Friday, February 18, 2011

ZEITRAUM - make space for time!

Just enough spring to make us forget about the 'Northern' in California. And then it rains again. Or rather, pours. Good for the salmon.

Took the kids to the Dry Creek Hatchery. Crazy numbers of fish! For the first time we were able to watch them in Dry Creek, resting in the shallows, before tackling the next hurdle. Rounded a wonderful day of hiking and fishing out with a stop at the Dry Creek General Store.

So, what does that have to do with Design you might ask. Well, a lot actually. Living in Sonoma County is so inspiring! The sparkling sun raking the ruffled water of the cove. The cool and fresh water dripping from the paddle and the shimmering black feathers of the cormorant watching you fish for a while before shaking its head and flying off.The fresh green of the hills, the thick moss on top of the low tree branches. The shades of silver, orange green and pink of the salmon. The bright and animated pink of the cherry trees planted along the road. The way the southern breeze strokes your face sitting on the porch of the general store.

Do I sit there calculating sun angles, measuring wind speeds? Dear me - NO! Although, maybe I should be. But subconsciously, all of these perceptions will somehow effuse future designs. That is a unique benefit of living in this part of the world. Unfortunately my somewhat dreamy train of thought came to a screeching halt, as something made me think of the Cal Green code in effect since January 1st.
There is so much emphasis on the need to be green. And being green is somehow achieved by juggling abstract numbers and combining them in complex formulas, which then have to be interpreted by an expert. Who then has to be hired to verify that all of the abstractness and complexity has actually made into the edifice, and whether it makes a damn of difference. Clients wanting to build a house in Sonoma County are enslaved to all of these experts, who, within their field maybe brilliant, but might be unconcerned about the ramifications of their work the whole of the project.
Sadly, a lot of the green hype is forgetting one important component in the enormous effort of making sure that California will be the greenest of them all. That component is common sense. Whaa? Exactly. Another small detail that seems to have been forgotton, is the fact that last I checked, we’re still in a bit of a recession. And a lot of the green requirements are very expensive to design and to build. Well, let’s see, how can we cripple an industry that’s already on its knees even further? I would venture to guess that the implementers of Cal Green were more concerned with their political legacies than a time-appropriate measure, or with the survival of thousands of design and construction professionals. Otherwise they would have surely phased the implementation with the economic status.
What’s also interesting is the fact that while new construction single family dwellings get loaded up with requirements and restrictions like a Moroccan mule, these rules do not apply (yet, at least) to renovations and small additions. Which is interesting, because new construction, at least in my experience, is inherently better built than most of what’s been slapped together in the 60s and 70s. It is those houses that leak heat like a sieve and won’t stay warm in the winter. While I am aware of the economic challenges of requirements on renovation. But small steps, and a little common sense would go along way in making a difference over time.
I think most of us can agree on the fact that building with the environment in mind is the way to go. But I think we also agree that we should not go German about it. And yes, I can say that (I not only grew up in Germany, but my dad worked as an architect in Reutlingen for most of his live).
Will any of the Cal Green rules and requirements ultimately be altered to be more palatable? I sure hope so. Mostly for the sake of all of those in the construction industry that are losing their jobs because projects get scrapped, because it’s just too expensive to be green. Maybe that was part of intent. To stifle development of single family dwellings. That may be admirable to some, but statistically, it does not make sense. And it is not at all in sync with a lot of the zoning laws concerning density, which will have tenants live in sub-standard living conditions, because expansion is not possible due to density restrictions. Apparently, you can’t have your cake and eat after all.
I walked off the porch of the Dry Creek General Store with a spring in my step, somehow assured, that regardless of the legal challenges present, we will find a way to come up with designs that in addition to beauty and comfort, will be infused with common sense and will be wholly inspired by nature surrounding us in this gorgeous county…