Sydney: pre show to the main stage…..Glenn Murcutt

Day 1.5:  I began my journey on the 7th and arrived this morning at 7:30am on the 9th!  I felt ‘slightly’ akin to Bill Murry’s character in Lost in Translation…As my husband drove me to the airport ‘yesterday’, I began to fully grasp that I was experiencing this trip alone.  Not quite alone, as I will be meeting 31 other individuals from all over the world, with one common thread…a passion for architecture and the built environment, but nothing quite like this.  My husband equates it to summer camp…for architects.  I laughed, but in actuality, it is just that…an academic summer course, devised to infect and enliven our spirit of place and design. 

It’s 9:30 and my flight boards in approximately an hour.  A future classmate, Scott Lawrence, shares the exciting but uber long flight to Sydney.  We meet as I raise my hand to answer his request via text message….he was standing behind me. After introductions, we begin boarding.

What the flight lacks in tracing views of beautiful natural landscapes is forgotten upon your final decent into Sydney… a city of beautiful bays and winding waterways…breathtaking in urban form.  As journeys take on their own story, I had anticipated taking a 10min train ride from the airport to my hotel…after a few queries at an information booth, Scott found out that a coach fare was far cheaper for a round trip fare than the train.  Although it took about 45 min, it was a great introduction to the city…a bit of a zig zag…dropping points on a map of hotels visited.  It was interesting to be apart of a few strangers beginning hours in a new city…many languages, all with a similar excited inflection.  

As we ventured out of the airport, the fabric of the city was revealed…first a suburban scale, one to two story ‘newer’ buildings, modestly spaced; an infrastructure given way to an new auto-centric world.  As we approached the The Rocks, the buildings became thinner and taller, the streets narrower and the buildings ‘stated’ an authenticity to their vocabulary…a historic statement – and a grain only tradesman could achieve.  It’s amazing, how truly historic cities inherently reveal a story of time and place…a place before the existence of the United States, a history of non-linear streets, narrow canals and carved out spaces…where figure ground is practiced and understood.  When one has experienced spaces, something feels right… 

Staying at the Mercantile, an old pub at the top of the main artery to the city, George Street, I dropped my bags and began to wander to find my bearings and of course…the nearest internet café… 

As I rounded the corner on George Street I was greeted with a pedestrian only market…as I turned to look left to ensure safe crossing, I was struck unexpectedly with a view of Utzon’s Sydney Opera house.  Although I knew I was close to the landmark, I didn’t realize how close.  I was excited to see that Sydney offered walkability…. 

I decided to fully take in the Opera house along the harbor…snapping my first picture. 

After taking a moment to pinch myself, I realized, yet again what an amazing trip this would be, and how fortunate I am to be here… which leads me to say: Tyrone (the best husband in the world), thank you for making this experience possible; there aren’t enough words to describe your awesomeness!  I truly am the luckiest.

I went back to the market to explore the brevity of color and pedestrian quaintness and found Brew, where I ordered my first short black (Sydney speak for black coffee) and had my first go at a free wifi spot. 

After wandering further around The Rocks, I happened upon Argyle – a posh bar/restaurant with an open air courtyard, resembling a few nights out in Leeds, England – the only difference live music…a beautiful 3 piece jazz feel, where Scott and I re-met to discuss the next days’ ‘potential’ agenda… 

Australian Architecture Association – Sydney Architecture Tour, Opera House Tour and the coveted (my husband would kill to be here… A Trumpet Blast – “with a fanfare of guest trumpeters and the full force of the Sydney Symphony, James Morrison gives us a history of the trumpet with music from Charpentier to Miles Daves, Dizzy Gillespe and more.” 

I turned in early, as the jet lag began to weigh heavily…and only fitting that the pub I’m staying at had a show where I fell asleep to Neil Diamond’s…brown eyed girl…shala la la la la la la la la la te da 

Can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds…

Project FROG….

What do frogs have to do with Project FROG? I immediately thought of a project for saving frogs, definitely sounded San Franciscan, but this project has nothing to do with frogs. Well…maybe if you associate ‘green’ with a frog then you might. Let me explain. I recently toured the new Crissy Field Center sponsored by the AIA and led by the architect and co-brain behind Project FROG, Mark Miller. Project FROG’s objective: “to push the envelope in smart design, utilizing technology to pre-fabricate safe, healthy, affordable buildings that radically reduce energy consumption and construction waste.” So as you can see it’s more about being GREEN than it is about being a frog. Although Mark did mention that their goal was to provide a sustainable alternative for portable trailers utilized by school districts nationwide, which then lends one to think of leapfrog, the educational toys for kids and voila, we’ve come full circle. Mind you, this is pure speculation on my part, so I shall see to it to find out the ‘real’ concept.

Crissy Field Center is located in East Beach in the Presidio, with its backdrop: the Golden Gate Bridge. It became apparent to the National Parks Center that a quick solution for their temporary home had to be established in order to meet the approaching deadline for federal funding under the green stimulus package. Within a 6 month time frame, the building gained approval, construction began and is now occupied; only the site work done by landscape architects CMG is left to complete. It’s incomprehensible really, and the building breaths and offers daylighting and views.  In fact the floor acts as a thermal mass (meaning it stores heat, then releases it into the building passively) reducing energy costs by up to 50%.  Additionally, the building has already received LEED GOLD with the expectation of gaining LEED PLATINUM. Project FROG offers a prefabricated product that cuts construction time and waste to its absolute minimum; therefore cutting down on the embodied energy used within standard construction projects.  I was also impressed with the energy modeling they have been working on. The image itself is a piece of art! But its fundamental to their approach in that they fully understand the importance of integrated systems and can empirically see the results which esteems a powerful environmentally sensitive product.

I invite you to go see the new center. You can schedule a tour of the facility on Project FROGS website (under projects, then find Crissy Field Center), which I highly recommend!  And if you’re just in the Presidio or hanging out in East Beach, the cafe was buzzing while we were there.

Although temporary in nature (as all pieces can be disassembled and reassembled at another location), I hope this building stays around for a while. It’s a great addition to the neighborhood and stands for a great cause. On a separate note, I wonder if Project FROG has considered sending their product to Hati?

A fellow fdc colleague, Sarah Appleman, was also on site touring with me that day. Her thoughts about the day can be found on our fdc blog: http://freedesignclinic.blogspot.com.

A Hidden Jem

A walk around SF this weekend garnered a new appreciation. This city seems to continually surprise me, and to that I am grateful. Our first stop was the Art Institute at 800 Chester. I had been around North Beach many times, never knowing I was minutes  from a Diego Rivera mural. As we climbed the hill to just about its crest, I noticed a Spanish Colonial Revival-style building inhabiting the corner lot, siting gracefully among the Victorian homes. We entered the building at center on axis with the open air courtyard. The entrance itself lends a european feel as you arrive beneath a colonnade where artwork hangs playfully on the perimeter walls. To the left is the Diego Rivera gallery where in 1931 he painted “The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City”, featuring himself and his wife Frida Kahlo, as well as other key city officials and architects of the time. Within the gallery were fantastically oversized whimsical characters, one that you might see in a children’s book.

I had overheard that the views on the terrace were amazing, one of the many reasons I wanted to take my husband, as he is quite keen on panoramic birds-eye views. Although the views were stunning, my surprise came with the 1969 béton brut style expansion done by English-born architect Paffard Keatinge Clay. The subtle Spanish style stucco finish, with regular bays and symmetry juxtaposed to the rawness of the cast-in-place timber framing, the theater of construction, further strengthened by the linear jutting of the lecture hall, are dichotomies in style and fashion; however, sit in complete harmony and composition.

So the next time you are in the area, and are in need of a relaxing day, take a book to the terrace and soak up all that is San Francisco…. and don’t forget to check out the Diego Rivera, it won’t disappoint.

Diego RiveraArt Institute of SF (Main Campus)Art Institute of San Francisco - (Main Campus)Art Institute of San Francisco - (Main Campus)Art Institute - Diego Rivera Gallery

Self Sufficiency…an Island Dedicated to Change

The new york times just published a great article about Samso, Denmark, a small Danish Island located South of Denmark and West of Copenhagen. Last year the town embarked on a ten year study to see if their island of 4,000 could sustain itself. After a year, with help from mainland Denmark, Samso is self sufficient, and could potentially sell the extra energy it gains from it’s off shore, turbines. Wind turbines, burning straw (in kitchen furnaces), ground heat extraction and my personal favorite, a ‘special pump that captures heat from a farmers’ dairy cow milk, were all simple ways in aiding this effort.’ What I like most about the article is the simplicity of becoming self sufficient “or simply to clarify the scale of what is needed” as one of the founders of Cambridge Energy Forum in England so concisely puts it.

Check out the article here!

What it means to be a Human Being

Paul Hawken’s University of Portland commencement speech asks a compelling question….’What does it mean to be a Human Being on earth at a time when every living system is declining?”As a environmentalist entrepreneur, journalist and best selling author, his speech resonated Humanity. “Humanity is coalescing.”

It is inspiring to see the power of words.

“Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power.”

Take a minute and read it…What does it mean to you to be a Human Being?

“Be Happy”

AIArchitect Editorial Advisory Group member Mina Chow, AIA produced a fantastic web video titled, ‘BE HAPPY’. http://info.aia.org/aiarchitect/thisweek09/0821/0821rc_behappy.cfm.

What’s your story?

I love architecture because it is a marking of time, a unique story with a very loud voice of social, cultural and economic resonance. When I was 9, I wanted every house I entered to be different. I wanted to learn, to investigate the differences. I was disappointed that each of my neighbors had very similar homes, so I decided to become an architect and help provide uniqueness to EVERYONE!

How ‘Green’ is your City?

The Green City Post, just released Smart Cities findings of the Greenest Cities in America. Seattle ranked #1 with San Francisco, where I call home, coming in at #2. What I found interesting is, while San Jose was ranked #5 overall, it was ranked #1 for standard of living. Want to know how? Please visit Smart Cities website, see the methodology used to rank the ‘Green’ cities. So…how did your city do?