Sunday, February 26, 2012

A New Perspective

It might have been Hegel - really not sure -  who introduced the concept of a 'threshold of oblivion' - a place, beyond which (at least for the moment), a person cannot see or conceptualize other possibilities. 

In some sense, we are all at this threshold, all the time, but what we can see varies and changes with our experiences. And not everyone can see what we see. This is the difference of experience and a good reason for tolerance and compassion. I might also add that what we CAN see from our particular threshold  needs to be subject to constant re-evaluation.

As mentioned in a previous post, the New York Times had a piece about political groups and individuals opposing community plans to address climate change and energy efficiency programming.  They oppose it because they see it as a threat to their way of life. Perhaps their way of life is threatened, but by what?

I just finished Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies about the "fate of reading in an electronic age" and it is a deeply felt and wonderful meditation about the value of reading and worry about its future in a new era of visual and hyper-linked communication that substitutes breadth for depth. This is, in part, a lament for the shift occurring before his eyes and the uncertainty that comes with it. I highly recommend the book and I share many of his concerns, which sit, side by side, with my fascination at what the new technology is bringing us on the positive side of the ledger. This is standing at the threshold staring into the unknown. For some this might be a point of oblivion, for others it might generate an imaginative and conceptual flurry of activity and creativity. Where one fits in this schema depends on previous experience, inclinations, etc.

Thomas Kuhn, who gave us the 'paradigm shift' in his, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, outlined many of the causes and conditions for what becomes a new way of proceeding with the concerns of science. This includes the realization that the old ways no longer fit the bill, answer the problems or help us solve the puzzles related to scientific inquiry. The new 'way' becomes the new 'paradigm' and its adoption is the 'paradigm shift.' This is 'thinking outside of the box' (the box being the old paradigm) and other modes of discourse so prevalent in marketing strategies these days. (Kuhn's book was published in 1962)

Next on my reading list was 

Break Through:


From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility. Authors Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus published this in hopes of getting the environmental movement to realize that a new day needs to dawn and that the means and methods that gave us the EPA and the Clean Water Act are not working any longer. Relative to the concerns of Shellenberger and Nordhaus: we cannot have a paradigm shift without a new paradigm. The Break Through authors are valiantly suggesting options - it will be up to the specialist in power to move.

One of the most important points of Break Through calls for the inclusion of humankind in all conceptualizations of nature and the environment. It is logically impossible for it to be otherwise and it does not seem functional to pit 'man vs. environment' in future discourse. If we're going to be holistic don't hedge.

Kuhn writes in his opus: "Professionalization an immense restriction of the scientists' vision and to a considerable resistance to paradigm change."  He is writing about the institutionalization of theories, means and methods that make up a paradigm and become, to those not careful, a rigid orthodoxy. Through other works, like Christine MacDonald's Green, Inc., one can easily imagine (even if the content is only half true!) that changes in the fundamental ways of conceiving and doing this work would be tough to come by. She exposes relationships between industries and environmental organizations that are troublesome, at best.

Now, back to the NY Times piece in which Tea Party activists see green projects as stemming from a United Nations plot based on a UN Resolution known as Agenda 21. Many people with energy efficiency and environmental concerns (including myself) had never heard of this. Many 'best practices' for planning and resource management, budget management and limiting the cost of government operations seem to be rolled into it.

The piece concludes with a quote from a Roanoke County, Virginia Board of Supervisors member who voted to continue to support sustainability planning: “The Tea Party people say they want non-polluted air and clean water and everything we promote and support, but they also say it’s a communist movement,” said Charlotte Moore, a supervisor who voted yes. “I really don’t understand what they want.”

It may be hard for all of us to navigate a rapidly changing political, economic and environmental climate. It sounds frightening for humankind to no longer be the measure of all things. It might seem like a violation of rights when we're asked to shift our view from one which sees the Earth as something to serve humankind to one in which we must learn to live in harmony with the Earth. This is another Copernican Revolution and not all will understand or accept the significance of the matter at the same pace.

I'll be surprised if I don't revisit and revise this as time goes on...hopefully it will start a few discussions.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ralph Griffin House, Edwardsville, IL

This has always been a favorite - designed by Walter Burley Griffin and built in 1909.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fellow of the Saint Louis University Center for Sustainability

I am a Fellow of the Saint Louis University Center for Sustainability.

The Fellows are part of their Leadership Council - here is some more info from their website:

Sustainability Leadership Council

Everybody owns sustainability.  In other words, we are all in this together.  Innovative and practical sustainable solutions come from partnerships and collaboration.  The SLU Center for Sustainability developed the Sustainability Leadership Council (SLC) as a way to connect sustainability stakeholders throughout the Midwest.  The SLC engages sustainability leaders in the following ways:
  • REAL Partners - The Reality-Based Efficient Action Learning (REAL) Partners Program is tightly integrated with the Master of Sustainability (MOS) curriculum and provides our master's students with a variety of opportunities to collaborate with local organizations. Through various field practicum courses, students work directly with REAL Partners to apply academic concepts and research to hands-on sustainability projects in the "REAL world."   Get to know our REAL Partners organizations.
  • Fellows - Thought leaders and professionals who practice or support sustainability.  Fellows are often individuals who work for or with our REAL Partners organizations.  Get to know our Fellows.
  • Scholars - Academics from partner colleges within SLU who are engaged in research or teaching that touches on the topic of sustainability.  Get to know our Scholars.
Each of our collaborators is committed to sustainability as well as SLU's shared set of values that support the common good - competence, compassion, commitment, and community - often called the 5Cs or Standards of Conduct for the Common Good.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sustainability, Generosity, Gratitude Part 1

Let's begin a sustainability of imagination, generosity, and gratitude as well as performance. More on Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis soon.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Word Cloud and the Books I'm Reading

Inflation and the cost of electricity in Missouri

For a couple of years electricity prices were rising while inflation numbers were in decline. Energy efficiency seems like the best investment in this kind of scenario. The cost of the improvements couldn't be lower and the benefit couldn't be greater. Note from previous entry that the price increases effected bills in a upward trend even when usage was in decline (on a per capita basis)

Know your kilowatts!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Is Sustainability a UN Plot?

A way of life and a way of understanding the world and our place in it - how and when is a change in perspective necessary? What do you, what do we, really want?

I hope to follow up on this with some commentary about perspective and point of view and environmental discussions. I am reading The Gutenberg Elegies and it seems to have some closely related content.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Electrical Use and Price in Missouri

In the graphs below we see electricity use over a 20 year period and the price we paid for electricity in Missouri during the same 20 year period. (Click on the images to enlarge)

Use declined during the heart of the recession while price continued to rise. Energy efficiency measures may be required to maintain our energy bills at current levels. Understand the trends and act accordingly.

I have a few more graphs to share over the weekend. Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 4, 2012 blogger network is another way to access this blog and some other fine blogs w/ a local focus. is a link to the work I did at Washington U. last semester. Don Koster ran the graduate level design studio while I consulted/taught on sustainability and cost issues. Here is a peek at one of the student designs:

Friday, February 3, 2012

authenticity and sustainability


not false or copied; genuine; real: an authentic antique.
having the origin supported by unquestionable evidence; authenticated; verified: an authentic document of the  Middle Ages; an authentic work of the old master.
entitled to acceptance or belief because of agreement with known facts or experience; reliable; trustworthy: an authentic report on poverty in Africa.
Law . executed with all due formalities: an authentic deed.

1300–50;  < Late Latin authenticus  < Greek authentikós  original,primary, at first hand, equivalent to authént ( ēs ) one who doesthings himself ( aut- aut-  + -hentēs  doer) + -ikos -ic;  replacingMiddle English autentik  (< Anglo-French ) < Medieval Latinautenticus

Authenticity, brand and ‘do as I say, not as I do.’

Filtering Brandscapes through a St. Louis lens…

Anna Klingmann’s Brandscapes cites a NAHB study, which shows “an apparent contradiction between the choices individual consumers make when buying a home and their recommendations for smart growth policies.” (P287) She goes on to say “what most homebuyers want, in essence, is the biggest possible house in the least developed place.”

Survey citations include that only 27% wish they lived closer to work, only 9% wished they were closer to public transportation, while only 1 in 20 wished they were closer to the city. 64%, however, wished they had a larger house.

More from Klingmann’s book: “Overall a majority of consumers seek out single-family detached housing in a community of people of similar background and income, explicitly rejecting housing with mixed-income residents, urban proximity and social variety – values generally propagated by planners and architects.”    (P 288)

Traditional architecture is what most people want. Size and security (it seems to be that St. Louisans associate security with location) seem to be trump cards, so most market-rate, developer driven projects respond to prevailing notions of what will sell. This is usually the opposite of what architects and designers would like to see – it is the continuation of sprawl.

Eventually though,’ successful developments’ are repeated with such frequency that they become tired clichés and their run comes to an end. Klingmann sees branding as a way to end this cycle by re-marrying the left brain of the developer and the right brain of the architect into a cohesive unit. (Nice work if you can get it!) She also indicates that ‘signature’ buildings by ‘starchitects’ based on visibility and publicity are not enough – she concludes that the market value of housing…”must engage in a creative dialogue that connects to a broader segment of the population. Instead of simply presenting a glittering surface, architecture must project a three dimensional personality, with inconsistencies and imperfections…When the external appearance of a building aligns with its internal culture the brand resonates with authenticity.” (P 309)

Klingmann sees ‘branding’ with positive connotations that I find difficult to endorse. In her residential branding section is a subsection titled: “The Brand Called ‘You.’” From a philosophical perspective this seems to confuse ‘branding’ with ‘being.’ It is the co-opting of Sartre’s maxim: l'existence précède l'essence by those who want to use it to inspire people to buy things. This does not surprise me.

The rise of mid-century modern architecture enthusiasts in St. Louis is an indication that we have reached the end of another cycle. This is, in part, due to a need/desire for a feeling of authenticity and uniqueness that many homebuyers value, but cannot find around the next cul-de-sac of mcmansions with options a, b, and c for master bedroom layout.

The crash in the real estate market (about the time Klingmann’s book was published) and the slight move into focus of sustainability initiatives might indicate a shift in zoning (St. Louis County’s initiative) and performance (the city and county adopting the 2009 IECC). Alas, this does not represent a majority of potential homebuyers, but it does represent the governmental changes their elected officials have introduced.

St. Louis has an interesting segment of its population ready for something different, some combination of elements that work together in different ways and help their inhabitants accomplish goals not previously thought compatible. It is interesting to witness.

I started this post, as I often do, with a definition.

Given what we know about energy efficiency, climate change and other factors related to sustainability can anyone be in a position to make ‘authentic choices’ about their home environment without considering environmental impact?

In a sense, none of us is in a position to question the authenticity of the decisions made by those around us, but more importantly, none of us is in a position NOT to question the authenticity of the decisions we make.

from the conference