2.10.2018

is Austin's new central library a mighty mountain of "meh"?


After an earlier, aborted attempt to see Austin's new Central Library (I forgot to put batteries in the camera...), we finally stopped in for a proper visit. Designed by the iconic Lake | Flato, the library is purported to be the most light-filled library in the country.

The interior is stunning.

After a modest, human-sized entry, a massive six-story atrium crisscrossed with steel stairways and wooden bridges gasps open as the defining feature of the design. The library is both low-tech (books) and high tech (terminals) with many spaces for congregating, studying, and reading. On the rooftop is an open patio with great views of Lady Bird Lake (Town Lake for you grumpy oldtimers) and downtown. Soon there will a restaurant conjuring biblio-inspired dishes. And if you despise sprogs (small, screaming children), the children's library is sealed and separate from the adult fare. Brilliant!

I'm not as enamored with the exterior. It includes the standard architectural checklist for a pseudo-ambitious contemporary public building resulting in a mighty mountain of "meh". Was it necessary to use the same materials used by Antoine Predock in City Hall a few blocks down the street? I could understand that if the library was right next door, but there's a lot of not-Predock between the library and the Predock (and Predock employed these materials so much better). Come to think of it, Predock also has crisscrossing bridges in his atrium. Is the library Lake | Flato's response to Predock's call in a lame attempt at architectural one-upmanship?

My guess is that the city, in an ill-informed attempt to create architectural consistency in its buildings, limited the material choices (and perhaps asked for something complementary to city hall). Lake | Flato already has a massive reputation; it certainly doesn't need to get into a tete-a-tete with Predock (Predock? Predock who?). I wasn't able to find the request for proposals for the library to verify this. I did find a charette report that resulted in a request to use 50 percent local materials. Or maybe both architectural firms, aiming to use local materials, came up with the same brilliant mixture of materials?

Ultimately, buildings are judged by how they perform and meet the needs of the people using it. Based on the number of people using the library (not counting the architecture nerds, of which there were many), the project looks like a resounding success. Will it be an iconic Austin building?

Time will tell...
















What is next door is the Streamline Moderne repurposed power plant, where we stopped in to Boiler 9 for drinks and appetizers.





2.07.2018

austin modern home tour is coming!


The Austin Modern Home tour is upon us in a couple weeks on February 24th, 2018. I've included some of the juicier photos from the tour website (where you can learn more and buy tickets). The visual stunner is Abode Modern Homes' house shown above and immediately below. There's also some tasteful borgitecture; homes designed by Winn Wittman and Barley|Pfeiffer; and a nice, but oddly subdued, Bercy Chen.










2.03.2018

a message of sustainability from whirlpool


I attended the Central Texas Water Conservation Symposium this past week and heard a fantastic presentation by Whirlpool's Global Sustainability Director, Ron Voglewede. Ron was full of useful and interesting information as well as exciting info on new and upcoming products.



The big news (at least for me) is that Whirlpool now has a ventless, heat pump dryer (#nerdalert). I cannot tell you how happy I am to hear this (think back to Steve Jobs rolling out the first iPad and how the fanboys peed themselves with excitement. That's me + this dryer.)

Your standard dryer blows. Literally. It pulls massive amounts of air from inside your home and pushes that air to the outside via the dryer vent. This forced venting causes a negative pressure in your house which results in unconditioned air seeping into your home, and Gawd-knows-where that air is coming from (imagine rat nests, spider sacs, and turds the builder hid in your walls). Having a dryer counteracts a major reason for having a properly-sealed house. If you recall (and why would you?), I wrote a ranting post way back in 2011 about dryers called "The appliance from hell: The lowly dryer". This new dryer is a game changer.

Voglewede announced that Whirlpool launched a ventless dryer in the US six months ago that not only doesn't blow but uses 70 percent less energy than a conventional dryer (dryers tend to use twice as much energy as refrigerators). As is often the case with new tech, the machine has gotten mixed reviews at the Whirlpool site (props to Wp for leaving the one-star reviews up). According to the reviews, there appears to be a design flaw in the filters that reveals itself after half a year or so. And new tech tends to cost more (this machine runs about $1,000 retail). Given that we had to shitcan a horribly expensive cutting-edge energy-efficient Whirlpool refrigerator weeks after the one-year warranty wheezed out, we'll prolly wait until they work out the bugs on this unit (or, given the fridge experience, buy someone else's). Nonetheless, this is exciting news!


water storage tank on the back of dishwasher (source)

Modern dishwashers are amazingly efficient. Studies show that the latest dishwashers use 17 times less water than hand washing, about 3 gallons per cycle. On the latest dishwasher tech front, the Europeans get all the cool stuff: Voglewede described units that recycle water, storing it in the walls of the unit (which then act as noise and heat insulation), futher reducing water use. At some point, we'll see these units here in the US (some units here already recycle some of the water, saving the last rinse for the first rinse of the next load).

A surprising set of statistics he shared is that dishwashers are installed in only 25 percent of multifamily units (apartments) and less than 70 percent of single-family homes. Having a dishwasher could save 5,000 gallons per housing unit per year.


Voglewede said that Whirlpool is thinking outside the box by trying to achieve net-zero for their appliances (if not neg-zero). Since the 70s, washing machines use about 80 percent less energy and 73 percent less water. Modern refrigerators use less energy than a single incandescent lightbulb (with newer, more efficient models using the power of a single LED bulb [hopefully they last for more than a year...]). Along those lines, Whirlpool has a test house in Indiana called the ReNEWW House, a bungalow retrofitted to achieve net zero energy, water, and waste. The family living in the house reduced per capita water use from 91 to 34 gallons per day, is net zero on power and water (there's a rainwater system), and is 93 percent waste free. To further decrease waste, Whirlpool has designed an in-home food recycler called ZERA that can even compost bones (serial killers take note).


Being a water guy, my ears perked when Voglewede said that, with population growth, our water bills will exceed our electricity bills by 2025 (I imagine that this is averaged over the entirety of the US). That's a pretty good incentive to save water. In our house, with per capita use less than 30 gallons per day, our water last year cost $202 while our electricity cost $1,070 (up from $713 the year before due in large part, methinks, to having an electric car [oooo: I smell a future post?]).

There were other cool talks at the event (which I will probably write about in a different blog), but this one (literally) brought it home.

[2/10/18: Someone turned me on to this site on ventless dryers]

1.28.2018

dancing with architecture: meow wolf in santa fe, new mexico


Meow Wolf, named after the proprietors pulled random words out of a hat, is difficult to describe. On the one hand, it's a giant immersive art installation inside a former bowling alley. On the other hand, it's something of an amusement park and explorer builder for kids. On yet another hand, it's a music venue. On yet another hand, it's a mystery (wrapped in an enigma [sorry...]). Whatever it is, it's worth a visit.

Started in 2008, the core of the project is the House of Eternal Return, a full-scale house with hidden passages and mysterious letters and clues strewn about. Since we went around Thanksgiving, it was an absolute madhouse, so we didn't spend time with the mystery, resolving to return at a future date to investigate.

There are some architectural oddities and visual tricks among the installations.