qualms about the value and necessity of our work.

Admittedly, I sometimes want to believe that architecture wields a disproportionate weapon in these fights. Yet when confronted with a building-related crisis—the asbestos plaguing Philadelphia schools, for one—what good is the power to design a brilliant school building until the local politicians allot money toward building repairs and the school district decides how to divvy it up? Likewise, architects can design dense, human-centric neighborhoods until all the current cow pastures become big-box stores, but such neighborhoods can’t house more people if the zoning ordinance forbids denser housing and the price point of modus operandi single-family housing continues to exclude low-income and nontraditional buyers.

This perceived impotence is likely what drives some architects to leave the profession and become developers (where financial control resides) or planners (where policy power lies) or politicians (OK, actually there aren’t many architects who become politicians, but perhaps there should be?).

The leverage of a developer, planner, or politician may be different than that of an architect, but if they have a silver bullet solution to these crises, they’re holding out on us. The rather obvious truth is that solutions to big problems require ecosystems of solutions, and the “ecosystem of solutions” to problems plaguing the built environment is made up of planning, financing, designing, constructing, and inhabiting.

Less obvious are the ways that architecture may be underperforming in its role. In the way that we forgot for a few centuries the role that buildings play in their environmental ecosystems—n.b. the climate crisis—we have similarly neglected to examine, and accurately convey, how architects could play a more effective role in this ecosystem.

Here is a non-exhaustive and non-authoritative set of suggestions:

Expand the definition of the problem. Design’s most potent product is a systematic process for arriving at a solution. Th
The Architecture Lobby
The relationship between the business of architecture and the nature of architectural work is fraught. Many celebrated firms have been built on the backs of young and often unpaid labor. To call this practice an open secret would be inaccurate. It isn’t a secret at all; for some firms, it’s standard operating practice.

The Architecture Lobby, founded in 2013 by Peggy Deamer, has begun the long and laborious process of addressing these issues. Today, the group has 16 chapters and 450 dues-paying members. (Yearly dues amount to 0.2% of total income, or about $100 for a $50,000 salary.) Recently, I spoke with the Lobby’s national organizer, Dexter Walcott, about the group’s recent efforts, its campaign to unionize the field, the Green New Deal, and the future of work.

MCP: Martin C. Pedersen
DW: Dexter Walcott

MCP: What’s the Lobby working on right now?

DW: The top three initiatives are the unionization campaign, the socializing of small firms, and the Green New Deal campaign. We’re also working to expand the “Not Our Wall” campaign to focus on the detention infrastructure, beyond the physical barriers and surveillance infrastructures.

MCP: So there are both national and local Lobby initiatives?

DW: Yes. There are chapters that are working on issues that are purely local. And then some chapters blur a lot, where there will be a national campaign that has a strong presence in our regional chapters. The “Not Our Wall” campaign, for instance, had a strong presence in the California chapters. The Green New Deal is a national campaign, but the New York chapter has a very strong presence with that.

MCP: Let’s pull a few of these issues out for closer examination, starting with union recognition. What’s your goal here, and how do you see that playing out?

DW: The end goal is to form unions of architectural workers. There are a number of ways that it can play out. One type of union we organize would be a single-issue union, where we would begin to organize architectural workers around a single problem within the profession and organize workplaces to form collective bargaining units around that issue. For instance, something like the eight-hour workday would be appealing in the profession. That covers a lot of the issues with one broad stroke, whether it’s the culture of overwork or the inability of people to have time to take care of themselves or their families outside of the profession. We could organize workplaces under a contract that only has one clause in it that would say, “We’re going to work for eight hours, five days a week.” That’s something that is appealing to the Architectural Lobby at the moment. And it’s so necessary in the profession right now.

MCP: Is your goal to go through the actual process of becoming a legally recognized union?

DW: Not necessarily. We’re more interested in helping workers build collective bargaining units. At the end of the day, the Lobby isn’t so concerned about being the legal entity. We want to see the sector have unions. The unionization working group has put together an amazing pamphlet on the steps to do this.

MCP: So some chapters might, ultimately, be purely local?

DW: Yes. Right now we’re organizing ourselves and trying to understand where the organization has power, and where we can leverage that power. It starts with a belief that we need to get tight around an argument, if we’re going to start organizing other people to commit to it. We don’t want to build an organization that just brings together like-minded people. We must become good at winning contentious arguments. You can’t organize a workplace by assuming, “Oh, everyone who already thinks like me will automatically join my group.” You have to engage in discussions with people who say, “I don’t think unions are going to help our industry”; or ask questions like, “Will that cut my pay?”; or say, “My boss is really good to me right now.”

It’s also important to have conversations with people about preserving things that are good about the profession. We need to reinforce the idea that unions aren’t just for times when everything’s falling apart, but are a way to ensure that things stay great and can get better. But the Lobby’s core position is
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Show your work early and often.

Never surprise Steve Jobs. Bob Baxley learned this lesson quickly in his former role as director of design for the Apple Online Store. Baxley ran design reviews at the tech giant—made the most profitable company in the world by its design-obsessed cofounder and CEO—and he shared his insights recently on the Design Better Podcast.

Design reviews at Apple followed a rigid weekly structure, with a Monday team meeting discussing in-flight projects and deliveries for the week. Tuesdays had a two-hour team review where the entire design team showed what they were working on, and everyone commented and took notes. The rest of Tuesday and Wednesday were devoted to improving the work. Thursday’s structure mirrored the Tuesday full-team review, and on Fridays, they sat with the vice president and her executive team and reviewed the work from the week for another two hours.

Baxley recalls it as a very intense process: “People had to show their work every 48 hours basically. I came to describe the process as a little bit like Saturday Night Live, where Monday we sort of threw around some ideas as to what we might think we’d have for the week. On Tuesday we sort of had like the initial run through the sketches. On Thursday we had a dress rehearsal, and on Friday was the show with the executive team.”

Despite its intensity, Baxley says that it lowered the pressure because “. . . every Friday, there was a new show. And so if we bombed on Friday or one of the sketches didn’t go well, it’s okay ’cause we’re back next week.”

Baxley went on to lead the design team at Pinterest, but he didn’t bring this exact review process to the design teams there. He found that the rigidity of the process wouldn’t work in other environments. But he did take one key element from Apple: showing work early and often.

Baxley recalled an interview with Steve Jobs from Wired magazine: “The interviewer was saying something like, ‘Your job must be so much fun, just to sit here and have these designers bring in all this great work. And you just get to kind of see it and comment on it.’ And he’s like, ‘No, it doesn’t work that way at all . . . if anybody ever brings in anything that surprises me, something’s wrong in the process.”

Getting into a rhythm of showing your work all the time is critical to a good design process. As Baxley says, “If you ever found yourself sitting at your desk by yourself with your headphones on, stressing ’cause you felt like you had to figure it out on your own, something was really broken.”

You hear this same advice from design leaders at companies ranging from Google to Facebook to USAA. You might not be able to duplicate Apple’s design review process, but you can take the foundational concept of “show work early and often” with key stakeholders in your company if you’re not already practicing it.

At Facebook, for example, Geoff Teehan (head of design for Calibra) has a standing weekly meeting with the company’s vice president of product to let designers show early work in progress and get feedback. At Mailchimp, Brandy Porter (former director of marketing and brand design) shared several practices to make design work more visible, including “coffee hours” for the entire company.
Arup, a global consulting engineering firm, recently welcomed clients and partners to its 65,000-sf, four-floor Toronto offices to unveil two new ‘incubators,’ the Maker’s and Pegasus Labs.

Maker’s Lab (pictured above) facilitates modelling, production, assembly and prototyping. The open collaboration space is equipped with a laser cutter, 3-D printers, manual tools and common materials like wood, composites, plastics, light metals and cardstock. Arup encourages using discarded materials for sketch models and early concepts or prototypes.

Pegasus Lab, meanwhile, is dedicated to experiential design through digital engineering workflows and visualizations of operational processes and designs. It features virtual reality (VR), gesture recognition, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, video analytics, augmented reality (AR) and Arup’s own Neuron ‘smart building’ platform.

“Arup was the first firm to embrace digital engineering in 1957 during the design of the Sydney Opera House by using the Pegasus computer,” explains Justin Trevan, the company’s digital technology consulting and advisory services leader for Canada. “Today, the firm continues to innovate for efficient, sustainable and economical solutions.”

In addition to live demos in the two new labs, guests experienced such installations as Motion Platform, which allows users to feel the vibrations of a building while it is still on the drawing board, and Mobile Sound Lab, an immersive audiovisual (AV) environment with simulations of both existing and as-yet-unbuilt spaces.
MIT has developed M-blocks, a set of robotic cubes that can roll, jump, spin, and self-assemble into different shapes. the robots, called M-blocks 2.0, have a barcode-like system on each face that helps them recognize and communicate with other blocks.

the cube robots were developed by MIT’s computer science and artificial intelligence laboratory (CSAIL). they are actually the second iteration of an original design that MIT showed off back in 2013. the latest version features algorithms designed to help the robots work together more effectively.

inside each modular ‘M-block’ is a flywheel that moves at 20,000 revolutions per minute, using angular momentum when the flywheel is braked. on each edge and every face are permanent magnets that let any two cubes attach to each other.

each module can move in four cardinal directions when placed on any one of the six faces, which results in 24 different movement directions. without little arms and appendages sticking out of the blocks, it’s a lot easier for them to stay free of damage and avoid collisions.

‘M stands for motion, magnet, and magic,’ says MIT professor and CSAIL director daniela rus. ”motion’, because the cubes can move by jumping. ‘magnet,’ because the cubes can connect to other cubes using magnets, and once connected they can move together and connect to assemble structures. ‘magic,’ because we don’t see any moving parts, and the cube appears to be driven by magic.’

‘the unique thing about our approach is that it’s inexpensive, robust, and potentially easier to scale to a million modules,’ says CSAIL PhD student john romanishin, lead author on a new paper about the system. ‘m-blocks can move in a general way. other robotic systems have much more complicated movement mechanisms that require many steps, but our system is more scalable.’

essentially, the blocks used the configuration of how they’re connected to each other in order to guide the motion that they choose to move. in MIT’s experiements, 90 percent of the M-blocks succeeded in getting into a line.

while the mechanism is quite intricate on the inside, the exterior is just the opposite, which enables more robust connections. beyond inspection and rescue, the researchers also imagine using the blocks for things like gaming, manufacturing, and health care.

Fraser Brown MacKenna Architects
UEA Institute of Productivity submitted for planning approval

Location: University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Norwich, UK

Design: Fraser Brown MacKenna Architects

Uncovering the past to reveal the future – UEA’s Institute of Productivity

In creating a home for UEA’s new Institute of Productivity, Fraser Brown MacKenna Architects have removed later additions to reveal hidden details of Denys Lasdun’s original building – creating a state-of-the-art home for a new generation of “Visible Engineers” – a space where engineering activity and its ability to help solve the problems of today are made proudly visible.

Fraser Brown MacKenna Architects have just submitted an application for planning approval and listed building consent for the refurbishment and extension of Building 6 of Denys Lasdun’s Grade II listed Teaching Wall at the University of East Anglia. The refurbished space will provide a home for the new Institute of Productivity, part of the School of Engineering.

The Institute will be located in the former undergraduate Biology Labs in Building 6 and the adjacent single storey Biology Annexe Building. A key element of the scheme is the provision of a new entrance to the Institute at the end of a new pedestrian link from Chancellor’s Drive, the main route through the campus.

The new entrance has been made possible by the removal of a later 1970’s corridor which was added over the original Lasdun façade, obscuring many interesting details, including concrete columns recessed from the blockwork façade to create small window reveals with a sculptural base detail. New canopies help to announce the entrance and to provide covered cycle storage; rationalizing and improving the landscaping and public realm in this part of the campus. In so doing, our design helps to resolve the complex junction between the original Lasdun and later Rick Mather masterplan which has led to convoluted and confusing circulation in this part of the campus.

The new route and entrance will improve visibility for the Institute and assist with the delivery of robots, materials and machinery. A new window will be punched through the blank east façade of the former Bio Annexe to allow passers-by to look in to a state-of-the-art robotics workshop inside.

Internally, the former labs will be reconfigured to provide a studio space and digital design laboratory, a CAD studio, an additive manufacturing workshop to house 3D printers and a subtractive manufacturing and robotics workshop.This project, like our other schemes at UEA, has involved working closely with Norwich City Council, Historic England and the Twentieth Century Society, to ensure that the Grade II listed fabric of Lasdun’s original design is protected and to discern how his original vision for the campus can be maintained as it develops to meet the needs of today’s staff and students.

The scheme involves the removal of paint from the pre-cast concrete structure to return the soffits to their original condition and re-cycling the original lab bench tops as fixed furniture within the new Institute of Productivity.

The scheme has been submitted for planning approval and a decision is expected in January 2020.
When Gensler employees come to work at the company’s new downtown offices, they’ll be able to set up in one of at least six workspaces. If they’re feeling stressed out, they can step into a “wellness room” to decompress. Those who bike to work will be able to take an elevator straight into the office, which will have its own bicycle storage.

“A lot of people ride their bikes to work and it seems like we’re getting even more, so we decided to accommodate a large number of bikes in the work area,” said Gensler’s Vince Flickinger, who was part of the team that designed the company's new space in 2 Houston Center.

The architecture firm signed a lease earlier this year for 50,000 square feet on two floors of the building at 909 Fannin, part of the larger Houston Center office complex on the eastern end of downtown. The company will relocate from Pennzoil Place once construction on the new space is complete.

San Francisco-based Gensler is known for its high-end corporate interiors. In recent years, its Houston office has implemented more of the design trends it studies and carries out for its clients, which include some of this region's top law practices, financial institutions and energy firms.

The new space will bring even more forward-thinking design.

About 70 percent of the Houston 288-person office will focus on so-called agile working, where employees can choose from a variety of workplace settings, whether it’s outside on a patio, in a huddle room or at a stand-up desk.

One section of the office will house mobile work stations that can be fully reconfigured. All workspaces throughout the office will have sit-to-stand capabilities.

“We like to see our office as a testing ground,” Flickinger said.

A design lab will include a makerspace with 3D printers, a virtual reality testing space and a shop area for making architectural models. The firm’s materials library will be twice the size of its current footprint in Pennzoil Place.

Employees will have access to a “sensory-lined wellness room” with adjustable light and sound systems to create a calming atmosphere. Gensler designers also plan to use the room for research on how sight, smell, touch and sound affect the workplace. Other quiet areas will encourage employees to relax without electronics.

“As you have more open areas some times some people just need to get away,” Flickinger said. “Not focus rooms or huddle rooms, but rooms for you to separate yourself from the working environment to get refreshed.”

Houston Center has its own amenities for tenants, including a fitness center, shops and restaurants. The complex is in the throes of its own renovation, which Gensler designed for landlord Brookfield.
KTGY Architecture + Planning
With a rapidly aging population, an inward flux of new urban residents, and developmental pressures forcing displacement and homelessness on growing numbers of people, housing design finds itself at a critical nexus in the United States.

And while many architecture firms are surely working on innovative housing projects, few have dedicated teams focused on pursuing housing innovation from an integrated, transformational perspective. KTGY Architecture + Planning is one such firm, however. The R+D Studio at KTGY exists to "explore new and emerging ideas related to building design and technology," with an eye toward integrating new housing developments into their surroundings, re-thinking existing design paradigms, and prototyping cost- and time-saving construction approaches all the while expanding the realm of housing design to include co-living arrangements, contemporary senior housing models, and supportive housing.

We talked with Marissa Kasdan, director of KTGY's R+D Studio, to discuss how well-designed housing can serve more people, the changing nature of domestic spaces, and to highlight innovations coming out of her team's work.

What is the focus of KTGY’s R+D Studio? And of your position?

KTGY’s R+D Studio was created as a dedicated effort focused on furthering KTGY’s vision, “to move the discourse of architecture forward by continuously searching for better.” With that goal in mind, the R+D Studio explores new and emerging ideas related to building design, shifts in residential demographics, and trends in the way people live. My role, as director of the R+D Studio, is to maintain the focus of the studio in a way that also supports the design efforts of the various studios within KTGY. I coordinate with studio leaders from KTGY offices across the country and look for opportunities to develop design concepts that support the building types and market segments we serve.

The R+D Studio seems to pursue an integrated approach that considers design, urban-scale considerations, and constructability issues simultaneously. Can you share an example of a project (or an approach/idea) that has most benefited from this arrangement?

The Skytowns concept considers how townhome unit plans in a high-rise configuration could maximize building efficiency while minimizing elevator stops and shared circulation space, all while providing multi-level unit layouts in an urban setting. On every other level, the townhome units recapture the corridor area as unit area, increasing the overall building efficiency to nearly 90%. The inherent nature of the multi-story units creates a unique opportunity for vertical variation along the high-rise façade.

One of your research focuses revolves around expanding the definition of co-living. How is the research coming out of the R+D Studio informing the design of unit plans for this type of housing?

Initially, we developed a co-housing concept to address urban affordability for young professionals trying to manage their rents, leading to the development of an 11-bedroom, 11-bathroom prototype unit. Since then, we have discussed with many of our clients and other interested individuals the opportunity to apply the benefits of shared living in new ways to help address a variety of issues and serve a wide range of demographics.
John Apicella
In his third post analyzing project delivery, Phil Bernstein discusses its tenuous nature as well as the unrealized potential of BIM.

This is the author’s third post in a series covering an Autodesk project delivery workshop series that explored the relationship between emergent digital collaboration technologies and the AECO sector. The six workshops were held worldwide over 18 months in 2018 and 2019.

Can a given set of data be trusted by both its creator and its users across the complex transactions that comprise the delivery of a construction project? Information reliability was a core theme that emerged throughout our project delivery workshops series. Technical, procedural, and cultural roadblocks combine to interfere with opportunities for substantial improvement in building this trust. In this article, I investigate the underlying causes of these roadblocks.

In modern design and construction, almost all information is developed on digital platforms. It is not surprising, then, that an underlying anxiety about technical problems and their root causes exists among designers, builders, and building operators. Multiple incompatible platforms for generating data in a variety of formats proliferate in the industry. Given that the building industry is one of the last enterprises to digitize, the development of these tools and their outputs seems to be moving far faster than users can adopt them—much less keep track of them and their subsequent updates. Developing “industry standard” formats for compatibility and interoperability, however, would slow necessary innovation. The Tower of Babel continues to grow accordingly.

The potential of BIM, touted since the approach reached widespread adoption in the U.S. market in the years following the global financial crisis, has hardly been realized. Everyone has a lot of interesting 3D data and accompanying metadata, but hardly anyone knows how to share the information in a meaningful, safe, and profitable way. Even when model-based data is generated in the same software tool, significant effort is required to establish the workflow protocols, sharing approaches, and levels of resolution necessary for trustable exchange. Digital deliverables derived from models are infrequent. As a result, BIM is often reduced to a sophisticated drawing management system, as drawings are well understood and present few technical challenges—their lack of detail, fidelity, and precision notwithstanding.

Even when model-based data is generated in the same software tool, significant effort is required to establish the workflow protocols, sharing approaches, and levels of resolution necessary for trustable exchange.

The real question posed here is one of chicken and egg: the generation of digital data and its proper use. As Barbara Heller, FAIA, president of Washington, D.C., firm Heller & Metzger, described in a 2008 DesignIntelligence article, buildings are delivered by an “immense aggregation of cottage industries,” where developing standard workflows, protocols, or even compatible business models is a challenge. Procedural incompatibilities at all levels are the result: Architects, builders, and facility managers have different needs and uses for data, making its coherent flow from design to operation almost impossible. This challenge is traditionally “solved” by re-representing that information in each subsequent interaction of the design-to-build process: concept drawings, construction documents, shop drawings, and then whatever hybridized or bespoke format a building owner creates to manage the resulting information flow after construction completion and the departure of the design-build team.

Further calcifying information flow is the structure of typical delivery itself, presupposed to be a strictly linear process of phases that accompany each of the deliverables described above, from schematic design through construction administration. Process loops—where insights from, say, construction logic might inform a design strategy—do not exist, so important information has no route to swim upstream against the current. While iteration of alternatives does occur within each phase “process silo,” opportunities for design strategy to inform construction or for technical insight to improve cost estimating are made almost impossible by both procedural and technical incompatibilities.

At the foundation of this tower of process-disconnects is a misalignment of management approaches. The overarching goals of a given project, establ
Banana Leaf Technology
Plastic pollution negatively impacts the health of our planet. Waste management has led to an irreversible environmental crisis that is felt by wildlife, especially in the oceans. One organization, called Banana Leaf Technology, is helping to address the stark reality by proposing banana leaves as a biodegradable alternative to single-use plastic.

Using 100 percent organic banana leaves as raw material, the novel, eco-friendly preservation technology transforms the cellular structure by enhancing its properties so that the leaves remain green for an entire year without any chemicals. Plus, their shelf lifespan is extended to up to three years.

After the preservation process, the enhanced leaves have increased load-bearing capabilities, resistance to extreme temperatures, durability, elasticity and flexibility. Banana Leaf Technology’s website additionally states that the processed leaves are more pathogen-resistant with antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties. How does it do this? The technology fortifies the banana leaves’ cell walls and prevents pathogenic agents from degrading the processed biomaterial’s cells.

Currently, Banana Leaf Technology offers 30 products that utilize its preservation methods. These products include plates, cups, cones, boxes, writing paper and envelopes. Because the patented Banana Leaf Technology is customizable, other products are expected to be developed in the future, such as natural packaging alternatives.

Banana Leaf Technology products provide several advantages. Besides curtailing the destructive damages to wildlife and landfills, using preserved banana leaf products decreases the risks of plastic leaching byproducts and toxins into food and beverages, making them a far healthier cookware, dinnerware and food storage alternative to plastic. Moreover, after their primary use, they can, in turn, serve as animal fodder or garden fertilizer to make soil more arable.

First formulated in 2010 by Tenith Adithyaa, a precocious 11-year-old who was working in his homemade laboratory, the now-patented Banana Leaf Technology has since received seven international awards. The company’s mission, according to its website, is “to solve the global climate crisis without compromising the economy.” Adithyaa’s vision is to make Banana Leaf Technology “available to all human beings, regardless of their geographical and economical boundaries.”

Interestingly, the company’s current business model is to “sell the tech license worldwide to any company” that shares in Adithyaa’s vision. The website elaborates further, stipulating that “any commercial or non-commercial company can purchase the license to this technology by technology transfer. The license will be granted for lifetime to operate worldwide.”
Christopher Barrett.
Here’s a bold statement that we all need to be reminded of. Pinterest has altered the design world—but it hasn’t replaced the need for a designer.

In a fascinating report on Evidence-Based Design (EBD) from The Center for Health Design, the company defines EBD as “the deliberate attempt to base building decisions on the best available research evidence with the goal of improving outcomes and of continuing to monitor the success or failure for subsequent decision-making.” In short, purposeful design isn’t just a compilation of pretty pictures, but it’s backed by results, best practices, experience, trial and error, and years of research all curated into an expertly planned space centered around the end user's functionality and with inspiration in mind.

Mark Hirons FAIA, IIDA, LEED AP, design principal for CannonDesign, explained it best: “Informed design at the onset of a project leverages baseline comparisons to offer the client context and an enriched design consultancy experience. Design should be behavioral-focused and use relevant data as a means to explore ideas. Each project is unique. Ultimately, it’s a fine-tuned process that, while working with the client over time, results in a meaningful environment and often a portfolio of thoughtfully designed spaces.”

Understanding the Value of Design

The value of design exists in its ability to support two of the client’s most valuable resources: people and place. “While oftentimes clients initially may have preconceived notions, we seek to listen to their vision, understand their culture and explore new ideas that will best position them for the future. We look at behaviors and focus on efficiency and, even more importantly, effectiveness. While everyone wants a space that works well and is budget-friendly, the most important question is how do we purposefully design our client’s second-most-expensive asset in their portfolio (real estate) to make their first-most-expensive asset (people) more effective.”

By overlaying well-being, collaboration, privacy, and meaningful interaction, Hirons explains, great design can do both.

Want vs. Reality

Hirons notes that often the first endeavor is deciphering the difference between a client’s wants and needs within a space to best achieve their goals. “Our job is to take a step back and analyze how best to translate ideas and choices, authentically, to our client,” he says. “They may express an impact, characteristic, or mood desired for their space and our goal is to translate that with their brand and story to craft the environment for which they are aspiring.”

He continues, “Design is taking the desired behaviors and matching them with an array of purposeful settings that support concentration, collaboration, comprehension, and social connection and creating them to express each client’s mission and culture. We come back with a list of design choices that offer both the feel they want and the functional environment we know they need. For example, we’ll provide a list of things to consider—perhaps multi-functional spaces, art, gardens, enhanced technology, etc.—then the client can decide to pull different levers or accentuate certain choices to make the space more engaging and experiential.”

Design as a Catalyst, Space as an Innovator

As a well-illustrated example of this EBD principle, Hirons shared a recent client experience where a leading biopharmaceutical company in Korea wanted an environment that spoke to its brand reputation of being a global leader. After meeting with the client, CannonDesign realized the company needed to provide a space that supported its employees throughout their entire day.

“They wanted a work environment that infused the elements of collaboration, innovation, reflection, and a holistic perspective,” explained Hirons. “We delivered more than 50 different settings—from a living forest and micro-kitchens to seminar rooms and sleeping pods—that spoke to the idea of being the only one. We looked at each experience a person could have throughout the day and how the spaces could support productivity and infuse innovation. Ultimately, design was the catalyst to create a completely unique environment to enrich their staff members’ lives everyday.”

To clarify, Pinterest and the use of imagery has a place in the conte
What is a social stair? Remember back in 2001, when OMA/Koolhaas and Scheeren completed the Prada Boutique (now called Prada Epicenter) on lower Broadway in Soho? It features an amphitheater-like stair leading from the ground floor down to the basement. This stair can be used as a stair, taking you from one level to the next. It can also be used as bleacher-like seating. And when it is not accommodating seated human beings, the amphitheater part of the stair can be peopled with ranks of mannequins outfitted in Prada fashions. Though not the first of its kind, the Prada stair is the archetype of the 21st-century social stair. The social stair connotes a style of 21st-century sociability: cool; hip; spontaneous; diverse, yet connected; and youthful. As such, it has been transformed into a symbol: an icon of collective identity that suggests it has the power to make you cool, hip, awesome (and maybe even young) — just by being in its presence. The 21st-century word associated with this phenomenon of implied magical bonding is “meme” (rhymes with “mean”). My authoritative source on 21st-century forms of knowledge, Wikipedia, tells me that “meme” means a unit of conduct that you can internalize and imitate in order to represent yourself to others as embodying the desirable associations — cool, hip, awesome, young — affiliated with the meme/form. So now you know: The social stair is a magical meme. It possesses the power to confer a social identity, linking you to a community that you want other people to see you as belonging to.

The Wikipedia entry on memes has a whole section on architectural memes, an indication of the potency that buildings possess to shape the attitudes, opinions, and conduct of the people who occupy, or simply pass by, them. The Wikipedia entry also identifies the foremost theorist of architectural “meme-ology” as Nikos A. Salingaros, professor of mathematics at The University of Texas at San Antonio, and author of “A Theory of Architecture” (2006).

Houston, in the past four years, has experienced a population explosion of high-profile social stairs. The expansion and reconstruction of the University of Houston Student Center South (2015, EYP and WTW); the Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston (2015, Studio RED and Lake|Flato); the Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University (2017, Michael Maltzan); the Glassell School of Art of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2018, Steven Holl and Kendall/Heaton Associates); and the Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (2019, Gensler) all have public spaces configured around social stairs. Do the people who frequent these buildings actually hang out on the social stairs, embodying the forms of contemporary sociability depicted in architectural renderings? Or is this even a relevant question? Doesn’t the very existence of the social stair demonstrate that the building comes equipped with the necessary spaces for shaping cool, awesome, etc., subjects and bonding them into a community?

In his book “The Architecture of Neoliberalism: How Contemporary Architecture Became an Instrument of Control and Compliance” (2016), the British architectural historian and theorist Douglas Spencer decodes such memes as the social stair; long refectory-like communal work tables; internally exposed trusses, ducts, tile block walls, and concrete floor slabs; and interior glass partitions to argue that these are not simply constituents of a currently fashionable style of architecture but the material and spatial building blocks of a social system based on the exaltation of economic markets. What Spencer finds notable about the effort to shape people’s (and especially architects’) self-conceptions and their ideas about community is how often Neoliberalism operates through soft means (and soft memes) — architecture, fashion, advertising images, architectural renderings — rather than through rules, creeds, and the formation of political or religious belief structures. The rhetoric of self-direction and workplace democracy, the absence of hierarchy, the ability to bring your pet to work — are visually portrayed in memetic images of happy, attractive, racially and ethnically diverse groups of young people working at their laptops or texting on their cellphones, spontaneously generating innovation even as they break from their co-work perches on social stairs to grab a healthy fusion snack at the nearest
Wanda Lau
Building professional connections is a skill not taught in many architecture programs, but it is a necessity in practice, Evelyn Lee writes in her first column for ARCHITECT.

According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point (Back Bay Books, 2002), I would be considered a “connector.” I’ve been in the industry nearly two decades, with about 15 years serving on different AIA committees at all levels. As a business school graduate and contributing writer to several publications, I seek out individuals and organizations thinking about the future of architecture and how practice needs to adapt. I enjoy connecting people within my network because, while the design profession is relatively small, the number of us thinking about the evolution of practice is even smaller. Relationship building has been critical to my own growth, professionally and personally. My best connections keep me excited about the industry, challenge my viewpoints, and have become incredible mentor and advocates—and I take pride in cultivating my network.

Which is why I was taken aback by the flurry of cold emails and messages I received from firm principals and senior designers almost immediately upon updating my LinkedIn profile with my new role as the inaugural senior experience designer at Slack, the fast-growing tech company in San Francisco. Since I had moved to the client side three years ago, my ability to hire architects was nothing new. So why the widespread attention? Perhaps it was Slack’s recent IPO?

The myriad mindless messages I received in response to my new position truly left a bad taste in my mouth. Business school graduates know that networking is fundamental: Universities want to promote what percentage of their alumni have gone on to find successful jobs, and building relationships enhances that stat. Literally, Networking 101 is built into B-school orientation.

But designers could certainly do much better when they reach out. To make the process more palatable to both you and your networking target, I offer five recommendations for developing professional relationships.

Look for Mutual Connections
Regardless of your age or experience, leverage the resources that exist in your network. People are more receptive to an email that comes from someone they know—or even someone who knows someone they know—than from a stranger. This validates a good connection and assures the recipient that the contact will be deeper than a superficial ask for new work. The architecture world is not that big.

It’s Not About You
The first outreach should never be about your needs: It’s always about theirs. Do not fish for information in the first contact; instead, be specific about why you want to talk or, at the very least, if you’re requesting their particular experience and viewpoint on your own work. If you explicitly want to talk about my new job, then I will shelve your request.

Simplify Your Ask
Most people will be happy to talk for 15 minutes on a topic they are passionate about—just make sure you know what that topic is. I have had more success asking for a 15-minute phone conversation than an in-person sit-down. Even a coffee meetup means you are asking someone to take time out of their day, go to a place out of their routine, and commit to a conversation that they may not be excited about. Fifteen minutes first. Then maybe coffee.

Be Patient
Relationships take time, trust, and nurturing. A milestone in a person’s career is a good reason to reach out or pick up a conversation with a connection you haven’t talked to in a while. As with personal relationships, it takes time to develop professional confidantes.

Google Yourself
Leverage technology but be mindful of your own profile. Whether you are building your own network or on the receiving end of a cold email, people are going to research who you are. Clean up your public personas and make sure they reflect your professional self.

About 10 years ago, I picked up a great book on social media marketing for AEC professionals. I wanted to meet the author and was excited to discover she was running a workshop at the local AIA component. I made the workshop but had to run immediately after the event without speaking with her. My few shared connections with her on LinkedIn were merely acquaintances to me—so I took a chance and messaged her directly. In my email, I explained that I had attended her workshop, had questions about specific points she made, and was interested on her take on the profession’s
Cody Pickens
The special sauce behind Google’s breakout hardware products is its one-year-old Design Lab. We’re the first publication to go inside.

There’s a building on Google’s Mountain View, California, campus that’s off-limits to most of the company’s own employees. The 70,000-square-foot Design Lab houses around 150 designers and dozens of top-secret projects under the leadership of vice president and head of hardware design Ivy Ross, a former jewelry artist who has led the company’s push into gadgets ranging from the groundbreaking Google Home Mini speaker to the playful line of Pixel phones.

Inside the lab—and away from the cubicle culture of the engineering-driven Googleplex—industrial designers, artists, and sculptors are free to collaborate. “Google’s blueprint for how they optimize is great for most people [at the company],” says Ross. “Designers need different things.”

In any other setting, Ross’s upbeat, bohemian demeanor would evoke that of a high school art teacher or perhaps the owner of a crystal shop more than a design director at one of the most powerful companies in the world. Today she walks me, the first journalist ever allowed in the building, through the space—which she calls “a huge gift” from Google’s executive team. Google was always an engineer’s company, rarely recognized (and sometimes ridiculed) for its hardware and software design. But recently, Google CEO Sundar Pichai has been forthright in articulating just how crucial design has become to Google’s business. In the past few years, Google has developed gadgets—from phones to smart speakers—that are some of the most desirable in the world. Yet before doors opened to the lab last June, the growing Google hardware design team ran many of their operations out of a literal garage—not the best setting for such an important of part Google’s operations.

So Ross collaborated with Mithun, the architects behind many Google buildings, to create something new: a space that is meant to be a backdrop to Google’s soft, minimal industrial design aesthetic. “This framework, it has fairly neutral colors. There’s nothing so ingrained that we can’t evolve,” says Ross. “But being a blank canvas, what changes it is the products we’re evolving, the materials, their color, and their function.”

Each space in the lab was constructed to help Ross’s team marry tactile experiences (understated, fabric-covered gadgets that feel at home in the home) with digital ones (Google’s unobtrusive UX). “Essentially the first thing I said was, ‘We need light,'” recalls Ross. “Where in some buildings, [programmers] need darkness for screens, we need light.” The lab’s entrance is a two-story, skylit atrium, filled with soft seating and cafe tables for casual meet-ups.

A birchwood staircase leads upstairs to a library filled with the design team’s favorite books—each member of the team was asked to bring in six texts that were important to them, and inscribe a message as to why. “We’re the company that digitized the world’s information,” says Ross, “[but] sometimes, designers need to hold things.”
In other instances, the lab is set up so designers can window-shop. The second story walkway around the atrium feels something like a high-end mall. On one side, I see a glass wall to the color lab. On the other side, a glass wall to the material lab. The color lab features an ever-changing array of objects, collected by Google hardware designers on their travels. It’s a hodgepodge of items that seems less about color than what I might call a vibe. I see a paper radish, a green stack of stones, and an ivory jewelry box—all evoking a certain handmade minimalism. The display is the best reminder of a simple fact of Google’s hardware design team. Just 25% to 40% of the group has ever designed electronics before. The rest designed everything from clothing to bicycles in a previous life.

At a large white table inside the color lab, under carefully calibrated lights, Ross’s team debates the next colorways for upcoming Google products. Once a week, designers from across categories—from wearables to phones to home electronics—gather around the table with scraps and samples in hand, to make product line decisions together. I’m treated to a show of last season’s products and colors to demonstrate a point: that Google designers, making more than a dozen products that could be in your home at once, want them to look good next to one another, even if they were produced a few ye
Maria Saxton studied the habits of 80 recent tiny home buyers

Tiny house proponents have long lauded the compact dwellings as an environmental savior. The smaller the home, the smaller the footprint, right? That argument has helped boost the popularity of tiny homes, but until now, there wasn’t much in the way of actual research on the topic.

Maria Saxton, a PhD Candidate in environmental planning and design at Virginia Tech, spent a year studying the environmental impact of people who moved into tiny homes, and she found that most tiny home dwellers reduced their energy consumption by 45 percent upon downsizing.

How did she get to this number? Saxton lays out her methodology in The Conversation:

To do this, I calculated their spatial footprints in terms of global hectares, considering housing, transportation, food, goods, and services. For reference, one global hectare is equivalent to about 2.5 acres, or about the size of a single soccer field.

I found that among 80 tiny home downsizers located across the United States, the average ecological footprint was 3.87 global hectares, or about 9.5 acres. This means that it would require 9.5 acres to support that person’s lifestyle for one year. Before moving into tiny homes, these respondents’ average footprint was 7.01 global hectares (17.3 acres). For comparison, the average American’s footprint is 8.4 global hectares, or 20.8 acres.

After surveying 80 downsizers, she learned that a change in square footage often leads to a change in lifestyle habits. People living in tiny homes were more likely to grow their own food, buy less stuff, recycle more, and generate less trash. On the flip side, some tiny dwellers traveled more often and ate more meals out due to the constraints of the tiny home lifestyle.

Saxton hopes that the information will be useful to cities considering how to zone for tiny homes. It’s also a wealth of information for tiny home designers, who can start to think about how to build a kitchen that inspires downsizers to cook their own meals.
Architect Magazine
From 89 submissions, the jury picked eight entries that prove architects can be at the helm of innovation, technology, and craft.

Do we control technology or does technology control us? Never has that question seemed more apt than now. The use of computational design, digital manufacturing, and artificial intelligence, if mismanaged, can have frightening consequences, the implications of which society is just beginning to comprehend. But the jury for ARCHITECT’s 13th annual R+D Awards was determined to accentuate the positive side of these advancements, seeking the best examples that “melded technology, craft, and problem-solving,” says Craig Curtis, FAIA.

The eight winners selected by Curtis and fellow jurors James Garrett Jr., AIA, and Carrie Strickland, FAIA, prove that designers can remain solidly in the driver’s seat despite the frenetic pace of technological developments in the building industry and beyond. “Architects are anticipating the future, helping to shape it, and giving it form,” Garrett says. “Moving forward, we are not going to be left behind. We are going to be a part of the conversation.”


Craig Curtis, FAIA, is head of architecture and interior design at Katerra, where he helped launch the now 300-plus-person design division of the Menlo Park, Calif.–based technology company and oversees the development of its configurable, prefabricated building platforms. Previously, he was a senior design partner at the Miller Hull Partnership, in Seattle.

James Garrett Jr., AIA, is founding partner of 4RM+ULA, a full-service practice based in St. Paul, Minn., that focuses on transit design and transit-oriented development. A recipient of AIA’s 2019 Young Architects Award, he is also an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture, a visual artist, a writer, and an advocate for increasing diversity in architecture.

Carrie Strickland, FAIA, is founding principal of Works Progress Architecture, in Portland, Ore., where she is an expert in the design of adaptive reuse and new construction projects and works predominantly in private development. She has also taught at Portland State University and the University of Oregon, and served on AIA Portland’s board of directors.
Eduardo Munoz/Reuters
Research on the connections between green space and criminal activity finds that park design and programming determines their impact on crime and safety.

The relationship between parks and crime remains the subject of debate.

Some scholars say parks and other urban green spaces prevent violence. When vacant lots and deteriorating urban spaces are transformed into more appealing and useful places for residents, violence and crime typically decline in the immediate vicinity.

In a study of public housing developments in Chicago, researchers found 52 percent fewer crimes reported near buildings surrounded by trees and other vegetation. In New York City, neighborhoods with higher investment in public green space see an average of 213 fewer felonies per year.

Similar relationships between green space and crime have been observed in Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Portland, as well as in cities outside the U.S.

In many cities, however, people see parks as dangerous—magnets for illicit activities like drug dealing and places for criminals to access potential victims who, while engaged in recreation, may be less vigilant about their belongings and personal safety.

Research supports this idea, too. One 2015 study of multiple U.S. cities found that property crime rates are two to four times higher in neighborhoods near parks. Violent crimes rates were up to 11 times worse.

So do parks make cities safer or more dangerous? The short answer is: It depends on the park.

Green space leads to lower crime

One reason that evidence on the relationship between parks and crime is so mixed is that most studies on this subject have focused on a single city or location.

In an effort to identify nationwide trends, our team of researchers at Clemson and North Carolina State universities in 2017 began gathering information on crime, green space and parks in the 300 largest cities in the United States.

Unlike many studies that use the terms “parks” and “green space” interchangeably, our analysis distinguished between these two urban environments.

Green space was measured by the amount of grass, plants, tree canopy cover, and other greenery on the landscape. We defined urban parks as designated open spaces managed by a public agency —a subset of green space.

To distinguish the impact of green spaces from social factors typically linked to crime—population density, income, education, diversity, and social disadvantage—we controlled for those factors when evaluating crime data.

We learned that more green space was associated with lower risk of crime across neighborhoods in all 300 cities we studied.

Burglaries, larceny, auto theft, and other property crimes occur less often in greener neighborhoods in every city in our sample. Violent crimes like murder, assault, and armed robbery were also less common in greener neighborhoods in nearly all the cities we studied.

Only three cities in our sample did not benefit from green space. In Chicago, Detroit, and Newark—all places with notoriously high and stubborn crime rates—more green space was associated with higher levels of violent crime.

Scholars have identified several reasons why the presence of green space may lead to lower crime.

Contact with nature reduces precursors to crime like stress and aggression, making people feel happier, and less inclined to engage in criminal acts. By giving people a place to participate in outdoor activities together, parks also promote positive social interactions and neighborly connections within diverse urban communities.

And when people gather in parks and other green spaces, it puts more “eyes on the streets,” exposing criminals to constant community surveillance.

Finally, there’s some evidence that more green space makes nearby areas safer simply by pushing crime into nearby neighborhoods—not outright eliminating it.
Plus, Katerra offers an update on its K90 project in Las Vegas, Google pledges $1 billion toward affordable housing in the Bay Area, and more design-tech news from this week.

Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and UNStudio are working with digital agency Squint/Opera on the development of Hyperform, a design platform that facilitates collaboration in 3D augmented reality. Initially prototyped last year, Hyperform allows multiple users to work in scale models as well as immersive 1:1 environments. Users can also create still renderings as well as video recordings. "In the future every physical object will be connected to one another, sensing each other and everything in between," BIG founder Bjarke Ingels said in a press release. "For every physical object there will be a digital twin. For every physical space a virtual space. Hyperform is the augmented creative collaborative environment of the future which will allow an instantaneous confluence of actual and imagined realities—the present and the future fusing in our augmented sense of reality." [Squint/Opera]

In its latest project, New York–based SoftLab has created a "circular constellation" in Manhattan’s Seaport District that features 100 sensor-enabled glowing poles that emit different colors and sounds based on visitors' touch. [ARCHITECT]

This week, tech giant Google pledged to invest $1 billion in land and money to construct houses to help ease the housing crisis in the Bay Area. Over the next 10 years, the company has promised to convert $750 million of its land that is currently zoned for commercial development into residential property for some 15,000 new houses. Additionally, Google will establish a $250 million investment fund to assist developers in creating 5,000 affordable housing units. "In the coming months, we’ll continue to work with local municipalities to support plans that allow residential developers to build quickly and economically," the company writes in a press release. "Our goal is to get housing construction started immediately, and for homes to be available in the next few years." [Google]

Menlo Park, Calif.–based technology and construction company Katerra has released an update on K90—its ambitious garden apartment project in Las Vegas that the company is aiming to complete in 90 days. While slab-up construction typically takes 120 to 150 days, Katerra is believes it can deliver in a little over half the time using proprietary tools such as a material auditing app that alerts construction teams to incoming materials—which are delivered directly to installation point rather than a general project-site drop-off—wall panels that have pre-installed electrical wiring, and its bath kit that includes carpet, tile, plumbing fixtures, hardware, wood trim, light fixtures, light sources, and mirrors. [Katerra]

Researcher from Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) in Japan published findings that adding a "self healing" protective layer of epoxy resin to perovskite solar cells (PSC) helps reduce leakage of pollutants, helping to push the technology toward commercial viability. “Although PSCs are efficient at converting sunlight into electricity at an affordable cost, the fact that they contain lead raises considerable environmental concern,” said OIST professor Yabing Qi in a press release. “While so-called ‘lead-free’ technology is worth exploring, it has not yet achieved efficiency and stability comparable to lead-based approaches. Finding ways of using lead in PSCs while keeping it from leaking into the environment, therefore, is a crucial step for commercialization.” [OIST]
Seon-Yeong Kwak
Sheila Kennedy and MIT researchers team up to introduce bioluminescent plants into architecture.

Even without the billion-plus people who still lack access to electricity, global electrical networks are under considerable stress. The aging and unreliable U.S. power grid strains to keep up with Americans’ increasing appetite for electricity. Gretchen Bakke, author of The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future (Bloomsbury, 2016), has argued that the grid's near-obsolescence makes it the “weakest link” in achieving our energy aspirations.

One of the more taxing demands on the grid is lighting. Despite recent improvements in energy efficient sources, such as LEDs, lighting consumes 15 percent of worldwide energy and is responsible for 5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a Department of Energy report.

Such concerns have long motivated the work of Sheila Kennedy, FAIA, of Boston-based Kennedy & Violich Architecture. Kennedy’s experiments with materials as vehicles for low-power light sources have resulted in innovative solar textiles, sunlight-delivery systems, and the Portable Light project, a mobile, solar-powered illumination solution for communities lacking access to electricity. Her latest effort, developed in collaboration with MIT chemical engineering professor Michael Strano, utilizes plants as the light delivery mechanism.

Currently on display at the Cooper Hewitt 2019 Design Triennial, the Plant Properties project utilizes biocompatible, GMO-free techniques to generate ambient lighting with live plants, transforming living foliage into a zero-energy light source. Kennedy has long been exploring the implications of this biodesign approach to illuminating the constructed environment. According to the project statement, “The Plant Properties installation demonstrates the architecture of a post-electric, vegetal future when people depend upon living plants for oxygen, water remediation, and ambient light.” Plant Properties depicts the reconfiguration of an New York City brownstone to support the cultivation of light-emitting plants.
KRJ Architecture
The US Green Building Council has recognized the Missouri Alternative and Renewable Energy Technology (MARET) Center at Crowder College as a LEED Platinum facility. The building, which itself acts as a hands-on training tool for student learning, is one of very few LEED Platinum buildings that produces more energy than it consumes, making it “net-positive.”

This efficiency was achieved through significant modeling, planning and research by KRJ Planning & Research, who utilized renewable energy sources (solar heat, wind, biomass, solar electric), together with an exceptionally well-planned and constructed building envelope with an internal energy distribution system. Daylighting is utilized throughout the entire facility, keeping use of electric lighting to a minimum. Solar cells on the roof produce energy, as does a wind turbine on the site. HVAC is provided through geothermal means, in addition to hydronic heating and cooling that utilizes roof-mounted solar collectors. The building is cooled by groundwater alone. Even rainwater from the roof is collected and reused for plantings surrounding the facility.

The building is utilized by the college as a teaching facility to demonstrate how energy can be collected, stored and distributed, so accessibility to the facility’s mechanical systems was paramount for educational purposes. Likewise, the facility was organized to allow ease of building system modifications, allowing students to run energy use experiments. Finally, the facility was built with modular construction, allowing students and building prefabricators to participate and learn with these systems. Overall, the entire facility is an incubator for student and industry learning.

Of key interest to instructors and students alike, is how a facility in the Midwest, with high temperature extremes and high humidity levels, can be so comfortable and energy efficient year-round. Students involved in STEM projects, those interested in renewable energy businesses, and those seeking training and certification in alternative energy processes are all drawn to the facility.

“When we conceived of the idea to build a facility that would itself be used in teaching energy efficiency, we knew we needed to work with an architectural planning group that went well beyond the norm,” said Dr. Kent Farnsworth, former President of Crowder College. “We had worked with KRJ Architects in the past, and they had recently formed an innovative planning group to allow the types of in-depth planning and research that we required for this project.”

The 10,000-square-foot building was conceived in 2003, built in 2011-2012, and has been utilized as a teaching facility by Crowder College for several years. The facility itself has been tested, improved and modified, allowing students to take full advantage of cutting edge technology. Awarding of the LEED Platinum certification came in 2018, after the college renewed their interest in securing the USGBC certification.

David Kromm of KRJ Planning & Research stated, “we were thrilled to be selected to plan and develop this outstanding facility for Crowder College, and are honored that our work is being used as a teaching model for tomorrow’s leaders. The MARET Center is a great example of how innovation can lead to an efficient, functional, delightful and culturally meaningful facility.”

In addition to being used as a teaching facility, the MARET Center also houses a small business incubator.
Construction Dive
As U.S. contractors deal with the rising costs of both material and labor, the latter of which is driven partially by a shortage of skilled workers, three of the country’s biggest construction industry players — AECOM, Tutor Perini and Jacobs Engineering Group — reported their most recent quarterly earnings this week, proving that despite these challenges, there are still plenty of opportunities.

March saw the end of the second quarter of Jacobs’ fiscal year 2019, and company executives reported that the firm’s gross revenue for the quarter was $3.1 billion, up 7.7% from the same period a year ago. Net revenue increased 8.7% year over year, from $2.3 billion to $2.5 billion.

Q2 gross revenue for the company’s Building, Infrastructure and Advanced Facilities (BIAF) business was more than $2 billion, up from last year’s Q2 figure of $1.9 billion, delivering $172.7 million in segment operating profit. This growth was driven, in part, by the "further optimization of CH2M integration synergies,” said Steven Demetriou, company chair and CEO. Jacobs purchased CH2M in a $3.3 billion deal in 2017.

The company’s second-quarter backlog grew 11% year over year to $13 billion. Big wins for Jacobs’ BIAF segment this quarter included contracts for a vaccine manufacturing plant in the southeast U.S.; IDIQ contracts with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and the MetroLink in Toronto.

Tutor Perini's first-quarter 2019 revenue fell a bit from the same period last year — $958.5 million from more than $1 billion — mostly due to new projects not starting in time to make up for the lower revenues of projects that are either complete or nearing completion. Bad weather in some areas of the country also had a negative impact on revenue in the company’s Q1.

However, income from construction operations was $22.9 million in Tutor Perini's first quarter, up from a loss of $900,000 in the first quarter of 2018.

Tutor Perini also broke some company records in its first quarter — $3.2 billion of new awards and upward adjustments in current contracts, as well as an $11.6 billion backlog. New awards for Q1 included the $1.4 billion Purple Line Section 3 Stations project in Los Angeles; the $253 million Culver Line Communications-Based Train Control project for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York City; and the $200 million Southland Gaming Casino and Hotel project in West Memphis, Arkansas, through its subsidiary Roy Anderson Corp.

“As these and other recent awards progress and contribute more meaningfully as the year develops,” said Ronald Tutor, chairman and CEO, "we expect to report significantly improved financial results.”

AECOM also had good news for investors this week, reporting revenue of $5 billion for its 2019 Q2, up 5% from the second quarter of last year, with positive contributions from all of the company’s construction-related segments.
Rice University
For nearly the past 100 years, Houston has been proud to be a world leader in the oil and gas industry. However, despite the recent fracking boom, there seems to be a growing sense among its entrepreneurial and political elite that this economic model is going to fail at some point, or at the very least drastically contract, just as the manufacturing economy did in the Rust Belt. FOMO is writ large in their minds. The fear is Houston will be left behind. That Houston was the largest city not to be included in the top 20 choices for Amazon’s new headquarters, for example, stung badly. A concerted attempt to reorient the city is evident in such initiatives as the ambitious push to enhance its major parks and bayou green spaces and the expansion of public transportation, both of which were seemingly inconceivable a generation ago, when the only thought by those in power was how to get more cars on the freeways.

Prestige institutions that can’t just up and move want their physical and intellectual investments in the city to remain viable as well. The president of Rice University, David Leebron has made it a centerpiece of his administration to increase both the stature of the school and its influence beyond the hedges surrounding the campus. To this effect, he has initiated a nonstop building campaign and increased student body. In 2009, there was serious discussion of acquiring the Baylor College of Medicine to get a foothold in the Texas Medical Center. Several interdisciplinary institutes have appeared. The latest effort to move beyond the campus includes Rice’s plan to reclaim the old South End as a hub for tech workers.

Rice was endowed with $4.6 million in 1904. In 115 years, that endowment has grown to $6.3 billion by means of Rice’s varied investments, a little more than 10 percent of which are real estate holdings. One highly visible property is the tract at South Main Street and Wheeler Avenue a couple miles south of downtown that houses a New Deal-era Sears department store building much in the local news due to its recent closure. In January of this year, Rice publicly re-christened this building “The Ion.” It will be repurposed as the centerpiece of what Rice is variously calling an “innovation hub” or “innovation district.” The stated intention is “to support businesses at all stages of the innovation lifecycle and provide resources for Houstonians seeking to participate in the innovation economy.” Outside institutional project partners include the University of Houston, UH-Downtown, the University of St. Thomas, Houston Community College, Texas Southern University, Houston Baptist University, San Jacinto College, and the South Texas College of Law.

Originally the site of the expansive gardens around the Walter B. Sharp House (1895), a rambling Queen Anne building in what was then the almost rural outskirts of Houston, this tract, along with two adjacent city blocks, was later acquired by Rice. In 1938, the house was demolished to make way for a new suburban Sears, Roebuck and Company store (1939), designed by Chicago architects Nimmons, Carr & Wright. This store was one of five locations across the country designed by the firm that was profiled in Architectural Record in September 1940 as being “planned for the motor age.” The $1 million retail complex, which opened in November 1939, encompassed four city blocks. It included the 195,000-sf, four-level store, parking for 700 cars, a super-service station with 16 gas pumps (demolished), and a freestanding building selling farm supplies (still standing). The upper floors of the store were windowless and fully air-conditioned; the escalators connecting the floors were the first of their kind in Houston. Local reports at the time of its opening also remarked on the extensive interior art program of murals depicting scenes from Texas history, painted by Texas native Eugene Montgomery. In 1945, Sears, then highly profitable, entered into a 99-year lease with Rice. Fast-forward to 1962, when the building’s street-side windows were bricked-over and the upper parts of the building were clad in a slipcover of corrugated metal panels. (Ironically, this preserved the building, and today it is one of only a handful of relatively intact prewar, early suburban Sears stores left in the country. Houston’s first auto-oriented Sears building (1929) on Allen Parkway, also designed by Nimmons, Carr & Wright, was demolis
John Medina/Getty Images for New York Times
Salesforce chairman and co-CEO Marc Benioff has dedicated a lot of energy, and money, to the homeless crisis in his hometown of San Francisco. In 2018, he poured $2 million into the Proposition C ballot initiative campaign for a new business tax that promises to raise around a quarter billion dollars per year for housing and homeless assistance. (It passed, but has been tied up in the courts.)

Today, he and his wife, Lynne Benioff, have pledged $30 million to create a new program at the University of California San Francisco focused on studying causes of and possible solutions to homelessness across the country. (This comes on top of about $30 million donated to other housing projects, such as $6.1 million last November to lease a renovated hotel.)

It’s a common joke in public policy to say something like: What this urgent problem really needs is … another study. And at least some aspects of the homeless crisis in San Francisco and other U.S. cities are obvious. The rent is too damn high–due to an influx of well-off people bidding off constrained housing stock. Growing income inequality exacerbates the problem.

“We know for sure that the solution to this crisis is going to involve a massive investment in deeply affordable housing or subsidized housing. We don’t need to do research on that,” says Margot Kushel, director of UCSF’s Center for Vulnerable Populations, and now also director of its Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative.

But details of solutions are still foggy, she says. Rent subsidies can keep people from falling into homelessness in the first place, for instance; but it’s not obvious which people are most at risk and the best candidates for aid.

There’s also more need to understand subsets of homeless people, says Sam Lew, policy director at the nonprofit Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco. (The Coalition is unaffiliated with the Benioff Initiative. Lew learned of it the same day I did–yesterday.) “We have very little data on undocumented [immigrants] who are homeless or LGBTQ-identifying people who are homeless, or other marginalized populations,” says Lew. (There’s now a generational split, too, says Kushel, between homeless people in their 30s and 40s and a new elderly contingent.)

The coalition is preparing its own research project, together with San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley, to survey the shelter, mental health, and substance abuse treatment systems used by the homeless and those at risk of homelessness.

But Lew knows and values Kushel’s work, such as research showing that homeless people in their 50s have health problems like the general population in their 70s and 80s. Data like that bolster the case for better assistance programs and funding, says Lew.

Making information more accessible is a goal for the Benioff Initiative, says Kushel. That can be a combination of conducting new research, evaluating other research, and presenting data in a user-friendly way for the public, journalists, politicians, and program managers. The goal, she says, is that, “when they act, they can act with confidence, and they can make sure they’re spending the money the best way possible.”

There are reasons for optimism already. “Of the [homeless] people who get engaged with permanent supportive housing, about 85% stay housed long term,” says Kushel. But that statistic raises new questions. How many people never make it into those support programs in the first place, and why? And of those who do get help, “How about the other 15%?” says Kushel “What do we need to do to get them to safety?”
Al Seib / Los Angeles Times
Mayor Eric Garcetti unveiled a sweeping plan for a more sustainable Los Angeles on Monday, calling for dramatic changes to the car culture, buildings and air quality of America’s second-largest city.

The mayor’s sustainability plan imagines a city where, by the mid-2030s, 80% of the cars run on electricity or zero-emission fuel, 80% of the electricity comes from renewable sources and Angelenos drive 2,000 fewer miles each year than they do now. It’s a far cry from today’s L.A., where gridlock, tailpipe pollution and smoggy air have come to define a way of life.

Garcetti cited the “existential threat” of climate change, which scientists say is fueling bigger and deadlier heat waves, wildfires and floods in California and around the world. He said he worries that if Los Angeles doesn’t take aggressive action now, in 50 years the city will have little time for priorities other than survival.

“Los Angeles needs to lead, but the whole world needs to act. This plan gives us a fighting chance,” Garcetti said in an interview. “It’s sort of a ‘greenprint’ for every other city in the country and the world, hopefully.”

Garcetti is pitching the plan as L.A.’s version of a Green New Deal, the set of climate change and economic justice policies popularized by progressive activists and championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

City Hall may have limited control over whether L.A. meets many of the targets in the plan, which updates a previous sustainability road map from 2015 and has been in the works for several years, before the phrase “Green New Deal” entered the national lexicon.

At times, the plan simply reiterates existing commitments on climate and clean energy, and details for how many of the goals will be achieved are yet to be determined.

But in at least two areas, the plan sets ambitious new targets and lays a foundation for how they might be met: transportation and buildings, which account for three-quarters of the city’s planet-warming emissions.

On the transportation front, the mayor’s office hopes to reduce the amount of time Angelenos spend driving, from an average of 15 miles a day now to 13 miles by 2025, and 9 miles by 2035. More significantly from a climate change emissions standpoint, the sustainability plan calls for increasing the percentage of electric or zero-emission vehicles in the city from 1.4% last year to 25% by 2025, 80% by 2035 and 100% by 2050.

The city’s built environment would see big changes, too. Garcetti’s plan says all new buildings should be “net-zero carbon” by 2030, with the entire building stock converted to zero-emission technologies by 2050.

Even with the falling costs of renewable energy and electric cars, Garcetti said he expects meeting the targets to be “messy and difficult” politically.

The labor union that represents workers at the Department of Water and Power, for instance, recently protested his decision not to rebuild the three coastal gas plants. Union workers protested again Monday outside Garcetti’s house, saying his plan would kill jobs and raise electricity rates.

ICD/ITKE University of Stuttgart
Blaine Brownell reviews recent applications of carbon fiber technology and assesses its utility in environmentally conscious construction.

To market the design for his Dymaxion prototype, Buckminster Fuller famously asked: “How much does your house weigh?” Composed of a lightweight sheet metal aluminum skin held in tension by a single, central mast, the Dymaxion weighed only about 1.5 tons—about 10 percent the weight of an average house.

Fuller's emphasis on weight is even more critical today, given the ever-increasing environmental impact of shipping raw and processed materials around the planet. The automotive and aerospace industries have made significant advances in the strategy known as "lightweighting" by employing new and lighter materials and reducing the weight of components. Such an approach enabled U.S. airlines to significantly increase fuel efficiency by 125 percent between 1978 and 2017.

Carbon fiber is increasingly employed in the fabrication of many ultralight structures, from Formula One car bodies to bicycle components. Made from carbon filaments that are typically woven together into a cloth, carbon fiber is often coated with resin or thermoplastics to create composites with a very high strength-to-weight ratio. The result is a material about five times stronger and five times lighter than steel—and twice as stiff—that can readily tolerate heat and corrosion, making it ideal for extreme environments.

Despite the relatively high cost of carbon fiber, architects and engineers have started using it to construct buildings and infrastructural projects. For example, researchers at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Computational Design and Construction (ICD) and the Institute for Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) utilized carbon fiber as a prominent construction material in their latest work: the 2019 BUGA Fiber Pavilion at Bundesgartenschau Heilbronn in Germany, a dome made of glass- and carbon-fiber ribs clad in a transparent ETFE membrane. The team programmed a robot to deliver more than 492,000 feet of fibrous filaments in a spatial arrangement whereby fiber type and density could be varied based on structural loads. Designed to mimic biological systems, the carbon fibers surround the transparent glass fibers to form bundled structure members resembling flexed muscle tissues. According to the team, a single fibrous component can support “around 25 tons or the weight of more than 15 cars.” The dome, which has a free span of around 75 feet and shelters a floor area of 4,305 square feet, is composed of 60 of these components, each of which weighs only 16.8 pounds per square meter.

Although the ICD/ITKE work assumes the form of bespoke demonstrations, another research team has been deploying carbon fiber broadly in public infrastructure. The University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center has developed a composite arch bridge system made of carbon fiber–reinforced concrete. Designed for single-span bridges up to 65 feet, the system consists of a series of carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) tubes that are filled with concrete on-site and then topped with steel-reinforced concrete decking. Similar to inflatable rafts, the CFRP tubes are transported to the site in a compact, folded state—hence the nickname “Bridge-in-a-Backpack.” According to the center’s website, “The arches are easily transportable, rapidly deployable, and do not require the heavy equipment or large crews needed to handle the weight of traditional construction materials.” In addition to their lightness, the CFRP tubes serve as the concrete formwork, thus eliminating the need for additional materials. They also function as noncorrosive concrete reinforcing, a clear advantage over rust-prone steel. Based on these many benefits, the system has been used to build 23 bridges to date.

These examples demonstrate how lightness—among other material attributes—gives carbon fiber an advantage in construction. But how does this lightness perform when a project also calls for enhanced sustainability?

In a December 2019 Industry Week article, Ray Boeman, director of the Scale-Up Research Facility at the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation in Knoxville, Tenn., explains, “Carbon fiber has the best potential for lightweighting, but takes a lot of energy.” According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a typical CFRP composite requires 800 megajoules per kilogram (MJ/kg) of p
Sean O’Neill
The partnership between the artist and the firm goes back more than a decade. Together, they aim to predict the behavior of light in relation to materials, weather, humidity, existing daylighting, and other factors.

Waxing transcendental on the abstract sublime in the color-field paintings of Mark Rothko, the critic Robert Rosenblum once wrote that the artist’s canvases seem to “conceal a total, remote presence that we can only intuit and never fully grasp.”

On the western side of Philadelphia’s City Hall, a similar thing could be said of the public art piece by sculptor Janet Echelman, who has conjured up her own take on the sublime. Pulse renders Echelman’s ethereal sculptural work in suspended netting into a kinetic cloud of mist rising from fountain-dotted Dilworth Park. Referencing Pulse’s lights, which reflect the movement of trains under the plaza, Echelman calls the work “a living X-ray of the city’s circulatory system.”

Commissioned in 2009 within a larger activation of the city’s central plaza (construction of which wrapped in 2011), and opened last fall, Pulse is the fruit of a close collaboration between Echelman and a team of engineers from Arup. To achieve the quality of color that the group had in mind—“the Rothko effect,” Brian Stacy, Arup’s global lighting leader, calls it—Echelman and the firm devised a lighting system that illuminates the water mist from multiple angles, which adds depth and layers of color. On top of that, they had to account for variable outdoor conditions of daylighting, humidity, and wind.

In the decade between Pulse’s conception and launch, Arup and Echelman collaborated on a number of other installations, both indoors and out. Among these was the artist’s 2015 work for Washington, D.C.’s Renwick Gallery, 1.8 Renwick, a suspended expanse of polyethylene and polyester lit by LEDs. To dial in the piece’s pulsing, jellyfishlike quality, Arup enlisted a 3D model to investigate not only “light on the piece but also the light that goes through the piece,” Stacy recalls.

Arup relies heavily on this intensive digital and physical modeling to predict the behavior of color. But even with top-of-the-line equipment, Stacy says, “you can only get it so accurate on screen.” As with many works of art—Rothko’s among them—Echelman’s true colors are best experienced in person.
The firm also wants to advance energy efficiency in its projects.

n an effort to provide its clients with reliable information about how their buildings are likely to impact their occupants, the architectural firm NBBJ has created a Design Performance Group that is being led by Peter Alspach, a building physicist; Margaret Montgomery, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, an environmental futurist; and Nate Holland, a computational expert.

Alspach, whose title is Director of Design Performance, joins NBBJ from ARUP, where he was Principal and Global Leader of Environmental and Building Physics. Montgomery is NBBJ’s Sustainable Design Leader. And Holland is the Seattle-based firm’s Digital Innovation Director.

One of NBBJ’s goals for its Design Performance Group is to transform buildings into “open source” platforms that through constant feedback loops provide data that can be analyzed and then harnessed for the purpose of connecting design with improvements in occupants’ cognitive function, productivity, and health.

The Group is expected to strengthen NBBJ’s focus on improvements such as enhancements to interior comfort and daylight access, and reductions in water and carbon emissions. NBBJ states that the Group will explore solutions using predictive analytics, machine learning, advanced building engineering, computational tools and applied science, and neuroscience research.

NBBJ recently used computational tools to optimize complex glazing geometry, saving a leading tech client in Seattle $1.5 million in manufacturing costs. The application of data analytics enables Renown Health in Nevada to serve more patients without expanding its real estate footprint. NBBJ also developed new design tools that ensure every employee at the headquarters of Chinese tech giant Alibaba is within a 60-second walk from outdoor green space.

Aalto University
With clothing production leading the world as one of the highest-polluting industries, a new fiber contradicts the earth-damaging qualities of traditional materials. Ioncell technology, developed at Aalto University and the University of Helsinki, uses a range of materials, including wood, recycled newspaper, cardboard and old cotton to make fabric. This is good news for an environment scarred by cotton production and the development of synthetic fibers. The new and improved material can also be recycled at the end of its life cycle, significantly reducing clothing waste.

In a country already acutely aware of sustainable practices in forest management, the trees sourced from Finland offer a much lower carbon footprint than traditional clothing. Ioncell materials also protect the water supply by using ionic liquid in place of harsh chemicals.

While the designers focus on sustainable sourcing and manufacturing, the clothing also avoids contributing to a massive post-consumer waste problem. That’s because the fibers are biodegradable. Additionally, the fibers do not contain any harmful microfibers now associated with massive ocean pollution and damage to sea life.

Sourced from birch trees, the wood is responsibly harvested as part of a forest management program that grows more trees than they harvest. Once cut into smaller logs, the wood is sent through a machine that turns it into large chips. At this phase, the chips are sent to the cooker and then turned into sheets of pulp. The pulp is then mixed with the ionic liquid that results in a cellulose material. Fibers are then spun into yarn and turned into fabric.

Designers and researchers involved in the project report that the resulting material is soft and drapes naturally, making it a good choice for formalwear, coats, scarves, gloves and other products. It also accepts dye well.

The process for making Ioncell fibers is still in the research and development phase and they currently only produce it on a small scale, but they are hoping to unveil a preliminary product line as early as 2020.