Wednesday, September 28, 2011

MSD on the South Side

Our storm water and sanitary infrastructure is a complex system of separated and combined lines. There are a couple of large projects taking place near my home just south of Tower Grove Park. The first involves replacing, repairing and upgrading lines that, in the future, will separate sanitary and storm water.
The water entering these street side inlets will drain to a stream. It might be the case that they pass through a waste water treatment plant on the way - at least for the time being. All water ends up in a stream, sometimes it takes a circuitous path.
Lots of precast concrete pipe is stocked and utilized in the rebuilding project. Streets are closed, large trenches dug and many hours of labor are needed to fit the new stuff. These are big projects, using big equipment and they test the patience of nearby residents. Still, it is an important part of taking care of issues that are very serious environmental concern. Our rates may rise but it is an essential part of being a responsible community.
The images below are from a pervious alley project just east of the larger pipe project. A concrete perimeter and the relaying of alley pavers on a specially designed substrate will work to slow water down before it enters the combined system. The goal is to prevent overload and untreated waste water from entering our streams. This is part of a multi-pronged approach to a big problem.
I lifted the grate at the end of the alley to reveal the intersection of the pervious alley and the existing system. The water in the alley will filter its way down, slowly, into the green pipe. Eventually much of it will discharge here and then return to the existing MSD system. The goal is to have water from a large rain event have a minimal impact on an already challenged system. It is one part of a solution.

Individuals can help with rain gardens and rain barrel usage on their own properties.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Photography and Construction

These books - a few classics and, perhaps, a classic in the making, are not overtly concerned with construction in the sense of the built environment. Still, they are worthwhile reading for those of us who must use cameras in our work.

The documentation of construction work in progress can be approached from several vantage points. It has a QC function, a historical function and, if done well, a marketing function. In-progress shots can tell a story of materials and assemblies that can help make important points about the process and value of construction practices linked to energy efficiency and sustainability.

Good photography can help share and generate enthusiasm for quality architecture. Geometry, light, space can be, to some extent, captured and shared through the photographic image. The images are not a substitute, but can be thought of and used as enticements to curiosity.

Capturing existing structures can bring satisfaction to photographer and viewer. We can learn from studying the geometric, documentary abstractions that make up much of the art of architectural photography. We get to share a 'vision,' as it were.

If you 'google' ruin porn you will find many articles and images of ravaged areas of Detroit and other metro areas in decay. There are interesting debates about the value and bias inherent in much of this work.

To me, it is a bit more complicated. I first started taking pictures of old buildings years ago. Some were/are very well preserved and others in very bad condition. I shared the images of buildings in various states of ruin with architects and other builders as reminders of the destiny of our life's work. It was/is  a bittersweet call to mindfulness about the temporary nature of our creations.

Recently I have started to think about ruins again. It is not always an indication of carelessness and neglect -not if we are looking forward. In some neighborhoods neglected buildings and their photographs are the 'before' pictures of a renaissance in the making. Preservation starts somewhere.

I love taking pictures - buildings in particular - and it requires a sense of responsibility and thoughtfulness and sensitivity. Think about it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

How much coal do you burn each month?

The headline from the Post - Dispatch reads: Leaks from Ameren toxic waste pond in Labadie stir fears. It seems like energy production is problematic in many, many ways.

Labadie, the largest coal-fired power plant in Missouri was a featured part of my Pecha Kucha presentation Thursday evening. Among other things I want folks in the region to pay attention to their electric bills. How many kilowatt hours (kWh) per month do you use? What steps can be taken to reduce that number?

Here are a few stats about the coal burned at Labadie from some work I did with the St. Louis Beacon a couple of years ago:

Our electric comes from a regional grid and it is generated from various sources: coal, nuclear, natural gas, etc. Still, 85% of what we use come from coal-fired plants.

What would the effect be if all the power for your electric use came from Labadie? Something like this:

The take away is, in part, that it takes more than a pound of coal to generate one kWh of electricity from the plant. The more efficient we get the less coal will be burned, the less fly ash generated and so on.

On the home front we did a serious upgrade on our HVAC system. The net effect is that we used 700 kWh less in  August 2011 than in August 2010 and I'm willing to bet we had a hotter August this year.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Green Project Planning with Washington University

I'll be working with a graduate level design studio to help students focus, in part, on best practices in sustainability for residential projects including townhouses, multi-family and duplex options. Another focus of my work with the group will be budgetary issues. Here is a map of the area and a bit of context for existing structures.

This particular project is on the national radar w/ Kaid Benfield and the NRDC as well. Should be a fun semester.