Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Aqua Aftermath

From the previous post "Celebration of Thermal Bridging"

From Ted Kesik (and others below):
"Please find attached a summary of the replies that I received after circulating my comments in Celebration of Thermal Bridging. They are unedited and everyone was asked if their comments could be published, with or without identification.

My terse and at times biting rhetoric is a cultural trait that reveals my Sudbury roots.  On a scale of human responses, I believe my rhetoric is actually quite mild compared to the potential damage done by things I criticize, but I also appreciate there are other cultures where my behaviour is viewed as entirely abominable. I am not sanguine, merely quid pro quo. I apologize if I have offended the sensibilities of those who have done no harm.

Some people have misinterpreted that I am against lectures that portray what I deem to be offensive content.  That is not the case.  Freedom of expression is more important than any individual's sensibilities. I am grateful to say not a single member of our community questioned my right to express my views. Thanks to everyone for upholding the values that make the University of Toronto such a vital and relevant institution.

Further, I do not wish to suggest the sustainability agenda is not rooted at Daniels. We have a number of faculty who have garnered awards for their research in this area, and others have designed notable projects with highly responsible ecological footprints. From my perspective, the diffusion of this work into the mainstream curriculum and accessibility to the associated expertise within core courses by students has lagged by comparison. Building science continues to take a back seat to artistic expression and formalism at Daniels in a world that is demanding performative architecture. This reinforces the importance of exposing students to best practices in performative building design and avoiding examples that are questionable in venues like our lecture series.

It would be preferable to conduct our exchanges live but this impromptu, digitally mediated discussion is all we have managed to muster of late. I don't know if it is a sign of the times or if the world is becoming busier, but the academic tradition of setting aside ample time for discussions about pedagogy has withered not only at Daniels, but at many other institutions I am told by colleagues there.  Unlike 1999 when I first joined the U of T and we had 12 students in the first year of the Master of Architecture Program, today I don't know what my teaching colleagues profess and know even less about my students. When Marshal McLuhan said, "the medium is the message" I did not think it would mean people burrowing in front of their computers at the expense of the human dimension.

I shall not be continuing this thread by email as I prefer meeting with people and having face-to-face discussions. Getting to know one another is among the most meaningful of social interactions.

There are so many important issues to discuss among the students, faculty and practitioners, and I hope we don't get stuck on the ethical dimensions associated with the performative design of buildings. That doesn't mean we should not attempt to resolve our position in this regard at Daniels, even if it is a pluralistic conclusion. Biodiversity makes for healthy ecosystems as long as there is liberal interaction and exchange, every viewpoint is given equal airtime in the curriculum, and students can choose their path of study accordingly.

I look forward to many more discussions and debates about the future of architecture education and practice in the 21st century. These issues are not going away. We can always do better.


Ted Kesik, Ph.D., P.Eng.
Professor of Building Science
Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design - University of Toronto"


Aqua Aftermath
A Summary of Comments on the Celebration of Thermal Bridging
Originally posted by Professor Ted Kesik, February 8, 2012.
Please find on the pages that follow a series of comments received from faculty, students and
practitioners. They are presented in the order I received them, and names have been withheld upon request. Some comments have not been posted at the request of the senders. I trust I have complied with everyone's request and I apologize if I have done otherwise.

I would like to begin by thanking everyone that responded. Especially to the students and recent graduates, who are the most significant stakeholders in this entire discussion. Based on the comments, I would like to share this response.

Virtually everyone knows buildings like Aqua do not perform very well and while building higher densities in cities is more desirable than urban sprawl, why not build energy and resource efficient tower buildings? The technology already exists. We must stop blaming the car and developers – and take responsibility for buildings. Once cars become carbon neutral, the building sector will become a greenhouse gas monster and if the architecture discipline does not have sustainable solutions to offer for new and existing buildings, then it will be seen as morally and intellectually bankrupt.
Students continue to express frustration and disappointment so little of their education focuses on performative building design. They need to be reminded they can approach their design work from whatever perspective they choose - not just artistic, cultural, social and political, but also environmental and performative. When I was a graduate student we pushed our professors and told them we wanted a holistic education. Their response was positive, they pushed us back, really hard, and we learned together. Daniels students are mature adults who should not use a lack of handholding as an excuse for avoiding discussions of environmental performance and responsibility. If your design studio does not explicitly have requirements for environmental performance, add your own and rise to the self-imposed challenge. No one has the right to dictate your mode of inquiry and ethical position.
Having said that, I was surprised at the lack of fundamental building science knowledge that could be inferred from some of the responses. The building envelope is among the most important determinants of a building's environmental performance and longevity. It is the passive system that determines how much the active systems must contribute to performance. HVAC systems and lighting come and go, the building envelope stands alone, 24/7, year after year. The building science behind durable, energy efficient buildings has been available for nearly half a century. It's not rocket science. And we do teach it at Daniels, perhaps not enough, and in my view, not soon enough.
I came to appreciate that many, but not all, people objected to my editorial tone and I am obliged to seriously consider their views in future. In turn, they must appreciate that in my culture, this would not be viewed as very strong language at all. Canada is a multi-cultural miracle and so we have to respect and tolerate each other if we don't want our national dream to wither. In the words of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, "It's better to go out with a bang than a whimper."
Finally, I joined Daniels in 1999 just as the Master of Architecture program was being launched. I am proud to be one of the founding faculty members. In all of the years since then, I do not recall having such an open discussion, albeit digitally mediated, on so significant an issue for the architecture discipline and society as a whole. I would like to think such dialogue could be initiated within, rather than having to respond to an external stimulus. Some would argue fewer public lectures and more public dialogue would make for a better educational experience. This signals we really should discuss significant issues more among the students, faculty and practitioners. That is the essence of a university - open discussion serving societal need. Not just the 1%, but the whole 100%, as well as the succeeding generations.

Summary of E-mail Replies
Hi Ted,
I am very happy you sent out your thermal bridging email.
As a previous student of yours in your building science class last year, your fin analogy was very effective as it changed my outlook on building design and aesthetics in general. Sometimes, as a student, we do not have a say on what goes on in the school so I just personally boycotted the aqua building presentation altogether.
However, I do not fully agree on your "pay token respect to political correctness by holding studios in third world countries" comment, as I subjectively see this topic as important, with personal genuine interest. Furthermore, the fin analogy would not apply to third world conditions, since they are in different climates altogether. I suppose these type of studios can have opportunistic undertones, with "tokenism", yet this does not mean that students, whom are in generally unscathed by the reality of the world, couldn't have different studio playgrounds to imagine in.
Anyways, thanks again for the thought provoking email.
Name withheld upon request.
M.Arch. candidate, Daniels

Please remove me from your mailing list.
Name withheld upon request.

Well said! I donʼt think you could have gotten away with saying that at Ryerson…. God forbid it would jeopardize their precious architecture masters program.
Eric Shelton

Jeez Ted…what was your point again???
Brian Shedden, GRG Consultants

Dr. Kesik,
As a recent graduate from the Daniels faculty of architecture.
A sincere and grand Thank You.
Vincenzo Stagnitta

Thanks Ted. I love a good rant.
Two thoughts:
– Maybe they are way ahead of us at the Aqua, and they are preparing for when the thermal driver will be cooling the building in the new warmer climate.
– I read the explanation for the reduced thermal bridging achieved at the balconies on the Marilyn Towers in Mississauga. This shows that a balcony is not in itself evidence of ignorance.
However, I did not see whether or not they had eliminated sections of protrusions that added no value, as shown in the Aqua photo.
Peter Halsall
Halsall Associates

Amen. Thank you for that.
Ron Groenberg

Dear Ted,
Thank you so much for this letter. This is the most important and relevant statement I've heard from any Daniel's Faculty member in all my time at the school.
I've worked on condos in Toronto and in my experience there has been absolutely NO discussion about thermal bridging.
Name withheld upon request.
M.Arch. graduate, Daniels

My namesake would be proud of that rant Ted, and I do agree, but what about all the wasted energy in complex geometry for its own sake? While we are on a tirade against hypocrisy and faddish architectural perversions, whatever happened to urbanity and human scale? What about the degradation of our heritage buildings, historic spaces and streets by the vainglorious or even the well-intentioned but ignorant?
Like me, you are probably old enough to have seen silliness rise with the incoming tide of borrowed money and then fade with the inevitable unwinding of that debt. Architecture has always been a part of that, and if a new sobriety and a return to reason were to be among the effects of the next decades of financial reversions to the mean, I suppose it will at least be something to celebrate amid the gloom.
Michael Bulatovitch

Hi Ted,
Regarding “cooling fins” on buildings.
I think what you raise is important. It seems to me the equivalent in my field would be if a landscape architect specified impervious paving or grass that uses pesticides, gas lawn movers, fertilizers and irrigation to make a cool shape but then pushes all of the storm water in the nearest catch basin and storm sewer as fast as possible.
Should such designs continue to win an award for fashion and style? I would argue, not anymore if the work is professional. All professions are required by law to be self regulating in this country and act in the combined public interest. Giving awards and promoting retrograde practices is unethical both individually and collectively in our context of self regulating professions. I wonder what the ethics of a publicly funded university are in this regard since we are not regulated. However, many of us and our leadership are tenured and as such have some form of responsibility to the public.
A case can be made that when competent professionals know a practice is wrong then it is no longer ethical or in the public interest to promote or specify such solutions. Maybe we should only have lectures on fashionable but apparently irresponsible work when these are accompanied with a collegial debate on its shortcomings as part of the session event. Arenʼt the “Marilyn Monroe” Absolute Towers in Mississauga even more problematic – times two? People all (elites and non elites) seem to prefer those towers over the mediocrity of every other tower in Mississauga City Centre (where despite my values, I enjoy the perspectival play of form that the Absolute towers create along hwy 10). Possibly I should prefer the mediocre retro style of the Daniels towers west of Mississauga City Hall since they do not expose as much of the floor slabs? It seems we may need to moderate our consumption of pleasure seeking or design ego satisfaction when such gratification is clearly irresponsible. This debate may help reposition what responsible behaviour means as we and our professional associations, social clubs and “in crowds” grow beyond adolescent selfishness and realize that generations that follow us will carry the environmental deficit.
Professor John Danahy, Daniels

Loved your email – circulated it around the office.
When we started doing high rise condos a few years ago we fought hard for the Schock system; even for interrupted balcony slabs with 50% filled with insulation. Neither flew – mainly shot down for budget reasons. Yet the project is on track to be LEED Gold.
The MNECB checklist is supposed to prevent this kind of thermal bridging. There is a loophole that allows the energy modeler to just calculate the sectional area of the balconies at building face with a very low R value. Aggregated with the remainder of the envelope the total insulation values appear passable.
What doesnʼt work:
- Trying to guilt developers. They donʼt pay the heating bills.
- Thereʼs little marketing incentive for developers to fixing the problem if you can still get
LEED with the radiator fin balconies.
Possible solutions:
- Closing that regulatory loophole could stop the practice in its tracks.
- Could be done locally with more strict language within the Toronto Green Standards. At the very least CaGBC should crack down on future LEED jobs.
- Market awareness. Put up billboard ads next to these condos showing the thermal imaging photos…
Name withheld upon request.
OAA, LEED AP, Toronto

smoke and mirrors! thanks for this

To add insult to injury, most of these balconies are so tiny and in hostile noise/privacy environments that theyʼre virtually useless.
Arthur Muscovitch

Hi Ted,
Thanks for sharing your opinion and the valuable resources about overcoming thermal bridging.
I am so glad to hear a conscientious voice about a seemingly beautiful building but an energy disaster.
Name withheld upon request.
OAA, HKIA, Toronto

I didnʼt attend the lecture, but I have a serious concern about the irresponsible use of thermal bridging balcony details in the current generation of condo building. In this regard, I am aware of architects in Toronto doing condo projects with balcony slabs projecting through the envelope, who have been involved in designing high performance buildings for the institutional sector.
Thus, they most certainly must be aware of the performance issues associated with the detail.
Nonetheless, they appear to be accepting of it as a market norm. Lloyd Alterʼs Treehugger article on the negative radiator effect of this detail provides a nice summary of why this practice is irresponsible from both the perspective of macro energy/environment impact and local health risks for building occupants. I very much appreciated the recent CBC expose of the poor environmental performance of contemporary condo design and its durability and cost implications for condo owners in the future. Early on in the development of that series I talked to the CBC reporter who initiated it and she indicated she stumbled on to the fact “people in the industry”, notably architects, were talking about these issues amongst themselves, but not getting it out into the public. Frankly, this passivity with regard to predominant development industry practices is a very big issue of public and professional responsibility. The tendency to keep quiet on such problematic practices is inconsistent with public policy needs to address climate change and leads to a lack of public pressure for necessary change. Thus, the federal government has been able to put the environmental file to rest with very negative onsequences for Canadaʼs international image and I fear future economy, given that fossil fuel development is promoted at our primary economic driver, a “national project”, while R&D and manufacturing (potentially of green technology) is allowed to wither away.
I do not share your rhetorical denunciation of “cool design”, but I do share your concern about value free celebration of design projects, regardless of whether they could be described as cool, that use technically obsolete detailing, from an environmental performance perspective, to achieve comely visual effects. In this regard, there is much design innovation going on in Europe that is consistent with public policy to achieve a high level of environmental performance that could be described as cool, if indeed our students still utilize that modifier. It could also be pointed out that it is not uncommon for designers to justify uninspired or even bad work on the basis of good performance, implying the latter precludes formal innovation. I would prefer that you kept the target pinned to the real locus of the problem, which is not necessarily novel forms or visual effects, but rather projects that achieve them regardless of their environmental and social costs that are inescapably knowable at this point in time. I would hope that you could agree to broaden the perimeter for alliances and action by sharpening the focus of your attack. All the best.
Professor Barry Sampson, Daniels

I completely agree. This is a great point to be raised.
Did anyone ask her if they used thermal breaks? The article linked says they probably did not, but it doesn't confirm.

Excellent! I'm curious about what your colleagues have to say.
Alex Lukachko, Building Science Corporation

Well done Ted, I hope this actually starts a discourse!

You are the first person that makes sense in 3.5 years, thanks Ted!!
Matthew Alves

Ted, as always your comments are sharp and stinging. In this modern day rococo, it seems like the future will be damaged again by the shallow heroism of what you call "the in crowd". While this building will continue to inspire ignorance, what's worse is the institutionalization of this ignorance, especially in this school, U of T, who's new recent mandate is indoctrinating new bright minded students with the "make it look cool" philosophy at the expense of learning how to address real world issues relating to architecture.
For the most part, this school teaches how to serve the wealthy. With the new school of architecture opening in Sudbury, hopefully they do not follow the same shallow path.
Name withheld upon request.
3rd year M.Arch. candidate, Daniels

Hi Dr Kesik
You were a consultant on a project I was working on with Montgomery Sisam back in 2010. I enjoyed your insight then, and I enjoyed your comments regarding Jeanne Gang's Aqua. Your email was passed on to me from a UToronto colleague - I in turn passed it on to my friend James Timberlake, whom I knew would enjoy your email.
He has written a response - I hope you don't mind me passing on your comments.
James Tenyenhuis
Master of Architecture candidate &
Master of Landscape Architecture candidate '12
School of Design
University of Pennsylvania

Professor Kesik:
I read with interest your email regarding the Aqua building in Chicago. I agree with your assessment.
The ʻdataʼ, which has been summarily absent from any public statements about this building, I suspect does not exist. Otherwise, the notion of floors extending beyond a normal thermally broken line, in a climate such as Chicagoʼs, (with the associated micro-climates that exist along that coastline – I grew up in Michigan up the coast, so I know), is suspect. The seat-of-the-pants approach to incorporating passive or active technologies on buildings is long past this profession. ʻPerformativeʼ architecture, to be real, has to be supported by analysis, data, facts, follow-up and continuing research – all elements at the fingertips of this profession. Clients are demanding proof. And we, as a community of professionals – practicing and academic alike – need to provide it.
Nonetheless, when a professed expert stands up to profess the Aquaʼs building performance, I would hope, as we do, for that expert to present data, and substantive amounts of it, from the planning phase onward. And if they do not, I would hope that the profession, its associated agencies like USGBC, and others, including the press, students and faculties, would stand up to ask serious questions about why, where, and what for (when the data isnʼt presented). We have numerous high performing buildings in our oeuvre; but we are certain to have the data aside any claims that we make about our buildings – whether in design, or built. We teach this at the University of Pennsylvania, in our Design Research Laboratory to our Masterʼs students, and expect that they do the deep research and the science necessary to make the claims they profess. Weʼre not always successful with this but it is and has been a principle of our practice and pedagogy.
It is not easy to make buildings perform, in the real science sense of the word, but to do so begins with the first act of design. It cannot be applied, larded on, decorative, or otherwise thought about after the fact. I think that is why the Aqua building garners such criticism – it is clearly apparent to those in the building sciences that the building cannot do what is claimed. (has it been monitored? Are there sensors on the building to provide proof?) Therefore, it generates intrigue from the ʻartʼ side of the architecture equation, and a different intrigue from the ʻscienceʼ side of the architecture equation. In the end, art + science = architecture, as it always has and should; but we are at the end of a period where ART has trumped science (since the 60ʼs) following on a brief SCIENCE overwhelming art period in the 20ʼs/30ʼs. Le Corbusier had little data at hand, however, around the world many of his simple buildings perform as he diagrammed (and some donʼt). Kahnʼs layered building in Dhaka at the Capital Complex is another where a deep understanding of the climate and construction suggested ways forward which translated into big ʻAʼ architecture – but architecture that is performative in its own right, too. These examples, though, do not have deep science, analysis or data on them – so the claims are hard to prove except by and through experience. Is this what is behind the Aquaʼs claims?
While I acknowledge your distress as stated in the email, the acerbic tone and frustration as it is applied so broadly to the profession and academy is a part of the email I take some exception to. While fair to some degree, this is a time of transition. Pedagogy and the profession alike are a work in progress. Universities and academies that do support efforts in ʻthird-world countriesʼ   do so with the best of intentions due to a need, not simply for cover. Our own laboratory has been in Bangladesh and India over the past 5-6 years – I know of others who have been to Pakistan and Africa for the same reasons and best intentions, with results – measured or unmeasured. To broadly swipe these in with the well-intentioned calling out of the building in
Chicago likely undermines your arguments somewhat. While factual, it is difficult to so broadly brand all of us as failing to address this problem – it is important to ʻcall outʼ a professional or academic who is remiss, and, of course, projects that make claims that are unsubstantiated, but it is remiss on your part to acknowledge that work IS being done in a variety of quarters to change our ways.
I share your desire for transparency in the profession and academy as to applying art WITH science, not just art solely for artʼs sake.
The polar bears, as you state, would welcome such a change in our profession and academic communities.
James Timberlake, FAIA
KieranTimberlake, Philadelphia PA

Your argument is undeniable.
Melana Janzen
OAA, Toronto

Hi Jeanne –
I grabbed your email address off of your website. I just thought that in all fairness someone should forward you this quite vociferous public attack from Ted Kesik a building scientist at the University of Toronto. It was forwarded to me a few days ago by a friend.
Perhaps you would like to respond to him? I know I would be quite interested in what you have to say on the subject.
Kind regards,
Duncan Patterson

Well written Ted. As a building science grad, I cringe when I see buildings such as this being celebrated in architectural magazines and promotional materials for conferences etc. It is not enough that all modern buildings are built entirely out of glass, but now weʼre adding fins to these glass boxes. Having done research into the energy loads of glass buildings, Iʼm still shocked that so many all-glass buildings with 80% WWR are still being built regularly even in cooler climates such as Toronto. How these glass boxes are achieving LEED Gold and more is beyond me. I can only imagine how uncomfortable and energy inefficient it is when these buildings must be when theyʼre fully operational, and this is not only happening in Chicago, but also around the GTA, like the Marilyn Monroeʼ buildings in Mississauga (another classic example of Harley Davison architecture). I realize that sex appeal ultimately sells in the buildings industry, but building performance should never be sacrificed for beauty, much less obliterated like it is in these designs. We as design professionals should have more sense in understanding how our design decisions ultimately affect building performance rather than trying to one up each other in design stupidity all for a magazine cover shot. There is inherent beauty in something that is sensibly designed to function as it is intended and this should be celebrated. Unfortunately until the public can recognize the value of good building performance, this trend in horrible building design is unlikely to change. Perhaps each building being sold should include a UA-value (U-value x building enclosure area) like a fuel mileage rating as Prof. John Timusk had suggested in one of his building science classes.
Ivan Lee

Hi Ted,
I think things are changing, very slowly. I have worked on a couple of low rise residential projects where the designers have introduced thermal breaks at the balconies. I donʼt know if they were actually installed or value engineered out. Unfortunately, the residential housing industry is market driven and will only change when there is a demand for buildings with thermal breaks at the balconies/building fins (that would require educating the masses) or included in the building code (may be easier to educate the masses).
I applaud your courage and encourage you to continue to highlight buildings that could have been better designed with respect to building science. With that said, I must admit I think the building is poetry, building science thrown out the proverbial window. One of my guilty pleasures is interesting and beautiful buildings.
DGS Consulting Services Inc.
per: Don Shortreed, FCSC, RSW, CET

Wouldnʼt it be great if architects were destroying the planet by grotesque gestures of artistic expression.
My experience working in this sector, however, suggest youʼve overestimated the control architects have. Concrete radiating fins are rarely, if ever, placed on building by the will of an architect. Instead balconies are placed on a building by the developer for “saleability.” And they are constructed out of thermally unbroken cantilevered concrete for reasons of construction economics.
At least this architect had some fun “sculpting” these concrete fins of climate changing doom.
Where most examples unconsciously march us to a global warming death with banal square blocks.
Peter Duckworth-Pilkington

It's good that people like you care enough to make your opinion heard.
I think though, your commentary, particularly invoking Attawapiskat, is very extreme, and therefore not very productive. Yes, the polar bear matters, but given a choice, most people choose themselves over bears.
You also failed to provide alternatives: How do you make balconies without continuous floor slabs? (Exterior columns, and thermal breaks, I assume) how do people get outside? Despite many people not actually using their balconies, I know that no one wants to get rid of them.
The comparison to radiators is not quite right. Heat sinks use metals, like aluminum, not ceramics like concrete. Conductivity is not the same. Air leakage and poor hvac systems are a bigger concern than radiators in buildings.
As a structural engineer that repairs high rises, I say that if we critiqued reinforced concrete like we analysed fibre reinforced plastic, we'd never use the stuff. But, it's our best solution; how else can we increase land density? Same with current building design, isn't it? Easy to point out the deficiencies, harder to present the better solution.
In the real world, designs are not driven by ideals, but economics. Many designers agree with you, but are constrained by their clients' budget. Instead of railing against bad design, we need a mechanism that forces developers to consider the life cycle impacts of their work.
Also, have a look at Canada's energy consumption by sector. Residential is lumped in with farms! And while a big chunk, much more energy is consumed by industry. More focus there, please! So, comparing a dollar spent for dollar saved between the sectors, we get less bang for our buck addressing thermal bridging.
I applaud your initiative. The rant was too extreme.
Jeff Truman, M.A.Sc., P.Eng.
Truman Engineering Services Inc.

Hi Ted
I graduated from Daniels last year and it seems like the fanfare of the Aqua tower has not subsided. Jeanne Gang is being praised as being a rising star architect and even won a prestigious grant. I understand there are two sides to the debate. One those sculpted balconies act as thermal bridges and the other that they provide passive solar control in the way of shading to the units below. Gang herself has acknowledged the shortcoming of her design but has tried to defend it based on it's merits which we all know are completely biased in favor of formalistic tendencies.
As an architect in training I find myself at odds with current digital trends in architecture. Aware of the fact that Gang's building could not have been realized without certain softwares I feel that digital design is often used in a shallow first attempt kind of way without critically engaging the true merits of parametric driven design. What the Aqua represents is an architect who has given way to the formalistic prowess of a program like Grasshopper without any kind of critical thinking or merit in pushing the strengths of that particular software. Perhaps a more comprehensive overview of the Towers design could have been more comprehensively analyzed in order to better develop the passive features of the buildings design. At 80 stories this towering behemoth represents a terrible trend in contemporary architecture where form trumps the environmental functionality of such a building. Instead it responds to current trends in the market place where the more eye catching the building the higher the price tag and greater the profits.
Take a look at China. Gang a native of Chicago should take inspiration from China whose local architects are responsible for buildings that engage not only the cultural sensibilities of traditional Chinese culture but also engage the environmental aspects of their buildings sites. This can be seen as a counter movement to the more star studded list of architects building overseas who seem to have yielded to current trends of sensationalist developer driven projects that catch the media's attentions.
Thus the state of architecture is in a state of crisis and as a generation of future architects we must engage the world in a more thoughtful manner and turn away from current trends.
Name withheld upon request.
M.Arch. Graduate, Daniels

Celebration of Thermal Bridging

Professor Ted Kesik of the University of Toronto has given me permission to post this "rant" of his from February 8, 2012:

(comments will be posted after)

"I couldn't make the Jeanne Gang lecture last night at Daniels, but if I had I would have asked her if sculpting thermal bridges on her building somehow absolved her wilful environmental irresponsibility.  There is a school of thought in the design world known as the, "If we make it look cool then it's okay" movement.  Polar bears and indigenous peoples of the north do not see anything beautiful in this building.  It could be argued that anyone who beholds beauty is either unaware of the environmental consequences of putting radiator fins on high-rise towers, or simply doesn't care. These are the folks that think sustainability is a burden of inconvenient truths that keeps ruining their design fantasies.

For more on this, check out: http://www.treehugger.com/green-architecture/gimme-a-thermal-break-get-rid-of-radiator-fin-balconies.html

If ever there was an icon of architectural pornography it is the Aqua building in Chicago, and it has had a polarizing effect within the architecture / engineering / construction community.  Building scientists recoil with horror at the sight of such blatant thermal bridging, akin to what physicians feel about smoking. Some architects secretly wet their pants and hope one day they can outdo the carbon footprint of this environmental monstrosity. Constructors are happy to charge big premiums for no added performance value, and beyond the earshot of the design crowd, wonder aloud what kind of dumb moves they will have to build next.

Take your clothes off, attach a series of highly conductive fins like the kind they put on motorcycle engines to the skeleton of your body, and go stand outside in January.  Then tell the person who is dressed for winter they are boring, overly practical people who are squashing creative expression among the affluent members of society.  The 1% elite has the right to be conspicuously wasteful and if anybody criticizes them, they're cut off from catering to the ethically bankrupt well-to-do. The "in crowd" rules, viciously.

Such is the present situation in North America.  Architecture schools pay token respect to political correctness by holding studios in third world countries while the native people in Attawapiskat live in abject squalor.  Glass condo towers grow like poisonous mushrooms sucking the vitality and resilience out of our urban housing futures. And the celebration of thermal bridging is put on a podium at a public lecture series. 

Just what are we thinking at Daniels?

I welcome an open and robust discussion, but be warned, I shall publicly publish your comments.
The essence of academic debate demands complete disclosure.
I would first like to hear from the person who invited Jeanne Gang.

The Aqua Building: poetry or perversion? How you answer says a lot about your design thinking, and more."

Ted can be reached here:
Ted Kesik, Ph.D., P.Eng.
Professor of Building Science
Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design - University of Toronto
230 College Street
Toronto ON M5T 1R2 Canada
T: 416 978-0849
F: 416 971-2094

ahh, blogging

Seems I never posted my other (only 2) blogs...simply sat as unpublished drafts in some overlooked tab in firefox.  I get in s*#t by my significant other when he opens my computer to see 20+ tabs open in my browser.  What?!? That's, like, what they're for, Man!

I'm feeling that the blog idea may be an overly ambitious one, given my time split between home, work, Hank and travel.

Speaking of which, when I returned 'home' - to Canada - it didn't feel as such. I guess home is where the heart is, and I gotta say that's with my new family (including the dog) along with the ghosts of Stirling...for now.  I spoke about this with a friend here, and she pointed me to her blog brinabird.blogspot.com.  My thoughts exactly!

Monday, January 9, 2012


I've been meaning to get this blog thing going for quite some time.  In fact, I set up a blog in 2008 when I was working at Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, but I've lost it somehow.  I don't know how cool it would look anyway if the blog started 4 years ago and had no entries ;)

So fast forward those years, I have a beautiful baby girl, and have moved from Toronto to Stirling, Scotland.  I'm still interested in green roofs, but I'm focusing more on getting them implemented as part of a bigger green infrastructure solution -  AND BOY - has Stirling got a water management problem!  I still can't quite get over the issues they have, from constant road closures due to flooding to sedimentation.  I picked up a copy of their draft Local Development Plan (gotta read that!).

We had purchased a shed to keep our new stroller in, but we nixed that idea after discovering the cost of the stroller.  We'll keep our garden supplies and bikes in there when it's warmer.  In the meantime, we've suffered two crazy gales, and lost the asphalt off the roof twice!  I bought some EPDM and have that installed temporarily.  It'll get a green roof in the coming months. 

So here's hoping I can find the time to make a mark on the town here, while still getting some work done in Toronto, walking the dog and swimming with the babe.  Oh, and writing this blog.

I don't need luck, just better managed time.  Let's see how it goes!