Reimagining America’s Buildings Starts at the University Level

As one of the premier zero energy architectural firms in the country, we know a thing or two about good long-term buildings at NY Super Studio Architects. Unfortunately, most of the country doesn’t follow this mindset and it all starts with the Universities in this country.

MIT, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and other universities – as a reflection of our society – cradles the USA’s complacency integrating healthy attitude to competitiveness.

If one would paint a picture of USA by walking through our universities, it would be very hard to believe that we are in 21st century; the setting is far too antiquated in look and feel.

Yet all the buildings are used by the Universities 24/7 for what seems like the foreseeable eternity. There are no buildings that are 100% passive (or even 90%) and capable of being used without external power source, WHICH is very easy to do with our current knowledge. Why aren’t we then?

Thus, we train our best to think that this Colonial 1932 or older aesthetic is the norm, and the fashionable ‘cool’ thing to do. A perfect example of those 1930 colonial look (and feel) buildings that operate alike is Scarsdale in Westchester, NY.

Scarsdale is amongst the wealthiest towns in USA, just as our Ivy League Universities are. Building review boards often want that 1932 Colonial look, because it is the ‘safe’ look for property values and neighborhood character. The idea that architects could do something contemporary and good is NOT EVEN CONTEMPLATED. In Scarsdale, it is impossible to do smart buildings either; it’s all about the look and square foot amount. Even solar panels are considered eyesores. Skylights in the deep (in plain dimension) Mac Mansions would make the interiors little lighter and happier without constant lights. Unfortunately, they are forbidden too. Construction follows the cheapest norm, and as an average new home sells around 3 million, a smart PASSIVE construction would barely register in cost, nor would it change the look in any of them. So, what is the problem here?

In my recent visit to all of these Ivy League campuses, I felt embarrassment just looking at the buildings as well as the architecture schools products. All surface and style in student presentations, and in none did I see buildings that were attempting to be GOOD long term buildings filled with sensible views and light using latest R-13 and R-20 glass. Building construction was always esoteric, and my colleges and I could never hire a student from an American University without totally retraining them. To be expected, that is an expensive proposition in today’s climate where fees are cut to the bone in buildings that are normally extremely tightly budgeted.

If Universities cannot or are unwilling to invest in GOOD buildings, how do we expect the rest of the country to do so? I mean, with all the complexities of developers needing instant return on capital, getting no aid to do passive and green for the good of our country and simply not giving a damn about the fact that the tenant will be paying for the lousy short-sighted old fashioned office/apartment building ((which translates to the entire US economy), the country will never invest in GOOD buildings. They simply cannot AFFORD to be sensible. Our society still does not believe in the fact that we are running out of cheap energy and that completion around the world is turning us into dust.

Hurricane Sandy showed us in NYC that when the power is out, we are too. Nobody climbs 70 floors to an unheated office, nor do people live in the 70th floor that has no heat, water or other services. This is a gigantic problem that we have to deal with now. The sooner, the better. However, even without such an environmental conflict, when energy costs double from present (and they will), it will create a political situation that WILL lead to a BIG and GLOBAL war. Then a Sandy-like scenario will happen over all over the developed world. We’re not ready for this. None of us is. We could have been if we had listened Jimmy Carter.

If you have any questions regarding NYC architecture or construction, or curious about zero energy architecture, contact NY Super Studio Architects today! Project by project, we will help build up this nation in a POSITIVE and GREEN way.

Regards,
Tapani Talo, AIA