Wednesday, December 28, 2011

rethinking the grid

Spending the last few days of 2011 in Southern California has been a wonderful opportunity to see how far the state and its cities have progressed in their efforts to repair and protect a fragile ecology. Los Angeles still suffers from a layer of brown smog that hangs over the region, but the air here is much clearer than it was in the past. Policies aimed at reducing fossil fuel combustion are working - incentives for buying fuel-efficient cars have led to consumers and taxi fleets adopting hybrids in extraordinary numbers (Priuses are ubiquitous here) and programs meant to increase renewable energy generation have made this the leading state for rooftop photovoltaic installations. The best part of this progress is how visible it is.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

unintended irony, parking meter edition

It's great to see how seriously California and its cities are working to increase the state's sustainably generated electricity capacity, and to establish an infrastructure for charging electric cars. But you still see stuff like this: p/v-equipped parking meters with their panels pointed east (huh?), shading each other. Oy.

Friday, December 16, 2011

more wall panels

The insulated steel wall panels are going up at the garage and the front porch, and by the end of next week we should have most of the wall panels in place. We'll write about the installation process (and sing the praises of our installers) later. Right now, we wanted to share some photographs of the panels in different light conditions, to show how the color and texture change with the weather and time of day...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

wall panels, continued

The erection crew put up the first two wall panels this afternoon, in between solving one problem (the screws provided were too short) and running into another (the third panel would line up in a spot with no supporting girts or other structure). Nonetheless, the installed panels give us a good idea of how the exterior is going to come together. The silver finish (seen here with Holly peeling back the protective plastic wrap) is really beautiful. Because it reflects so much of the ambient light around it, the silver finish appears to change color as the viewer moves. It also changes as the light fluctuates between direct sunlight and the indirect light of an overcast sky.

wall panels

For the last few days, our steel erectors have been preparing to install the insulated steel wall panels. At 3" thick, these panels are thinner than the roof panels, but still have an insulating value of at least R-24. Like the roof panels, they are held in place with clips designed to avoid breaking the thermal barrier, and they use two kinds of sealant (gooey stuff from a tube and self-adhesive strips) to maintain a continuous moisture barrier.

Preparing the panels and the frame is taking some time and care...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

day job, unexpected honor edition

I just heard this morning that the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and the Journal of Architectural Education awarded my article, "Misprision of Precedent: Design as Creative Misreading" the 2011-2012 Journal of Architectural Education, Best Scholarship of Design Article Award. This is a huge honor, and I feel very, very fortunate.

I owe a great debt of thanks to Holly, who first suggested the idea for the article, and our friends, Tony DeLeon and Nate Zelnick, who read drafts and encouraged me to send it in.

Friday, December 9, 2011

solar decathlon

FIU just produced a video of the university's entry into the 2011 Solar Decathlon, sponsored by the US Department of Energy. The FIU project was terrific in a lot of ways, especially in the way it incorporated passive solar shading and hurricane protection elegantly. The project was designed by an interdisciplinary team of students, led by my architecture department colleague, Marilys Nepomechie and including Eric Peterson (who helped assemble the project in both Miami and Washington) and Brett Moss.

The accompanying news article is online.


Last night, tin box recorded its 15,000th page view. The blog started as a way to keep friends and family up to date on our progress, and so social media sites (like Facebook) and email servers remain the major sources of traffic for the blog since its inception. However, two-thirds of our visitors now come via Google and other search engines. This is probably a good thing, since it means a broader audience has access to the record of our experiences. We're happy to help make design and sustainability more accessible to a larger audience.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

day job, peer-reviewed edition

By sheer coincidence, two scholarly articles of mine are appearing in print at the same time. One is excerpted from a chapter on Italian fascist-era urban design in my forthcoming book, and is published in the January issue of Planning Perspectives. The other is an essay on urban design in Italy's East African colonies, which came out in the December issue of the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. It's a real honor to print work in two journals I respect profoundly.

Above, an image of the Esposizione Universale di Roma from the exhibition "Metropole/Colony," which I'm curating with Jon Mogul of the Wolfsonian. It will open in the Wolfsonian's teaching gallery at the Frost Museum on FIU's main campus next month.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

roof panels complete

Late this afternoon, the steel erector installed the last of the insulated roof panels. There's still a lot of work to do on the roofs, including trim, gutters and photovoltaic panels, but it's really nice to see all the panels in place.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Design Miami

"How much does your house weigh?"

Buckminster Fuller's famous aphorism-in-the-form-of-a-question brilliantly raised concerns that had escaped the focus of architects, but would become central to the practice of many of the twentieth-century's key figures. Fuller's interest in efficiency and his close study of natural forms led to the invention of the geodesic dome, the dymaxion living units and the concept of synergy. Design Miami worked with Fuller's friend, Norman Foster, to bring two projects - a restored fly's eye dome and a new dymaxion car built by the British architect - to the Design District this week. It was spectacular to spend time poring over both, as well as the accompanying exhibition of photographs and drawings. And that's not all Design Miami had for us this year...

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Social sustainability hinges on the ability to foster community, which, in the built environment, emerges from public spaces - streets, squares, parks - that engage, excite and reward the people who use them.

One of the best developments in Miami in recent years has been the explosion of large-scale graffiti in the Wynwood district north of downtown. These murals transform neglected streets into vibrant public space.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

roof, again

An addendum to our earlier post about the upper roof. The first photo shows the upper roof with its b-deck sheathing, while the lower image shows the insulated roof panels installed. One difference is reflectivity; the galvanized b-deck is almost mirror-like, and reflects light much more brilliantly. In fact, it casts the kind of harsh glare that caused the Miami Marlins to revise the finish on their new stadium in Little Havana (see below). The duller finish of the galvalume paint on the roof panels, however, moderates the amount of sunlight reflected into our neighbors' houses, which is a good thing.

The other difference has to do with grain and pattern. The wider spacing of the standing seams in the roof panels makes the roof - and the house as a whole - seem less broad than it did when the roof was covered with just b-decking.

We're curious to see how the roof changes when we install the photovoltaic panels. In the meantime, bonus photos of Miami's biggest tin box, the new Marlins stadium:


Our steel erector set the insulated panels in place on the upper roof yesterday. These panels, each 42" wide, run the full 18' length of the roof slope in order to eliminate the kinds of lap joints that might leak. The standing seam joints between the panels also eliminate leaks (by raising the seam well above the roof surface) and hold the panels in place by crimping around the stainless steel clips that are screwed through the corrugated b-deck and into the z-purlins.

The installation process includes two kinds of sealants to complete the moisture and thermal barrier: