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dwell on design

BREAKING: SF’s Hottie Mayor Making His Way to Dwell Conference

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You heard it here first, Gavin Newsom is scheduled to make a surprise appearance at the Dwell on Design conference momentarily…we hear he’s quite the Dwell fan, too.

UPDATE: He’s here! Giant posse trails into the room, Newsom shakes hands with Dwell editor Sam Grawe.

Design and sustainability minded San Francisco residents, apparently all you have to do is ask your mayor to do something green, and he’ll do it. And he’s very proud that he does whatever he wants and doesn’t have to ask permission from Arnold, Congress or Air Force One.

According to a raspy-voiced Newsom, San Francisco is the greenest large city in the US, had an alternative fuel taxi fleet before anyone else did, and has more solar projects than other places in the nation. They also have a 69.1% recycling rate, one of the highest in nation, and even though it pisses off Newsom’s “good friends” at grocery chains, they’re still saying no to plastic bags. In the works: Capturing the natural energy of SF Bay’s tidal flow by building underwater wind farms, and an ambitious green building program to get more architects and developers to achieve higher LEED certifications.

Now, the architecture bonus round: Not bad! He ticks off building after building, architect after architect, LEED certification after LEED certification, even namechecks Frank Gehry. Newsom claims Gehry said he would never ever do a building in SF, and now they’re trying to get him to consider it. Because you’re not a world-class city unless you get Gehry.

Triple word score: He’s a subscriber. “Politicians usually lie about that stuff,” says Newsom. “But I actually am a subscriber.” We think we’re in love.

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And That’s One for Architects to Grow On

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Gwynne Pugh at Dwell on Design: In my schooling I really despaired planning because it was like nothing would ever get done, it was like herding cats. And I hate to say this, but at this end of my career, I really see the value of planning in making the biggest impact on communities.

Hockenberry: So you’re staying architects have the ability to learn on the job? Wow, incredible! We’re making the news today.

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All the Cool Architecture Firms Do Projects on Old Navy Bases

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The Dwell on Design schedule says Craig Hartman from Skidmore Owings & Merrill is supposed talk about the Treasure Island project which would make for a SOM vs. Pugh + Scarpa Navy Land Redevelopment Project Showdown, but it looks like he’ll be going over their proposal for the Transbay Tower instead (which we like to call the Crystal Cathedral). Oh, duh: He’s obviously trying to sway some more votes before the deadline. Way to work it, Hartman!

Ok, cool, now he’s talking about Treasure Island (which we really hope they rename TI). The 400-acre island plopped in San Francisco Bay is a former Navy base that they’ve making into a mixed-use environmentally sensitive residential community. It will be connected with new ferries to the mainland, and linked with a bus system and possibly some alternative forms of personal public transportation. They’ve designed the grid of the city to maximize natural light and minimize wind. And they’ll also have a community farm…inspired by Alice Waters! It all comes around.

Gwynne Pugh counters with Pugh + Scarpa’s Navy project: a 15-acre Navy waterfront parcel in San Diego. With close proximity to the water it needed to serve at a gateway to the city with a relationship to the waterfront–”more like Nice,” says Pugh. The developers came to them with a bad “Irvine-like” plan (OC residents, take that any way you’d like), so they converted it into a more pedestrian-friendly layout using the paseo/plaza model–so pedestrians could move through the larger buildings and still interact with the water.

In this Navy vs. Navy faceoff, we’d say Hartman and SOM win this one, because an island from the bottom up is cooler than revamping the San Diego waterfront.

But wouldn’t it have been cool to have all the Transbay firms go head to head in some kind of McLaughlin Group blowout? We would pay money for that. Okay, back to paying attention.

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Sustainability, Rated XXX

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Reed Kroloff at Dwell on Design: As an editor of an architecture magazine, I think we all used to be excited about “archi-porn,” that stuff that made us all want to rub our faces all over it.

Hockenberry: [mock disgust] It didn’t make me want to rub my face in it. I’m actually looking forward to “enviro-porn.” What will that be like?

Kroloff: Really juicy little subterranean cooling systems. Cool, but yet warm.

Hockenberry: [faux aroused] Ooooh.

Kroloff: [similarly faux aroused] Ooooh.

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Moving Past Architecture’s “Self-Infatuated” Era

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“Building a Better Architect” was the theme for the afternoon session at Dwell on Design so taking the stage were Henry Urbach, who was named as Curator of Architecture and Design at SF MOMA last year, and Reed Kroloff, who, until recently, was Dean of Tulane’s School of Architecture, and who is now Director-designate of Cranbrook (something he told us at lunch would be like living in an “Eero Saarinen country club”).

Both praised Thom Mayne‘s SF Federal Building and said, basically, architects need to take off the vanity plates and follow the lead of someone like Dwell, who Kroloff used as a great example for successfully knocking architecture off its pedestal. Brilliant move, Kroloff, you just doubled your honorarium!

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Community-Building Design Solutions Are More Accessible Than You’d Expect

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Andrea Cochran
on Friday at Dwell on Design: We put giant planters on the rooftop of an affordable housing high rise because they didn’t have the money to do a sedum [green] roof and people started growing their own vegetable gardens in them. They were using a space that would otherwise have been wasted…this is something that could be done anywhere.

Hockenberry: And I think these containers are actually available from Home Depot.

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Alice Waters Goes Back to School

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When Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley asked Alice Waters to spiff up their menu, they had no idea what they were in for. Sure, she agreed to it, she told the audience at Dwell on Design today, but she also came back to them with a few more things she wanted to do…like tear up a parking lot, plant a garden, start composting, make the students and teachers start dining together, and build a new sustainable cafeteria. You know, just a few minor adjustments. But soon the school had not only tied that new menu into every aspect of the school, they had created a new community through food production and preparation. The Edible Schoolyard is the name of that project (with a pretty nice website, too). To spread awareness about it–and encourage other schools to adopt it–the group planted another garden on the Washington Mall.

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The Cold Hard Truth About Prefab

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Hockenberry during a Q&A at Dwell on Design: The fact is, building something is never the most sustainable solution, it’s always more sustainable to retrofit an old building than to make something new.

Michelle Kauffman: [reluctantly] Yes.

Hockenberry: Ouch.

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Michelle Kauffman’s New Green Communities

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The prolific Michelle Kauffman‘s own prefab career came out of a search for affordable and green homes, so she decided to make prepackaged versions that answered both. At Dwell on Design today, she revealed that a similar desire for affordable, green neighborhoods led her to a new endeavor: prepackaged communities. Like her many house designs, the modular community systems will soon be spread out all over the country.

A new community in San Leandro, CA is made up of 24 townhouse units, sustainable materials and shared gardens; Lotus is a sustainable community in Northern California on a lake; and she’s also working on a planned community in Denver. She’s also releasing the MK Solair, prepackaged modular townhome units for urban environments.

Why build modular communities like this? To push the green agenda: The more they can prepackage the features, the more likely developers will be to adopt it. We’d also imagine the cost-cutting angle would appeal to stingy development companies.

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Michael McDonough’s e-House Is e-Xcellent

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Move over LivingHomes, the structure that might be better described as the “greenest on the planet” is Michael McDonough‘s e-House, that he’s been working on for seven years using this philosophy: “You start with what’s there and wrap the building form around it.”

For e-House, McDonough looks at all the hi-tech and lo-tech building technologies available–materials, methods, techniques–and tests how they work together. He began by examining the site during a five-year “source everything and invent nothing” research period. In fact most of the “technology” he found simply required working with what was already there.

So solutions like placing windows on the side of the house that caught the most sun resulted in light entering the house at 4am on the summer solstice. Angling the walls to act as lightcatchers bounced light into darkened corners. And studying the energy consumption to see where heating systems would work best resulted in a 95% efficient woodburning fireplace–that also acts as a great pizza oven for the kids.

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