Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Adapting to the Future

By Jon Quitslund

Architecture is a social art. It becomes an instrument of human fate, because it . . . shapes and conditions our responses. . . . It modifies and often breaks earlier established habit. (Richard Neutra, 1958)

On February 9th, the proponents of the Grow Community development finally had their chance to present the project to the Planning Commission, and a three-hour meeting was devoted to the formal presentation, Q & A with Commission members, and public comment.
It was a lively evening, with none of the droning explanation and passive listening that sometimes settles over the Council chambers for long intervals.  There was a good audience for the proceedings.  I was present with other citizens who had contributed to the project’s ‘Sustainability Action Plan,’ a book-length document that provides the rationale for a somewhat utopian community.

Several aspects of the project were given a good going-over by members of the Planning Commission and concerned citizens.  Impacts on traffic, characteristics of the faces that the buildings on Wyatt will turn toward Wyatt Ave., plans for handling surface water, and the adequacy of pathways through the open spaces between Wyatt Ave. on the north and Madison Ave. on the east were all discussed. And the need for adequate parking came up, of course: more on that later.

These were all legitimate concerns, touching on problems of first importance to the architect and other contributors to the project.  From the beginning, it has been crucial to provide for dynamic relationships of the residents and the built environment of the new community with its near neighbors and the Island as a whole.

Several people expressed a hope that as this innovative project takes shape, with the developer assuming responsibility for its boundaries, the City and various citizen groups will coordinate efforts to improve the infrastructure of roads, trails, and sidewalks beyond those boundaries.

Just maybe, we can break free of a tendency toward reactive, piecemeal, and contentious responses to our problems and opportunities, and commit to projects that fit into long-range plans.  We could, simultaneously, increase vitality in neighborhoods and provide attractive connections of each place with others.

When I had an opportunity to comment, I started with the quotation from the architect Richard Neutra that appears at the beginning of this post.  “Architecture is a social art.”  The Grow Community project is a bold instance of architecture as a social art.  Many people – both professionals and amateurs – have contributed to the project, and many more will be involved in its unfolding.

When it is imaginative and original, architecure “becomes an instrument of human fate.”  Richard Neutra’s thoughts about the architect’s social role, shaping behavior and breaking established habits, emerged against the backdrop of 20th-century modernism in the International Style.

The two decades after the end of WW II were an epochal time for architecture in the United States, and for the planning and building of cities and suburbs, with all the infrastructure needed to provide people and commerce with a mobility to match the era’s prosperity and its newfound need for convenience, efficiency, and freedom.  Real progress in the quality of life for the great majority of Americans was achieved in those decades, but in recent years it has become clear that some Faustian bargains were made.

Now the devil’s at the door.  Cheap energy and the other non-renewable resources that made the American dream possible aren’t so cheap any more, and efforts to keep fossil fuels cheap are wrecking our environment.  Land isn’t cheap either, except in places where cities, towns, and suburbs are blighted and jobs are scarce.

Mobility is still important, but sometimes it’s problematic.  People love to travel, but long commutes by car are less and less feasible.  We’re getting more aware of mpg ratios, more interested in carpooling and the availability (or not) of public transportation.  Those who are fit and brave enough to commute by bike or scooter are envied; likewise, those who can walk to work or work at home.

Which is more important: high speed internet access, or hassle-free driving, anywhere, any time?  I think our culture is already redefining mobility, and reexamining the priorities that shape how we spend our time, how much stuff we need to own, what big-ticket purchases our incomes must support, and what we can do without.

Concern for the environmental impacts of an acquisitive lifestyle isn’t the only factor that’s driving these cultural changes, nor is the current economic downturn and the dim prospects for a return to go-go growth.  Thoughtful people are considering in fresh ways what choices and activities make them happy, and what circumstances really contribute to their security.

These changes, and others related to them, are already shaping our future, regionally and right here on Bainbridge.  Which brings me back to the Grow Community, and to the proposition that the architects who build a community can modify and even break established habits.

Marja Preston acknowledged that the prices for units in the new neighborhood are not “affordable” by conventional measures, but she pointed out that if the community’s emphasis on teamwork, common property, and cost-sharing means that you won’t need a car of your own, or a washer and dryer, and if much of your food comes from community gardens, then the total cost of living there won’t be so high after all.

Members of the Planning Commission asked the designers to find room for more parking spaces before the project is fully built out.  I seriously doubt that they will be needed.  We don’t know what the future will hold, so things have to be done step by step, adapting positively to contingencies and possibilities.  I hope this process won’t be hindered by outdated assumptions.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Art of Creating an Art Museum - Bainbridge Island Review

Bainbridge Island Review Staff writer
February 24, 2012 · 2:23 PM

As winter comes to an end, the island’s bare branches might appear lifeless – but if you look closer, you’ll find them covered in buds just waiting to burst.

You might make that same conclusion looking at the site of the future Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.

Its gray foundation mirrors winter’s bleak skies, but like the tulips and daffodils, a lot is going on below the surface. Literally.

The museum, aiming for environmentally friendly LEED gold designation, took a detour to incorporate geothermal heating, digging 14 underground wells that will draw heat from the earth. That’s in addition to plans for solar panels on the roof; use of recycled materials, including insulation made from old denim; a vegetated roof garden and a “living” wall. The building, designed by Bainbridge resident and architect Matthew Coates with input from the community, would be the first museum in Washington state and one of only a handful in the country to earn that designation.

“It’s not easy for museums to qualify because they have a high energy need – to keep the temperature and humidity constant for the art, along with high lighting requirements,” Coates said.

And while Coates contemplates possible gold status,

BIMA’s Executive Director Greg Robinson is pretty excited about the basement.

“It’s not a space that a lot of people think about,” he said. “It’s not the sexiest part.”

It’s important to Robinson because it contains the museum’s archival space for art storage, a loading dock, offices and the mechanical rooms. In other words, it’s the guts of the museum, and essential to behind-the-scenes magic. Attention was paid to meet the highest museum standards to be eligible to host exhibits from other museums in the region.

Above ground, Phase I includes the 95-seat auditorium which has already been used for plays, documentary screenings and civic events, and classroom space which hosted numerous KiDiMu summer camps last year, as well as an ongoing Life Drawing class on Tuesdays.

Learning curve
The building’s curve will lead visitors toward the entrance, and the generous use of glass allows people to see into the museum.

“We wanted it to be accessible, approachable, inviting,” Coates said. “Not just a box with cool stuff in it.”

“Sherry Grover taught me about public spaces,” said Cynthia Sears, the museum’s initiator. “People want to know they’re not going to be trapped; they want to know how something works, that they can move at their own pace and won’t get stuck with someone lecturing them.”

Once inside the lobby and reception area, an adjacent orientation gallery will enable docents and teachers to orient small groups and relay “museum manners” before setting off on an aesthetic adventure. That area spills out into the permanent collection gallery and an adjacent children’s and youth-focused space that might house art by kids – or art that is of interest to them.

Around the corner is a small gift shop that will carry touchstones, not trinkets.

From there, the Grand Hall leads to a dramatic staircase that ascends along the building’s curved wall of windows.

The top floor will house revolving exhibits in the main gallery and in the intimate spaces of the Sherry Grover Room and the Beacon Gallery, named for its visibility to those traveling by ferry.

A 300-square-foot roof terrace and garden overlooking the courtyard has been named in honor of Island Treasures  and early museum supporters George Little and David Lewis.

An elevator (or stairs) will take visitors to the small cafe or back to the lobby.

The overall size is ample but not intimidating and natural light, greenery and natural materials will add warmth to the space as well.

A beacon
From the beginning, the project has been charmed, not only in landing such a fortuitous location, but in drawing a team of talented, gracious people.

Board member and engineer Ralph Spillenger, formerly in charge of NASA facilities, has been instrumental in shaving $1 million off building costs, said Sears. “He checks everything. And he’s one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met.”

Coates is so local people forget he’s a nationally acclaimed architect – whose specialty happens to be environmentally progressive buildings.

“It’s been a huge honor to be involved in this project,” he said (repeatedly).

Even one of the building’s design elements metaphorically reflects the magnetic draw the project has had, and will have into the future. When lit, a two-story glass structure facing the corner will act as a beacon, visible from the water and to those pulling in from the ferry.

To learn more, or to get involved, visit www.bainbridgeartmuseum.org.
Contact Bainbridge Island Review Staff writer Connie Mears at cmears@bainbridgereview.com or 206-842-6613.

Friday, February 3, 2012

"The Lorax" Trees for Global Benefits Fundraiser - March 3rd!


The Lorax is coming to
Bainbridge Island!

We hope you will join us for a private showing of Dr Seuss'
"The Lorax" on opening weekend to raise funds to support EcoTrust - Uganda's Trees for Global Benefits initiative.

Your ticket will grant you access to our pre-movie reception where we will have refreshments and kid-friendly activities, followed by a private showing of Dr Seuss' "The Lorax" movie.  All proceeds from ticket sales will support EcoTrust - Uganda's TREES FOR GLOBAL BENEFITS initiative, assisting small farmers in Uganda to plant and maintain trees, a program that helps to offset global carbon impacts while improving economic opportunity.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

DJC: Kitsap County gets its first LEED gold office

Daily Journal of Commerce
Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A development firm named Asani teamed up with PHC Construction and Coates Design Architects to turn a neighborhood eyesore into an energy efficient building.

All three companies now have their offices in the Granero Office Building on Bainbridge Island.  Asani said the project recently became Kitsap County’s first LEED gold building.

The structure was a municipal shed built in the 1950s and used for truck maintenance.  Today, it is an energy efficient, light-filled office space.  The project was completed in 2009.

Marty Sievertson, owner and president of PHC Construction, said he was delighted to participate in the project and is happy with the results.  “Our people really enjoy the open airy feel and collaborative work environment that was created here.”

More than half of the original structure was reused.  The new building has exterior shades to reduce light pollution, extremely low-water fixtures including waterless urinals and dual-flush toilets.  The landscaping requires no irrigation.  Interior lights are on timers or occupancy sensors and 75 percent of the building is daylit.  FSC wood was used for the majority of the framing and all composite wood is free or urea formaldehyde.

The building is near the Bainbridge Island ferry terminal at 710 John Nelson Lane N.E.  Nearby bus routes offer alternative commuting options.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Grow Community Workshop - Friday Jan. 27th

A huge thank you to everyone who attended the Grow community-building workshop last Friday.  We were inspired, amazed and humbled by your interest and your incredible ideas.  We look forward to more thoughtful discussions as we develop a new model for living at Grow Community.