Saturday, December 16, 2006

In memorium: professor Don Krueckeberg (a kingpin of the Ph.D. program). Cause of death unknown, date of death was yesterday. Also in memorium: the Baiji, or Chinese river dolphin, believed to have been whacked to extinction by ships, pollution, dams, etc.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The tour today to the the BASF Near Zero-Energy House today was very nice, and I would like to thank Jack R. Armstrong of BASF for showing us around the house and I would also like to thank the wonderful lady from the Urban Land Institute for the tour and for showing us (about a dozen folks, mostly from the real estate industry, with perhaps one or two from the energy industry and community development-related interests) BASF’s idea of a “house of the future”. In addition, she even drove me to the bus stop, which was nice of her. Unfortunately, I don’t recall her name, but I’m happy to link to the ULI site. I have some compliments, as well as a few concerns.


The gadgets in the BASF house were state-of-the-art (electronic toilets, electronic drapes, HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air-Conditioning), wall-mounted water heater with two hot water tanks, overhead railing from bed to shower in the shower-bedroom for the boy with mobility concerns, wheelchair accessible shower, shower curtain that swings on a hinge so it can be parallel or perpendicular to the wall of the bedroom-bathroom, electronically height-adjusting sink and sink-sill, elevator, rack-dryer (you hang clothes or sheets in this refrigerator-sized device and it dries them, apparently) in addition to front loading ordinary washer and dryer (in an enormous room that's apparently supposed to be both basement and laundry room), touch-screen controlled microwave oven that even had a kid’s menu, smart energy management device that displayed the house’s “energy surplus” (which was negative, suggesting that the house was drawing more energy from the energy grid than it was supplying from its own resources), and an electronically adjustable bed (moves like a hospital bed does).

The house was shown in situ, in a realistic environment, although I entertained thoughts of suggesting that BASF show off a house at some world’s fair (the next “major” world’s fair is supposed to be in Beijing in 2010) or at an amusement park (this brings to mind the Monsanto House of Tomorrow of 1957-1967). This is a good thing, showing off a house in the sort of environment that it was intended for (Paterson, NJ, was looking for a template for "affordable housing", presumably defined as "affordable to the 'working man' - blue collar folks, pink collar, people in service industries, lower income households, etc). The BASF house is situated on (and in) a hill in front of an obviously unrepaired street, overlooking the stately (and somewhat old) highway of Route 20, with such establishments as gas stations and car washes in the vicinity. The housing stock around the BASF house is mid-20th century single-floor (or maybe single floor with a basement, I don't know), but there are "streetcar suburb" style houses about a block away, early 20th century, tall, close together, many of them whitewashed (I think), rather like much of the housing stock in New Brunswick.


Concern number one – the ceilings of the parlour and the dining room were two stories above the floor level, and the parlour had a ceiling fan for energy saving purposes. Superhigh ceilings may look cool, and they admittedly are nice to look at when relaxing or daydreaming, but they are hard to reach and therefore hard to maintain; in addition, it’s tougher to ensure heating to a room with a higher ceiling than to one with a lower one, although it MIGHT aid in cooling the room during warmer months (although I’m not sure of that). Builders and real-estate developers ought to bear in mind that what may be fashionable is not always practical, and to build houses that are not only fashionable or good looking, but also easy to maintain, hard-working, and useful to the occupants in every way (or at least as many ways as possible). Because the ceiling of the parlour is so high, the fan at the top is not easily reachable; therefore, how could one easily fix it if it's broken or clean it off or change the blades?

Concern number two – design for people with disabilities has some obvious flaws (including at least one rather dumb flaw). The dumb flaw is not making the person with the disability’s bedroom-bathroom easily accessible by wheelchair to the street without help from the house’s single elevator, which would be problematic in case the elevator should break down (and, yes, this is a bad habit of machinery; stuff breaks down all the time). A somewhat less stupid malady is not making the third floor easily accessible (the elevator only goes from the garage/ street level floor to the main floor, which is the second floor); while the third floor DOES appear to have a wheelchair compatible bathroom, getting the wheelchair’s occupant up there would be difficult because the process would have to rely on stairs. However, the builders of the BASF house get an A- for effort anyway, for their tasteful inclusion of a hospital-bed, tasteful concreteworking, combination of a bedroom and a bathroom (you don't have to walk through a door or anything to go pee or take a shower, and you can do the latter by riding along the ceiling from the bed) with wheelchair-accessible shower area and adjustible sink, and novel gadgets.

The architecture was somewhat unusual for NJ; the three story format with garage on the bottom is fashionable but the front façade smacks of a California bungalow (although I’ve seen fronts with similar pillars in Jamesburg, NJ). I initially thought the cut of rock on the front was more applicable to Colorado than here, but I was wrong; it was appearing in Radburn (a town that is part of Fair Lawn municipality, NJ, which I visited en route by bus and train from the BASF house to New Brunswick) on shopping centers and/or stores. The interior and some aspects of the exterior appear to have been influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style houses, although those houses tend to have a horizontial appearance whereas the BASF house has a vertical appearance, suitable for high-density land uses.

Overall, it's a decent house, built for energy efficiency. It reminds me of this holiday of Hannukah that begins tonight. Hannukah is the holiday of energy efficiency - the daily oil of the Temple burned for eight days, after all, or so the legend goes.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I am a Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy student who really should be looking at his doctoral dissertation proposal rather than making up absurd weblogs. The rain sucks. Oh dear.