Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Biomimicry Cohort 2011 Bios

I just found out that my bio is up on the biomimicry website.  How exciting!  This is really going to happen in less than a month!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holiday Decorations

xmas 001, originally uploaded by dgphilli.
I am loving my planters this year. Flowers in the spring, greenery in the summer, millet in the fall, and branches in the winter. I try to use real berries and plants outdoors to feed the birds (and squirrels) and mulch my garden when they're done.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Greenbuild Recap: Mannahatta & the Mtigwakki

Greenbuild 2010 started today in Chicago and I attended a seminar featuring my former employers, Bill Browning and Chris Garvin of Terrapin Bright Green, as well as James Patchett from the Conservation Design Form and Eric Sanderson of the Wildlife Conservation Society.  I can objectively say that it was a fascinating panel centered around Mr. Sanderson's book Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York. One of the main reasons I applied to the Biomimicry program was to learn more about ecology, so Mr. Sanderson's career as a landscape ecologist is very interesting to me. 

The thesis of "Mannahatta" centers around the reconstruction of Manhattan ecology to when it was first discovered by settlers.  Based on research, Mr. Sanderson layers the native ecological systems and the current grid of concrete and steel in order to discuss the habitat needs of previous and current occupants.  Food, water, shelter, and reproductive resources create a habitat be it for humans or other animals.  He also discusses the need for meaning in our existence and how that makes a habitat a home.

Mr. Browning applied this information to a project he worked on where a building was unknowingly built over an indigenous stream in Manhattan over seventy years ago, so massive sump pumps were employed over the building's lifespan to remove this ground water to the storm sewers.  By recognizing the native ecological footprint of the site, the owners can now use this information to make use of this clean, cool water to replace existing potable and non-potable uses, saving money and resources. 

Mr. Patchett gave a stirring account of the habitats that native plants cultivated when they were indigenous to the area but now that humans have "broken the botanical law" by polluting these habitats, they are no longer able to thrive.  In particular, he spoke of the rhizosphere, the 6' or so below the surface where roots hold water in native landscapes, that has been destroyed by development and advocates for responsible land management.  He believes strongly that "water is everything" and restoring the water cycle to its previous balance it is the key to ecological restoration. 

My favorite quote from the session:

"When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast, by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the Universe."  - John Muir

Thursday, November 4, 2010

8 Easy Ways to Eat Sustainably

  1. Shop at the greenmarkets as much as possible.
  2. Buy only what foods are in season. (Tom: “Don’t create a demand for strawberries in winter!”)
  3. Eschew processed foods. (Tom: “Wage war with the supermarket.”)
  4. Eat what has been produced within 100 miles of where you live or vacation. (Dan: “You’re in pursuit of flavor. Go directly to the source.”)
  5. Take yourself and your children to be educated at a nearby farm.
  6. Support environmentally-conscious restaurants, and subsequently the farms they work with.
  7. The ultimate sustainable experience: Attend a farm-to-table feast in the middle of a farm. Good sources: Outstanding in the Field or Sustenance on the Farm
  8. Find sustainable reminders: Pick up a copy of Edible magazine and read it, cover to cover.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Working on a Logo...

this is pretty terrible.  i like the ideas, but not the execution.  i'll likely need to pay someone because my photoshop skills and graphic creativity are not up to par right now.

The Meaning of the Name "Liquid Triangle"

Liquid Triangle, based on the Golden Triangle
The name "Liquid Triangle" was born in 1994 during my Calculus 1 class at the University of Illinois.  I was sitting next to a friend who would later become my husband trying to decipher the hieroglyphics that our teacher was scribbling on the chalkboard.  Our professor wrote something that looked like "liquid triangle" on the board.  We didn't know what she was talking about, but we thought it would be a really cool name for a band.  Since neither of us played an instrument anymore, we thought - how about an architecture firm!  More than fifteen years later, that dream is still a work in progress, but we're getting closer.  My husband is no longer an architect; in fact he never practiced as one after getting his MBA; and I am in the process of a career transition that will take me to places yet unknown.  But we are both naturally inspired and we came upon by accident, or fate, a name that has great meaning for us. 

Bruce Rawles describes a "sacred geometry" that permeates the universe as geometric templates that reveal the nature of forms in the world.  These forms he says are, under it all, interconnected and inseparable.  The Golden Ratio, or the Fibonnaci ratio, (1.618 to infinity) is the ratio of growth where the ratio of the larger portion to the smaller portion is the same through multiple generations. This pattern of growth is seen as the pattern for reproduction in much of nature. 
  • how limbs branch on trees
  • how leaves radiate from a stem
  • the arrangement of a pine cone
  • sunflower and artichoke florets
  • the family tree of the honeybees
I learned about the Golden Rectangle in architecture classes and studied how this geometry was the basis for much of early Greek and Roman architecture.  In fact, one of my masters design projects was a spirituality center, in which the progression to the sacred space followed the spiral that emerges from this geometry.  I have recently come across its relative, the Golden Triangle, from which a spiral emerges.  To me, this is the perfect representation of a liquid triangle:  growth in nature, introducing the fluid and organic to the built environment.

As my calculus classes can attest, I am not a mathematician, but I find the underlying geometries of growth and reproduction in nature to be inspiring.


Sacred Geometry by Bruce Rawles

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Introduction to Biomimicry

For those of you new to the concepts of biomimicry, check out this interesting slide show on Treehugger.

Friday, October 8, 2010

a quote for fall

"Autumn is a second spring when every leaf's a flower."
- Albert Camus

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I got in!!!

Biomimicry Design Spiral
I'm amazed and truly humbled that I was accepted to the 2011 Biomimicry Professional Certification Program!  It starts in January, so many of my blog entries will start to focus on the education I am receiving.  It's such a new and emerging field that I am still a little nervous about it's practical applicability, but I'm taking a leap of faith.  I will work hard, learn all I can about applying applying lessons from nature to the built environment, and pass it on. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Garden Gossip: 4th Week in September

Garden Gossip, originally uploaded by dgphilli.
Things are winding down in the garden lately. I planted new lettuce seeds which are now sprouting. The tomatoes are largely spent, but the dill remains vigilant even though I've cut it down to the bone once already. This weekend I will go out to harvest my last set of herbs before the frost.

Fall is a melancholy time for me. I love gardening and I love the summer, but I'm also enjoying preparing for the winter. I'm enjoying wearing sweaters and jeans after months of heat. I'm eating the greens from my CSA in various preparations, most of which are not healthy for weight loss. I'm bringing out the old slow cooker and making chili and soups. I'm getting our unfinished basement prepared for my 1yo boy and 3yo girl to be able to ride their bikes and play with their outside toys down there for the cold months. And, I'm drawing up plans for the four seasons room I hope to build this spring or next. Soon I'll start thinking about what I will grow next season.

And so the wheel of the year turns again. Welcome, Fall!

Passively Conditioned Houses

I happened to read a fascinating article in the New York Times this weekend called "Beyond Fossil Fuels: Can We Build in a Brighter Shade of Green?"  Except for one notable residential exception, most of my work as an architect has been in large scale building projects.  Recently, I have been fascinated to learn as much as I can about greening single family homes for one primary reason:  because I now live in one.   

As anyone who owns a home will know, home improvement work is never done.  Well, double that for an architect.  We are always thinking of projects and changes we want to make, even to a relatively new home!  This article, however, is not about something I can do to make my current home more environmentally friendly (although I do have my takeaways for renovation at the end); it's a whole new paradigm of building green from the onset.

Image copyright: Mika Grondahl and Guilbert Gates / The New York Times
I had not heard of the Passive House Standard before reading this article, probably because there are only 13 certified in the United States in the last two years since the standard's creation, although according to the article they are prevalent in Europe.  I have heard of and admired the requirements of the Living Buildings Challenge, a strict standard into which the passive home standard would fit into nicely. 

The above graphic illustrates highly insulated walls (17 inches compared with the building standard 6"!) with two air barriers - one on the interior and one at the exterior.  An air exchanger is combined with a heat exchanger to provide fresh air while reheating outdoor air with conditioned indoor air.  Using the Passive House Planning Package as an energy model, design and construction decisions are modeled and trade-offs are made in real time.  By doing this, passive homes can use up to 90% less heating and cooling energy than standard homes built to code and completely eliminate the use of fossil fuels through solar energy collection and water heating.  And Habitat for Humanity is doing one in Vermont!

This is great, but how does this affect the house I live in now - a builder's special built barely to energy code?  Here are my takeaways:

1 - Hire a professional to conduct a blower door test to find out where your air leaks are.  When about $500 in cash frees up, I will do this.  By blowing air into your home and testing the pressure it takes to do so, you will get a good idea of how tight your house is and where it is leaking (likely, the attic). 

2 - If you have an unfinished attic or basement, as I do, add as much insulation as you can and combine it with an air barrier.  Rigid spray foam works great as both and you avoid the problems that can sometimes be caused by a plastic vapor barrier. See Joe Lstiburek's insights - he is a brilliant and entertaining educator on all things building science.   

3 - Think replacement cycle.  For example:
  • When your heating system wears out, replace it with an efficient version that takes in fresh air from outdoors and exchanges it with stale air from indoors.  
  • When your windows fail, replace them with triple paned glazing with insulated frames.  
  • If you need to replace your roof or wall shingles, add one or two layers of 2" rigid insulation on the outside of your studs and an air barrier.

Even if your existing home or building can't be completely passively heated, I believe that in most cases it is better to reuse what you have than to start over, as long as you leave it better than you found it.

Further Reading from a somewhat contrary, but well respected, point of view:
Passivhaus Building Science by John Straube
Further Reading on Passivhaus by John Straube


Monday, September 27, 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A big reason to love and miss mayor Daley

Streetscape beautification in Chicago


I love the dreamy ginko trees against the climbing vines. The natural
overtaking the man-made is beautiful to me. Building at Lake Street
and the river in Chicago.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Devotional

"as a drop of water is part of the ocean,
so am i a part of the earth, my mother.
she created me, she nurtures me,
and she will receive me when i die.
in gratitude i honor her at this time."
- Starhawk

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Proposed Kitchen Retrofit

My friend wants to redo her kitchen and she asked me to send a few quick sketches her way for inspiration. She has a suburban split level home built in the 1970s. As you walk in the front door, an existing L-shaped kitchen with breakfast table is straight ahead with sliding glass doors that overlook a screened in porch and large yard. Her husband is a contractor, so I think she'll get a deal on the construction. Here were the ideas I sent her.

Scheme 1: Kitchen Location to Remain
This scheme keeps the kitchen where it is, demolishes a partition wall between the kitchen and dining, and creates an open concept kitchen/dining room with a breakfast bar. This was the approach she and her husband were thinking of when she talked to me. The problems associated with this design are that it requires moving the sliding glass doors to the dining room side, replacing the window to fit above the counters, and exterior brick work associated with this move. It would also result in people looking at the kitchen sink immediately upon entering the home, which could be a problem.

Scheme 1 Plan: Kitchen Location to Remain

Garden Gossip: Harvest

Harvest is in full swing in my garden right now. I get on average 2 cups of cherry tomatoes every other day - not bad for 8 plants, I think. I only planted two regular tomato plants and they have produced pretty well. I've added these tomatoes to my Green Earth Institute CSA tomatoes to make tasty sauce for eating and freezing. My jalapeño seedlings produced like crazy and I burned my hands last night seeding and freezing them for the winter (after burning my mouth making poppers). In addition to the seedlings, i planted a few jalapeño plants from seed and they are just now starting to produce. Hopefully I will get a few from them before the frost. And I just planted some lettuce from seed. It is a Burpee heatweave blend, so we will see if it takes. My spring lettuce was not successful. I have a few more packets, so I will keep seeding and watering and hoping for yummy salads.

Happy Harvest!

Urban Agriculture: Resources





Rereading Biomimicry

I am in the process of rereading the book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine Benyus. I want to familiarize myself again with the specifics of the concept because I have been chosen to interview for the Biomimicry Professional Certificate Program. I applied because it sounds like an incredible education, one that cannot be duplicated. But I never really thought I would have a chance at getting in. But here I am, ready to interview in a couple of weeks, so I want to try and remember as much as I can.

I read the book for the first time in 2004 when I entered the C2C Home Competition, so I read it with a specific product bent. I was looking for concepts and products that would solve a specific design application. The idea of a building with an adaptable second skin intrigued me. In my entry, I designed an adjustable thermal skin with floor to ceiling adjustable windows for passive ventilation, adjustable and retractable exterior louvers control solar gain, and retracting insulation curtains to control heat loss. “State of the shelf” technologies were a requirement of this competition, and while I didn’t place, the research I conducted for my entry continues to inspire my work and thought.

But that was then. Rereading the book, I now find myself enthralled with the entire chapter entitled "How Will We Feed Ourselves?" The ideas those at The Land Institute espouse for Natural Systems Agriculture are intriguing. Self-fertilizing, self-weeding polyculture agriculture would seem to be the ideal we should be striving for and the Institute has a great deal of research and knowledge available on their site. I will post more detailed recollections from this chapter in the future because it is truly fascinating.

My goals, lifestyle, and even interests have changed dramatically from the first time I read Biomimicry and the sign of a timeless book is one that can be read over and over with something new to tell you each time. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Urban Agriculture: Research Outline

  • premise. why locally raised food is good for the environment and customers
  • the problems associated with centralized, conventional agriculture (introduction, not lengthy)
  • Midwest early agriculture - native americans and the pioneers
  • The beginning of modern agriculture and centralization
  • Victory Gardens
  • Permaculture and Natural Systems Agriculture
  • Midwest Aquaculture
  • Suburban Yard Gardens - backyard and frontyard
  • Rooftop Gardens - large and small scale
  • Vertical Gardens
  • Community Gardens
  • Small-Scale Aquaculture
Lessons Learned
  • tbd

Midwest Case Studies
  • tbd

  • links
  • interviews
  • articles
  • books

Quarterly Research Projects

While I am on "motherhood sabbatical", I've decided to assign myself quarterly research projects. Balancing the time to do this should be interesting while watching my two young children as well as fulfilling the continuing education requirements of my architecture license. But, as I've always told other people - it's important to keep your head in the game! So, here I go...

These research projects will focus on a subject I am interested in and, ideally, coincide with a seasonal theme.

Fall - in keeping with the harvest season, i will focus on a topic dear to my heart, "urban agriculture in the upper midwest"
Winter - in chicago, this is the heating season, so i will focus on "residential energy efficiency"
Spring - biomimicry in practice
Summer - tbd

i will use this blog as a record of the research and then synthesize lessons learned. this research is given away free of charge with copyright rights reserved. i welcome feedback and references. when reposting, please cite my blog in addition to my sources.

thank you and enjoy!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Downcycled, but still Recycled

i just got the kids a "buzz lightyear" stuffed doll at walgreens as a treat, and on it is a small removable tag that says it is filled with something called EarthRite Fiber, or recycled PET bottles. i thought it had to be greenwash, because it was for something as commercial as Toy Story 3, but the website is so cheesy, it has to be legit.

one word...plastics

going back to my intent of this site being a reference for people, like me, who have a shameful memory, this is something i can never remember: 

which plastics are ok and which could harm you?

when the BPA (Bisphenol A) freak out happened, i threw my avent bottles out with the rest of them.  but then they took BPA out of my Nalgene and I'm back drinking my artificially flavored Crystal Light out of it daily.  i'm drinking pink lemonade right now.  shades of green:  i almost never buy bottled water, but i drink flavored tap water out of BPA free #7 bottles.  but one thing i truly find disturbing is that i never realized until just now that BPA lines the cans of the premixed formula i buy for my son.  well, so much for that occasional convenience. good thing it's a once in a while thing for when we're on the move, but i should have thought of that.  memory...

so i can remember, here are the plastic recycling numbers:

1, 2, 4, 5 are nice
3, 6, 7 (with BPA) are naughty

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Genius Upcycling

On one of my walks to the forest preserve, I pass by a house I love. It is what appears to be a really nice prairie style rehab of an old house. It's gardens are fantastic. I should post a photo so I can remember them in the dead of winter. At the sidewalk entry to this house are two planting urns, and the homeowener uses wine bottles as a self-watering tool. I personally love the aesthetic and it seems to work reasonably well, depending on the amount of water in the soil. I'm not sure I'd leave my plants unattended for a week with one, but as a stopgap to my forgetfulness, I rather like it. And, best of all, it's free!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Quote: "Isn't growth for the sake of growth the philosophy of cancer?"

- John Langerak, Chester, ME as quoted in Scientific American, August 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Garden Gossip: What I (tried to) grow in the summer of 2010

My mentor once told me that she didn't need to remember anything she can look up.  I'm not sure that's entirely accurate because a lot of what I do involves thinking on my feet.  But with the advent of blogs, looking things up has become so much easier.  So, because I am like my mentor and have a hard time remembering specific details, I am veering off of the sustainability course a bit to discuss wine and gardening, two things I love.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Stories for my Grandchildren

What stories would you like your great grandchildren to know about you someday? 

i was recently asked this question on an essay application i submitted.  i think it speaks to my viewpoint on environmentalism and how vital it is to our survival.

I am an environmentalist because I’ve always felt at home in natural environments and destroying beauty is a tragedy.  Environmental catastrophes such as the Gulf oil spill bring to the forefront of my mind that our society of rampant consumption and short-term gratification cannot sustain itself.  I hope future generations know I was a woman who loved her family fiercely and worked to make the world a better place for them.  I would like the legacy I leave to be one where I worked with a network of like-minded individuals and groups to inspire others to make the hard changes that will be necessary to sustain our species.  I would like to succeed in that goal by working hard, continually learning and drawing inspiration from nature, and teaching others to work together to improve the world.  My grandfather always told his family to “live, learn, and pass it on.”  I hope they say that I fulfilled his wish.

Garden Gossip: 4th week in July

The garden is in full swing now. We are eating all of the greenbeans that the rabbit chooses to ignore. We had our first cherry tomatoes a few days ago. We are growing a hybrid sweet orange variety from Stokes. It is TMV F (Tobacco Mosaic Virus and Fusarium wilt) resistant, which is important to me because I've lost whole seasons to nematodes in the past. They are bushy and crazy wild, though. We left for a long weekend and returned to find that one of the plants had overturned it's cage! The bunny is still around. I won't be able to get rid of it until I put up the chicken wire fence in the fall.

My greatest pleasure with the garden isn't eating the food myself but watching my 3 year old daughter pick and eat the cherry tomatoes right off the organic vine. I grew them for her.

Gods, I love summer in Chicago.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Quote: "have they no grandchildren?"

Excerpt from Tom Friedman's Op Ed in the NYT today:

"The last word goes to the contrarian hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham, who in his July letter to investors, noted: 'Conspiracy theorists claim to believe that global warming is a carefully constructed hoax driven by scientists desperate for ... what? Being needled by nonscientific newspaper reports, by blogs and by right-wing politicians and think tanks? I have a much simpler but plausible 'conspiracy theory': the fossil energy companies, driven by the need to protect hundreds of billions of dollars of profits, encourage obfuscation of the inconvenient scientific results. I, for one, admire them for their P.R. skills, while wondering, as always: "Have they no grandchildren?"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Suburban Backyard Garden

When we decided to move to the Chicago area from New York, we chose a suburb with great schools for our two little kids. We chose this house for its walkable, downtown location but also for its south facing back yard. After years of container gardening, I was looking forward to growing food in a large, ground-based location.

The yard had "great bones" when we purchased it - a large maple shade tree centered on the back door and medium sized bushes planted by the previous owner. We added the fence to create a safe place for the kids to play. We removed about one-third of the backyard grass in favor of a french style square foot garden, a cedar playhouse, and garden beds to surround the minimized turf. The garden itself is approximately 150sf of annual beds, 200 sf of perennial herbs, 50 sf of berry bushes, and ample space for decorative flowers and trees and bushes for privacy.

Practical Sustainability

i've been doing a lot of thinking about what i want this blog to be: interesting, fun and interactive. i want it to help connect a community of similar interests. while my expertise is sustainable architecture, i want it to be more than that -

connecting people in practical sustainable lifestyles

i don't always live up to my ideals. i live in a large house in the suburbs of chicago. i bought this house so that my kids could go to great schools and i could have a yard to grow my own food. but because of these choices, some of the things i do are really just putting "lipstick on a pig." will my hybrid cars, rainbarrel and organic garden ever make up for the embodied energy to build this house that is really too large for my family of four? no, but we did join a walkable community where everything we need is within walking distance so we rarely use the cars. life is about compromise. we make choices that we feel will give ourselves and our families the best chance in life, and sometimes this does not agree with other principles we try to live by.

i think we all do the best we can with what we have. and that's what i'll try to showcase here. practical sustainability.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Garden Gossip: 3rd Week in July

I have a garden in my back yard. It was the first thing I did to my back yard when I moved into this house last year. After many years of living in high rises and container gardening, I selected this house in large part because of its south facing rear yard where I could grow my own organic food.

Last year, I planted a little bit of everything: corn, tomatos, squash, pumpkin, watermellon, blackberry, raspberry, and many types of herbs. I had some successes, but since I was pregnant and largely ignored the garden, I had a lot of failures. We had a cherry tomato plant that produced a lot of little tomatoes that my then 2 year old daughter loved picking and eating. And the raspberry bushes did well. The rest got eaten by pests or disease.

This year, I've been more attentive to its needs. So that's where this entry comes in. I'd like to record weekly the successes and failures in my garden adventure.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Monday, July 12, 2010

why is environmentalism through architecture important?

buildings consume or are responsible for:

* 40% of the world’s total energy
* 25% or the world’s timber harvest
* 16% of fresh water withdrawl
* 35% of all carbon dioxide emissions
* 60% of the electricity generated in the US
* 30% of all carbon dioxide emissions.

Additionally, more than 210 million tons of solid waste is generated and disposed of annually – a substantial portion of which is attributed to construction site and building-use waste.

green design can counteract this, with the following benefits:

* results in a high-quality, healthy living environment
* lowers residents’ utility costs
* enhances residents’ connection to nature
* protects the environment by conserving energy, water, materials, and other resources
* advances the health of local and regional ecosystems

source: green communities criteria