190: Post-Occupancy Analysis – Montreal

I’ve been on North American soil for exactly a month today. After leaving my home of one year in Madrid, I haven’t stopped traveling for more than a few days, bouncing between Connecticut, Washington DC, New York City, Ithaca, Philadelphia, Ottawa, and finally Montreal. This last stop has really charmed me and now that I’ve been out of the woods for a few days (we’ve been camping) and have an internet connection for the moment, I’ve got a reflection for you all. This is an introduction to a project I’d like to do about why Montreal is such a great city. The idea is to analyze how healthy it is on social, economic, and infrastructural levels in order to influence the design of now-developing cities. Anyone have an idea where I can get a grant to do something like that? Here’s the reasoning why. But first, some photos of the music, people, and places that make this city great.

 

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Post-Occupancy Analysis

Over the last fifty years, designers of the built environment have come to recognize the need for post-occupancy analysis and the benefits of post-construction reflection. The most thorough architects put their work to the test, revisiting the site in its intended state, not the austere people-less building in the architecture magazines but rather its most alive state.

The post-occupancy analysis questions the efficiency of the building that once seemed perfect on blueprints and computer screens. The experts analyze the functionality of the spaces, materials, and infrastructure in a way that can only be achieved with real world variables. They verify the assumptions and hypotheses made during design of the building and calculate the results of risks taken like the use of new products or compromising on materials for the sake of a tight budget. The goal is to understand the outcome of such risk taking and to arrive at an educated conclusion for the benefit of future designs. Architects engaged in the act of designing and not merely building, are constantly looking for feedback in order to inspire their creations to the next level of perfection.

However logical and reasonable this practice seems on paper, it is the most obvious place to cut corners in a capitalistic society that pushes architects and artists into the “star or starving” extremes. The clients who finance the architecture are often unconcerned with the qualitative facts and figures relating to the performance of their building. Once all is said and done, they are eager to fill it with tenants and customers, forgetting the annoying design meetings and expense reports.

So what is to become of this often-forgotten most important step of design? Does one sigh, “Oh well, maybe in a perfect world,” and carry on with the profiteering? Is there a way to make this feedback looping profitable and therefore important to those who see through the filter of their bank statements? The answer should be yes, resoundingly. Here’s why:

1. Heating and cooling costs are the architects’ legacy to their clients. Whatever orientation and glass the building uses are likely to have as much impact on the cost of climatization as the thermal insulation and ventilation, either intended or accidental. A client who is proceeding with a new design would be wise to consider the post-occupancy utilities costs related to scorching-hot atriums and thermally leaky wall systems which can be huge liabilities over time. Architects have the ability to predict some climatic phenomenon but not all.

2. Technology is the greatest legacy of the 20th Century. Every day new ways of doing old things are being designed and manufactured exchanging quality and reliability for testing and assurance. Architects, like any designers, are always eager to employ the newest materials and fittings for their clients but to the end that often they must call upon unreliable sources. New windows, for example, can be specified for their higher insulation values and recycled materials but upon final installation and a few rainstorms might be revealed to be leaky and inferior products costing twice as much to remove and replace. Equally, the cheaper floor system installed might transmit intolerable quantities of noise while a space just might not be bright enough.

3. Socioeconomic functionality is something that architects parallel sociologists in their eagerness to study. Few other professionals spend equal time observing both the flow of pedestrian traffic and electrical current. The architect is more than happy to speculate on the attractive nature of their public gathering spaces and appealing finishes but until their construction goes up, there is little to be done besides predict. New York City is filled with plazas designed to provide man access to his greatest luxury – space, with the unfortunate reality that they are more dead than alive. The wise office building manager knows that a productive staff needs a healthy environment, something that architects attempt to achieve by a multiplicity of different means. Light, sound, views, fresh air, human circulation, adjacency; all of these impact the socioeconomic functionality of a commercial or office space.

It is clear now that post-occupancy analysis should be a fundamental part of a growing and prosperous American architectural tradition. So why isn’t it? When it comes to business, the only tradition in America is competition. New networks of businesses and intellectuals centered around sharing and collaboration are popping up called “innovation districts,” revolutionary in a country that has been based for so long on isolated camps of secretive development. The age of the feedback loop is coming and a period of childish “me first” and “that’s mine” capitalism appears to be coming to a close.

It has been said that the 20th Century was the age of technology and that the 21st Century will be the age of biology. The most fantastic development included in this change will be the shift from linear, hierarchical systems to collaborative communities more closely resemble ecosystems where each member has its own niche, eliminating much need for competition. The agency of post-occupancy analysis facilitates this shift with its emphasis on iterative design, a learning through experience akin to the process of evolution which Mother Nature is so famous for perfecting. Build humans with appendixes and over time follow the feedback loop to modify the design and make them more efficient; build cities one way and over time follow the feedback loop to modify the design and make them more efficient.

Our bodies are our homes in this life and our buildings will still be homes when we’re gone. It’s time to put some thought into the legacy we’re leaving behind.

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163: Reflections On Choice, Change & Intuition

Perfect stillness comes from the acceptance of perfect truth.

Humans are channels for the divine

Intuition: channeling the divine

In the last nine months living in Madrid I’ve learned to do some things pretty well like speaking Spanish, making soup and teaching high school students. When I went to Peru at the end of 2012 I didn’t know I was going to meet the girl-angel who would tell me about the perfect next step to take after my college graduation. When I committed to moving to Spain to teach English, I didn’t exactly know why I had to leave the USA but I sensed it was the next step and for once in my life, there was no arguing with my intuition. You see, I never thought about it before but intuition really does play a large role in how I make big decisions in life. Now that I’m involved in all the new-agey spiritual woo-woo like chakras and intention, I realize that every time my mother spoke about following her gut she was talking about her intuition and it’s a shock to me to realize that this habit of listening to my inner voice has actually rubbed off on me.

Leaving the perfect boyfriend for a largely unknown reason was hard to explain. Suddenly I was marching off to Spain as a high school English teacher leaving behind the opportunities offered by a 3.6 GPA and an architectural thesis that had won two awards before I graduated. Whenever I tried to defend my decision to either myself or another, I was silenced by a heavy stillness deep inside me and a deafening silence rang out from someplace between my heart and my diaphragm. Over the course of surviving this decision the universe made for me, I have realized the stillness is the physiological manifestation of my psychic senses speaking to me. You can’t imagine how odd it is for me to see those words pouring out of my fingers and forming a sentence. “Me, psychic? Ha. Okay,” says the old Veronica but the new one realizes that these are just the words we use to speak about touching our true center.

Intuition is the guide to creating the best version of ourselves.

Growing up, my family was heavily immersed in the submissive paradigm. I recall being lectured on how children should be seen and not heard and that parents had to love their children but were not obligated to like them. I also recall knowing this was not the way things should be. Where did that sense of right speech come from? Who taught me that truth? I had no role models growing up who taught me that I deserved affection and attention but something inside me has always known that to be true and has always sought spaces where that truth is alive and well. I guess that must be my intuition too.

Anyway, the point is that we all know things without intellectualizing them. Having said that, what makes a long-held belief more valuable than one that is foreign to us? When the inner voice can lead us to prosperous and healthy ways of living, what makes consciously intellectualized beliefs more or less valuable? Just because we’ve lived our whole lives by one set of rules, what is stopping us from changing them?

natureteacher

This is about advocating for our own abilities to create ourselves. Like all self-critical humans, I spent a few years thinking about how I wanted to be, what things I needed to change in order to live a certain paradigm and eliminate certain habits. I was an obnoxious and worried mess until the stress became so intollerable that I just knew there was no way to keep surviving in that mental space; so I started to do some reorganizing. But why wait for the breakdown and the burnout to make the change? This is about our power to change the very fabric upon which we paint our daily lives, simply based on choice.

Crossing the threshold and breaking the cycle of negativity…

So you’re angry a lot; you lie in bed at night listening as the voice in your head screams at the people in your life and the world in general. Amazing! You’ve just crossed a threshold with the simple act of acknowledging that negative pattern, your eyes are now open. Now change the pattern. Seriously, just do it! Find stillness and listen to the inner voice that wants to help you shape better habits. You already know how to be your perfect self. Mindfulness is not easy in comparison to blindness but it’s your only choice. Once you open your eyes there is no way to go back into blissful oblivion. The only way out of the crushing depression that comes from a self-depricating spiral of naming negative habits is the satisfaction and affirmation that comes from the knowledge that at least you’re doing something about your character flaws.

After we make the choice to do something about our negative patterns we have broken the cycle and from there it is all uphill. Like any uphill climb it is harder than going down in the opposite direction and at times the journey can be quite discouraging. Fatigue is inevitable and breaks must be taken but always if the ultimate peak is to be reached the sojourner must keep in mind only two things, the direction of the final destination and the ground immediately beneath her feet. Keep walking. It’s hard, no one will ever deny that who has walked the path of affirming themselves, but we can all tell you: the view from the top is unimaginable. You are already on the path the moment you open your eyes, the only sensible thing to do is keep moving.

Choose change with patience, respect and compassion for yourself.

Fake it until you make it. So you’re not feeling especially adventurous today? Perfect. Take a seat on that bench over there and spend time looking out over the valley you’ve just started to climb out of. If you’ve even taken two steps up the hill, you deserve validation. Tomorrow you can climb some more and if the day after that, you realize you need to climb down a bit, that’s okay too; you’re the only one who’s going anywhere – the mountain is not. You’ve opened your eyes to the fact that valleys and peaks even exist at all when yesterday, there was nothing. Congratulations! I’ll see you at the top.

compassionAt the beginning of my journey into myself I didn’t know that’s what I was doing and I certainly didn’t have any proof that it would work out for the better. I didn’t know that what I would find at the center of me was my intuition, I just did what all the most successful adventurers have done: I jumped. The more times we take that leap of faith that comes from following a hunch or listening to our gut, the more easily we begin to recognize the intuition’s cues which guide us to our gorgeous mountain top. We are never alone, there is always a still, peaceful place at the center of our being just waiting for us to return for guidance. A deep breath will take you to your center and then it’s only a matter of choice: will you listen and choose action or won’t you? You’re already on the path, you might as well take advantage of it. With your intuition as your guide choose change; keep moving and keep your gaze on the ground ask you tackle the journey one step at a time and feel the distance to the peak of perfection as it shrinks .

Day 80: The Next Level

We have a house guest. He is a young American who’s been traveling the world for the last six months and has appeared on our couch for a few days. Somehow, despite our love of visiting new places and photography we have very little in common and I was not sympathetic to his stories about the lack of bars and alcohol during his last three months of traveling. As we chatted over empty brunch dishes this happened…

– Well I’ve never stayed in a place for more than five days really. Usually when I get bored I just move on.

– Oh, yeah… I usually try not to get bored.

– Ha, yeah that’s what I’m doing. (Gestures to laptop, iPad, and iPhone)

– No, I mean, I don’t believe in being bored.

– Oh? How do you figure that?

– *Realizing I’m trapped I pause to find the simplest explanation* The whole idea of life is just such a miracle, how can you be bored? I mean the fact that your skin holds all your organs and bones together in the perfect places is just fucking magical! You know what I mean? What are the chances?

– *Longer pause followed by shocked laughter, raised eyebrows, and a look of total disbelief* That’s some next level shit. You just took that to a whole ‘nother place on me, I was not prepared.

Aaand that’s how I did not make a new friend this week. ♥

The Divine Power Within Our Biological Design

The Divine Power Within Our Biological Design