Blog » architecture
- August 26, 2010BY ANIKA JESI
An example of "Palletecture" from I-Beam Design [Photo via I-Beam Design]
Architects and designers are getting creative about finding low-cost ways to build green structures that are just as compelling, if not more so, than their pricier counterparts. It is no wonder, then, that trends such as "Palletecture" and other forms of architecture that use recycled and reclaimed materials have become a worldwide phenomenon.
Palletecture is more or less what it sounds like—a new and surprisingly trendy form of architecture that utilizes old shipping pallets as a building material. The benefits of using pallets over traditional building mediums are many. For starters, pallets are easy to come by; they are durable, reusable, and come in a standard size. Units built with pallets are also inexpensive, running as low as $11 per square foot, making them perfect for use in low-income and transitional housing.
One example of Palletecture's potential for humanitarian use is a prototype designed by the American firm I-Beam, which employs pallets to create a temporary shelter for refugees that can be built in less than two weeks, and can be manipulated to accommodate the needs of the individual families who live in them.
Architects have also used Palletecture for less philanthropic purposes, building single-family homes for environmentally-conscious clients, and even for building structures as grandiose as an opera house.
Palletecture is not the only trendy form of architecture utilizing recycled material. As of late, shipping containers have been gaining popularity as a building material for many of the same reasons pallets have—low cost, efficiency and universality. With fewer demands on our manufacturing infrastructure, thousands of shipping containers sit untouched in shipyards, no longer needed for their original purpose of exporting goods. Recently, architects have thought to turn the unused shipping containers into dynamic livable spaces. Shipping containers are popular materials for housing, as they can be converted into unexpectedly homey dwellings for the fraction of the cost and resources of conventional building materials -- and with the added bonuses of mold, termite and fire resistance.
In 2008, a shipping container was converted into a low-tech "Tasting Pavillion" for the San Francisco Food Festival, and more recently several recycled shipping containers were used to build the stunning OceanScope Observatory in South Korea.
A dumpster pool in New York City [Photo Credit: flickr user Inhabitat]
One of the most popular and recent projects that utilized discarded material for urban revitalization was the dumpster pools installed in New York City this summer. The idea was simple in nature, but innovative in that the architects utilized a lowly dumpster, turning it into a structure that was well designed, and brought strangers together who wouldn't have otherwise interacted.
Architects and designers are drawn towards recycled building materials such as pallets and shipping containers, not only for their low cost and green credentials, but also because of the interesting design challenge these materials present. As one I-Beam architect writes on "Palletecture," "each pallet has its own difficulties, it has its own geometry, and its own embedded history"¦ for an architecture student spending most of his or her time working in front of a computer, it is an eye-opening opportunity to confront real material that has mass, weight and structure, history, resistance, and ideas."
The success of these recent architectural innovations can be attributed to more than just a trend. Their popularity might stem from the fact that they present one possible future for the direction of sustainable cities, and they give us, as an urban society, hope that we can thrive in a world affected by climate change. Why not use these materials that would otherwise sit unused in the landfill to create a something that furthers the architectural dialogue, or betters our built environment?
- July 29, 2010BY TIMOTHEA TWAY
[Photo Credit: flickr user Snapsi42]
Next 10, an independent, nonpartisan organization that studies the intersection between the economy, the environment, and quality of life in California, has just released a new report on the untapped energy efficiency potential associated with existing commercial buildings. The paper outlines the energy efficiency benefits associated with making improvements to commercial buildings and analyzes the market barriers which make these improvements difficult.
- Commercial buildings account for almost 40 percent of primary energy usage in the U.S.
- Existing commercial buildings can be made 80 percent more efficient with new and existing technology
- New buildings can be designed to use one-third to one-half less energy with as little as two percent increase in construction costs
- The three primary ways to improve energy efficiency in commercial buildings include climate controls and equipment, lighting, and changes to the building's thermal envelope
- Split incentives, upfront capital costs and an information gap are some obstacles to widespread energy retrofits
The study concludes that several opportunities currently exist for improvement in California. While California has historically led the nation in energy efficiency standards, there are currently no standards for existing buildings, and the U.S. Green Building Council has an opportunity to create more stringent LEED requirements for newly constructed buildings, which are currently far below what is possible. Additionally, California has the largest-scale Property Assessed Clean Energy programs in the nation, which allow public entities in the state to partner with property owners to finance energy efficiency projects with low-interest loans. Next 10 notes that more widespread adoption of these programs will help spur investments in energy efficiency. The study also suggests that California create its own version of the U.S. Department of Energy Commercial Building Initiative in order to remain a leader in energy efficiency policy.
San Francisco's very own Transamerica Pyramid is featured in the Next 10 paper as a "monumental retrofit." Find out more about the Transamerica Pyramid's transformation here.
- July 12, 2010BY TIMOTHEA TWAY
[Photo Credit: Timothea Tway]
At SPUR we work hard to promote the use of green building and energy efficiency practices. (Did you know the SPUR Urban Center recently achieved a LEED Silver rating? Look for it in our lobby soon!) The City of San Francisco has a comprehensive green building ordinance to address new buildings and large retrofitting projects, however we always love to see more retrofitting of existing buildings in order to further conserve resources.
That's why we're so excited about W San Francisco. Located a few blocks from SPUR in the heart of SOMA, the W Hotel recently received the first LEED certification of an existing building owned by a major hotel chain in the nation. The building is also only the seventh hotel in the country to receive LEED recognition for an existing building.
In order to help achieve LEED certification, the hotel incorporated energy efficient lighting into 70% of its guest rooms, and utilized motion sensors and an HVAC system to save 300kWh of energy annually. The hotel also offers "zero-waste," carbon neutral events as well as meeting experiences for clients featuring local and organic food and beverages. The hotel is even considering incorporating wind turbines on the building's roof in order to further improve energy efficiency, which, if implemented, would be a first for a commercial building in downtown San Francisco.
The City of San Francisco currently has more than 50 LEED certified buildings, many of which are newly constructed. Hopefully this project will bring attention to the many opportunities in the City for green retrofitting and the benefits of improving the energy efficiency of already existing buildings. For more information on this topic, check out this recent report by the Mayor's Task Force on Existing Commercial Buildings.
- July 7, 2010BY FABIANA MEACHAM
Maybe "Block 27 Parking Structure" isn't the most promising of names, but there's not much one can do to jazz up this widely reviled building type, so why try to come up with something catchy -- right?
At least that's what I thought before encountering WRNS Studio's garage on SPUR's Mission Bay walking tour last week. The Mission Bay Redevelopment District, home to luxury condos, swanky biotech headquarters, and a burgeoning UCSF campus, contains one of the most inspired parking structures around. Winner of a 2010 AIA San Francisco Design Award, the building incorporates "a deeply canted plaster wall" and perforated aluminum panels to great effect, standing out sharply from the surrounding office park. Although I'm not sure anyone on the tour picked up on the "pixelated imagery of California's redwood forests," it's curious to think that a parking garage, of all things, could invoke the region's ecological heritage.
The parking structure, which will accommodate the parking needs of nearby laboratories and offices, joins Ricardo Legorreta's UCSF Community Center and Richard Serra's giant oxidized steel sculptures as landmarks in this newly minted high-tech community. All these structures incorporate elements inspired from nature and contrast sharply with the glossy corporate setting, creating a more textured and personal sense of place in Mission Bay.
Ballast, Richard Serra (left); UCSF Community Center, Ricardo Legorreta (right)
[Photo Credit: All photos by Colleen McHugh]
- October 26, 2009BY JULIE KIM
Don't miss this presentation by Sam Lubell, editor of the California edition of The Architect's Newspaper and author of Living West: New Residential Architecture in Southern California, published this month by Random House.
Tuesday, October 27, 6 pm--presentation and book signing
SPUR Urban Center, 654 Mission Street, SF
Free for SPUR members; $5 general admission
See below (or here) for more info. See you tomorrow night!
A dense concentration of design talent, uniquely varied topography, and one of the world’s most pleasant climates have made Southern California a crucible of architectural innovation. There, forward-looking clients respond to dramatic modern interpretations of form and site that capitalize on natural light and magnificent ocean views, perch delicately on steeply graded land, or maximize privacy on a sliver of a city lot.
Thirty of the best designs by the most creative firms portray the diversity of Southern California’s architecture. Author Sam Lubell draws examples from Montecito to San Diego and the arid conditions of Joshua Tree to illustrate the wide range of responses to geography, budget, and space. Featured architects include Barbara Bestor, Belzberg, Griffin Enright, Lorcan O’Herlihy, Michele Saee, the Office of Mobile Design, and Predock Frane, among others.
- May 2, 2009BY JULIE
New York Times "Streetscapes" columnist Christopher Gray highlights a few of Manhattan's ghost buildings—grand architectural plans shelved after the 1929 stock market crash. However easy it may be to compare then and now, let's hope that some of San Francisco's own grand plans—the Transbay Terminal, for instance—don't get stored away in a flat file somewhere, only to resurface decades after the fact.