Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Libraries & Books & St. Louis

This is the library, The Carpenter Branch, where my kids learned to love reading, where they earned tickets to the ball game and sat for story hour. It's a short walk from home and it was, for a long time, my connection to the great collection of the St. Louis Public Library. The rehabbed downtown library will be opening soon and I look forward to it. Browsing in the art and architecture stacks always leads to inspiration.

I'm almost done reading The Library, An Illustrated History; the book reminded me about the connection between Carnegie and some of our St. Louis libraries.

I'm fascinated by the price so many have been willing to pay to provide and acquire information. The history of books is the history of power. The printing press has been a great equalizer and the mass production of paper even more so.

The book goes on to describe Carnegie's mission, a debt of gratitude for the library he was given access to as a child, along with his "Gospel of Wealth." He believed the the rich should live without extravagance, provide moderately for the needs of their dependents, and distribute their 'surplus' funds for the benefit of the common man - especially those who endeavored to educate themselves." (P183)

Carnegie made his fortune, in part, due to the labor of those who worked for them and these workers often fought bloody battles against his company during strikes. When he began his work of library building some thought, "Carnegie ought to have distributed his money among his employees while he was making it. No man can accumulate such wealth honorably. It may be legally honest, but it's not morally honest." (P185)

In the 19th century Henry Ward Beecher understood how the cost of books had come down and made them more affordable than ever when he wrote: "...A little library, growing larger every year, is an honorable part of a young man's history. It is a man's duty to have books. A library is not a luxury, but one of the necessities of life." (P181)

Maybe this was the equivalent of the internet. It is access to information and ideas that increase our ability to compete in the market place, but more importantly, to flush out a life in full. It is not the books that fulfilled a duty, but the reading and digesting the information and ideas that change a person, that encourage citizenship, an understanding of the bigger picture, and one's role within that realm.

I keep my personal library around two thousand volumes and I constantly refer to old favorites for continued inspiration. Great books read at age 25 become a benchmark, a way to gauge how we've changed when re-read at 50. I now share my library with my adult children - it makes for some great conversation.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Conceptual Art & Current Practice

The image above is contained in Materializing Six Years - Lucy R Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art

The Dematerialization of Art is an essay written by Lippard and John Chandler and published in Art International in 1968.

The essay begins:
"During the 1960's, the anti-intellectual, emotional/intuitive processes of art-making characteristic of the last two decades have begun to give way to an ultra-conceptual art that emphasizes the thinking process almost exclusively. As more and more work is designed in the studio but executed elsewhere by professional craftsmen, as the object becomes merely the end product, a number of artists are losing interest in the physical evolution of the work of art. The studio is again becoming a study. Such a trend appears to be provoking a profound dematerialization of art, especially of art as object, and if it continues to prevail, it may result in the object's becoming wholly obsolete."

When we add the paragraph about Martin Luther King Jr. in the artifact/image above to the equation we can see, just a little bit, of the kinds of thinking prevalent at a turning point in American Art History. The book and essay are engaging and thought provoking insights into some fascinating work.

My own studies and growth have let me catch on to some of this in bits and pieces over the years. The aftermath of the despair made evident in the image above of art's inability to be used as a "political tool" has, to some degree been answered with numerous projects over the decades since the 1960s.

As R. Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” 

Among projects I've found most inspiring are those involving the built environment in  some meaningful or useful way.

Gordon Matta-Clark, who died in 1978, was an artist trained as an architect who engaged urban environments quite directly while simultaneously sending messages to those with a stake in the status quo, A couple of years ago The Pulitzer Foundation had an important show of Matta-Clark's work.

Sam Mockbee & DK Ruth Started Auburn's Rural Studio in the early 1990s. This combination of education, social engagement and creative architecture is a great answer to the perceived political shortcomings of 'art.'

New models for creating art and architecture are unfolding around us in response to difficult economic times and, perhaps, in response to the kinds of political change for which art is not well-suited (Guernica notwithstanding).

The Rebuild Foundation (which I've been involved in) is a contemporary example of artist/architect engagement here in St. Louis (and elsewhere) that seeks to bring needed resources to under-served communities while involving the entire community/neighborhood in the process.

Incremental, step by step approaches that increase mindfulness, educational opportunity and practical opportunity will add up over time. Inclusiveness with other communities and other community groups will expand as well. 

Leadership in this realm provides alternative activities to those lamented above. And that is political after all.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Home Heating Index and You

When it comes to heating bills, how is your home doing? Is there a way to compare with others? It turns out there is a simple calculator that can give you a little bit of a head's up. Search Home Heating Index Calculator on your favorite search engine to get started. Or, the one I used for this example is available at:

For St. Louis, HVAC systems are designed for 5000 Heating Degree Days, but you can find the actual data for each year here:

What the hell are heating degree days:

—To calculate the heating degree days for a particular day, find the day's average temperature by adding the day's high and low temperatures and dividing by two. If the number is above 65, there are no heating degree days that day. If the number is less than 65, subtract it from 65 to find the number of heating degree days.
—For example, if the day's high temperature is 60 and the low is 40, the average temperature is 50 degrees. 65 minus 50 is 15 heating degree days.
We use this data to level our calculations and comparisons about equipment and efficiency from year to year.

You can get your utility data on line and with it you can separate the data into base load and seasonal loads. This post explains how:

At the end of it you'll have an idea of how a home of your size, in an area similar to yours, compares to others in energy consumption.  Chances are the lower the number the greater the comfort and, certainly, the lower the bills.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Details, Details...

While cleaning some old boxes I came across the following documents from a project in the late 90s. By 2008 the room and trim described & illustrated below had been dismantled and the house demolished and a new home built in its place.

There is no doubt that the trims are different. Given that we were using materials from the 18th Century and creating additional material as needed to fill in the gaps I wonder if we really had other meaningful options. My question is: Can this difference be experienced?

The owner of the house looked at this letter and the drawings, walked into his room looked up and decided nothing needed to be done. He could not imagine, I suppose, a different experience for himself or his family of the space. Had he been as outraged as his architect he would have had to insist on and then endure several weeks of additional construction and painting. Eventually the project was prominently featured in a nationally distributed magazine in 2002 - Antiques.

These documents remind me of how much the construction industry and the profession of architecture has changed in the last 10-15 years.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Scenes from a Bike Ride

A legacy of destruction and construction, time flies and a river so low - all part of a 20 mile spin around town.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Silva Cells & Infrastructure Concerns

Update: Here is  an updated photo of this project from the vantage point of the photo on the left below. It is a pervious paver installation w/ space for planting trees, etc. that can prosper in this set up.

I stopped by an interesting project near the corner of Vandeventor and Kingshighway on my way to the office this morning. It seems that compacted soils and plenty of paving are cutting short the lifespan of urban trees. This project (see pix below) is a way around the problem. By providing some structure around soil, the tree roots can grow more freely and become stronger, longer lasting assets. This will also reduce costs of maintenance and replacement.

Some Laclede Gas people were on site to observe and contemplate how to service and maintain their lines around such a substrate. As seen below the 2 yellow pipes are natural gas and the metal pipe in the foreground is a lead water supply line.

The above images are from: and show a side by side comparison.

On another note the infrastructure on my street is falling apart due to age. Laclede Gas has been working - even during the night at one point, to fix a neighbor's gas line that was leaky enough to collect water in it and disrupt appliance functions. Part of this might be explained by the steady stream of water from a leaky water main or service from a few more houses up the street. The images below show the day to day realities of band aid placement on our aging infrastructure.

There is no great way to solve these problems, but I like the idea of trying - as with the Silva Cell study. The rest will happen in starts and fits as utilities grapple with the right balance of service and profit.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Here is St. Louis

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

St. Louis RCGA Green Business Expo on 9/12/2012

The St Louis RCGA's Green Business Challenge will host a business expo on September 12, 2012 at the Sheet Metal Workers Building on Chouteau from 9:30 - 11:30AM. See the images below for more details and come on out to learn about the good work going on in the business community.

The Green Business Challenge has been going on for several years now and is a great example of incremental changes adding up to a real contribution.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis: Diverse Design and LEED Platinum Performance

Since 2008 Habitat is building the finest performing and cost effective homes in the area. Take a look at some of the work in the portfolio and appreciate the diversity of materials and style that match existing neighborhoods for scale and feel. Habitat is a local treasure of willingness to try new things while moving towards meeting it's mission to end substandard housing in our region.

The Carondelet Neighborhood

University City


Old North


Check out for more info, including how to volunteer or make a donation.