Friday, December 01, 2006

Portfolio

Societal Architect: Richard Swett (Essay 3)

According to James Freedman, the well-known retired Dartmouth University president and New York Times editorial writer, "honorary degrees... are one of the ways universities advertise themselves" (125). In order to select the person they believe represent their ideologies, principles, and mission in a respectable and exemplary way, the University of Southern California carefully inspects the numerous nominations it receives each year. Richard Swett, an architect, civil servant, and businessman fully embodies the essence that USC attempts to pass down to its students. He is a professional who takes his craft seriously and gains as much from his concern for society and its individual citizens as he does from more ordinary means of compensation. While his ideology can be criticized, few would disagree that Richard Swett deserves one of the university’s highest accolades: the honorary degree of architecture and public policy.

First and foremost, an honorary degree recipient must be skillful in his field. In his essay, “Meaningful Work: Rethinking Professions,” Chapman University professor, Mike W. Martin, states that the true professional combines “theory based understanding, practical know-how, and liberal learning”(22). He is motivated by perfecting his craft and strives for excellence within his field. USC’s honorary degree criterion cites that nominees must be “distinguished, whether through their profession or through creative means.” Richard Swett has taken his bachelor’s degree in architecture from Yale and turned it into something that means much more. He explains that within the past two centuries, architects have taken a back seat to engineers and others and are now currently seen as “just designers.” This definition of the architect has severely limited how much the profession feels responsible towards the greater picture. In addition to being a licensed architect, Swett has taken on many other titles including, New Hampshire state representative, ambassador to Denmark, consultant, and business owner.

Furthermore, he has served on a number of committees and is involved in every part of a process. A powerful illustration of his viewpoint is best exemplified in the following statement: “Like an artist’s rendering of a proposed building, what is presented…is a flat illusionary image of the much more desired three dimensional reality.” Swett sees the world in its entirety and believes that to dissect it, is to do a disservice to its complexity and beauty. The University of Southern California holds a similar view. Over the past few years, the school has created a scholarship geared towards graduating students who studied seemingly differing subjects. “The objective,” of USC's Renaissance Scholarship, “is breadth with depth, and the extraordinary release of intellectual energy that often occurs when two widely separate fields of thought.” Swett has shown true to this spirit.

The quality of Swett’s work and contributions is exemplified in his numerous praises and accolades. Architecture Week describes him as “one of the few architects who excels at civic leadership… [who] does everything he can to encourage other architects to take on community leadership roles.” While finishing his bachelor’s degree, Swett was awarded the prestigious Timothy Dwight College Master's Cup. In 1993, he was recognized by the Junior Chamber of Commerce as one of the ten most outstanding young Americans of that year. The awards and recognition did not stop there, however. He has gone on to judge numerous design competitions, and was even on the board that chose the architects for the World Trade Center and Lower Manhattan rebuilding project. In 2002, Swett was asked to be on the advisory board for the organization Architecture for Humanity, a position held in concurrence with world-renowned architect Frank Gehry. Cameron Sinclair, the Executive Director of Architecture for Humanity said, “his work on furthering leadership and development in the architecture profession is unparalleled and brings a wealth of knowledge and understanding to the organization."

Freedman has said that “in bestowing an honorary degree, a university makes an explicit statement to its students and around the world about the qualities of character and attainment it most admires” (117). One of the most unique and admirable qualities of Richard Swett’s demeanor is his idealism. He believes in the world and that everybody can and must make a positive impact on those around them. In his book, Leadership by Design: Creating an Architecture of Trust , Richard Swett explains that architecture “is not a solitary pursuit,” but rather being a “multilayered process built on coalitions, cooperation and understanding.” This is inspirational for architects as well as for people in other professions. Architects create civilizations, but there is a certain responsibility for them to include the people they desire to serve. Instead of merely being designers, Swett believes that architects are rather "polymaths", culminating math, science, society, and environment to create something that is beneficial for people long into the future.

Martin says “satisfaction must go beyond money and social recognition” (26). Although the power and fame that come with his professions are undoubtedly important to Swett, one could conclude that his motivation is not entirely self-interested. In fact, one might even go so far as to say that he gains the most joy from recognizing the potential of others in society. His passion can be derived from the statement that, “architects spend their working lives turning ideas into reality through the servant-leadership process.” According to Swett, “too many stark instances spring to mind of leaders manipulating the masses with fear and confusion.” Many architects have easily become self centered and egotistical in designing and building only what they see fit and using the most resources possible without regard to the environment or the lives of the future population. This view is the complete antithesis of Richard Swett’s, who believes that “commitment to clear, shared, and actionable purposes is the antidote to ambivalence and apathy. He is the ideal role model of Martin’s professional who “provides opportunities to make ongoing contributions to the well being of others and should promote the good of clients” (23).

According to the criteria for honorary degree recipients, USC looks for people who “have made outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of USC or the communities of which they are a part.” Richard Swett has helped the much larger USC community, by advocating peace. Politics is not just a chance at fame, more importantly it is a chance for change. Although no longer holding office, Richard Swett, as recent as September 2006, was making America’s voice heard in the International Peace Conference. He did not back down to accusations made by the Palestinian Ghazi Fakhry that America was causing the distress of the world and said that while he “loved the American, he hated the administration.” Swett explained that peace will always be a farfetched dream with the existence of any type of hate. He was assertive, but understanding to the situation, listening and replying carefully to the delicate topic.

Furthermore, Richard Swett believes that “citizens must feel ownership” of the work he presents to them. Everything is a team process. His purpose is not to create buildings, but rather to help people create their own reality, according to their present and future needs and wants. He is involved in all parts of the decision making process and is fully informed about how things work and who is affected by certain actions that are taken. Like USC, Swett looks to “nurture an environment of mutual respect and dignity.” He explains that the foundation of architecture is trust and in order to gain the trust of clients and the community, an architect must reach consensus with everybody affected by the decisions he makes. In a similar claim Martin states that, “A calling links a person to the larger community, whole in which the calling of each is a contribution to the good of all”(28). Swett not only calls upon architects to become more involved in their civic duties, but he requests that the general public does the same. The University of Southern California embodies the idea that it is necessary to “develop human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.” Richard Swett holds true to this philosophy by not only empowering himself, but by empowering those he works with as well.

Perhaps the greatest criticism of nominating Richard Swett for an honorary degree is the fact that he is a politician. According to James Freedman, there has been a long history of politics behind the honorary degree. One Dartmouth President refused to honor Abraham Lincoln during 1864 because he disagreed with Lincoln’s activism towards the abolishment of slavery. In more recent history, “more than 200 faculty members at Yale signed a letter protesting the prospective award of an honorary degree to George W. Bush”(123). The Yale faculty found the action premature, seeing how he had been in office for less than a year. It is understandable that colleges must be careful when choosing politicians as honorary degree candidates. However, no more care should be taken with such figureheads than the ordinary citizen. When observing a candidate, whether involved politically or not, it is necessary to take their morals and ethics under consideration.

In the case of Richard Swett, however, his actions match his words. “The ‘real’ or authentic self is not an isolated atom, but instead defined and fulfilled through concerns for goods beyond the self,” according to Martin (31). Swett works for the good of the public, free from alternative motives that are inconsistent to the wishes of the members of society. This can be seen through his votes during his time as a representative of New Hampshire. Although he is a registered Democrat, he never took a specific side when voting. From this, one can infer that he made what he believed was the best decision for his state and for the country at large, a quality that the University of Southern California. USC explicitly states that a key mission for the university is to “provide public leadership and service” in both our neighborhood and the world communities.

The University of Southern California recognizes people who have made an “original” and “exceptional” contribution to society. Richard Swett has created his own profession. He has taken a career in architecture and turned it into something that is unique and specific to his own interests and talents. He has aligned his belief system with the rest of society and sees his contribution as an addition to other society members' work, instead of something completely separate. His belief that “design must meet [the] communities’ needs [and] not only the developer,” is recognized throughout the various fields. An innovator and strong adherent of working together, Richard Swett’s vision is close in line with Martin, who states, “improving community, alleviating suffering, and furthering justice are not unique to any profession” (21). The students and faculty of the University of Southern California would surely be proud to call Richard Swett an honorary member of the Trojan Family.

Green Persuasion: A Website Analysis (Essay 2)

With oil and other natural resources becoming scarce and the looming threat of global warming, people are looking for alternatives to conventional ways of building. Instead of focusing on merely minimizing immediate costs, companies are beginning to look at their effects on the future of the environment, by way of sustainable architecture, or “green building.” But businesses are by no means altruistic. Many are good corporate citizens only if there is some type of monetary benefit. The National Resources Defense Council has realized this and created a website to cater to the interests of the business owner. Knowing how fast paced society has become, the NRDC has chosen the best medium available to convey the potential cost-saving aspects of the green building. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, in the beginning of 2006, 73% of American adults used the internet, of those, 91% had a household income of $75,000, many of whom are likely to be business owners or managers. Given these statistics, the NRDC would be at a loss if they did not take advantage of this growing phenomenon. The NRDC’s Webby Award winning site breaks down the incentives of green building into terms that make sense to the practical business owner, who does not have time to sift through superficial details. While the site still has room for improvement, the NRDC has provided useful and relevant information to prospective adherents of green ideals.

Part of the awe of the web comes from the ability to use powerful visuals that enhance the content and give the information a different dimension. Webby Awards cites design as one of six integral factors used to judge nominated websites. According to the awards, “good visual design is high quality, appropriate, and relevant for the audience and the message it is supporting.” The effective use of visual aids and design, including page layout, can dramatically influence how much information users process and whether they will remember the site’s content long after leaving. In the case of the NRDC, the visual theme is one of the strongest assets the site has to offer. Upon arriving at the website for the first time, the reader is instantly drawn to the bold colors and clean structure of the layout. The Web Style Guide warns against the use of such color schemes, stating that an effective site avoids “bold, highly saturated primary colors except in regions of maximum emphasis, and even there [uses] them cautiously.” In the case of the NRDC, however, the bright and prominent colors help capture the user’s attention. This is a result of the appropriateness of the hues, which are all shades found in nature and reinforce the theme of sustainable architecture and environmental conservation.

In addition to the color scheme, the Building Green website has a cogent layout. Quick and easy access is necessary in the business world because without it, there is a potential for millions of dollars to be lost. The NRDC appears to have taken this into consideration when constructing the overall look and feel of its website. Along with appearing professional, which is a must in business, the visual hierarchy is consistent and gives a sense of logical progression. Visitors can easily access different parts of the site. For example, in order to move from the “Sustainable Buildings” section, to the “Building Your Business Case” section one would only need to go to the main menu found on all of the pages. This menu allows the person to read about a certain topic on a different page without the fear of losing their place within the order of the information, which is necessary for people whose time is limited, such as owners of businesses. The NRDC has made sure its audience is able to rely on this structure throughout the site. Titles such as “Reduce Your Risk” and “Command Higher Rents” are straightforward and do not leave the user guessing as to what might be discussed.

In the same way that people assume a building will work and meet the demands of the residents without seeing the pipes and air ducts, people also assume their websites will function without being aware of the inner workings of the structure. “The best information designs are never noticed,” according to Web Style Guide. The building green website adheres to this principle by providing a structure that is simple and logical. Information is organized by the use of sequencing. On the main menu bar, the user quickly realizes the progression from “Build Your Business Case” to “Capitalize on Your Investment.” This “division of information,” as said by Web Style Guide, continues throughout the website in other forms and is crucial to providing clear and organized content. Overall, the navigation and organization of the Building Green website is “consistent, intuitive, and transparent” while also allowing the user to know what to expect when they click on a topic, which are the key criteria of effective structures according to Webby Awards. By doing this, the NRDC has, in essence, minimized uncertainty, one of the most highly sought after ideals in business.

“Good content is engaging, relevant, and appropriate for the audience,” as stated by Webby Awards. In the business realm, reliable material is everything. Throughout the site, the NRDC keeps its audience in mind by relating architectural topics back to profit. For example, when the organization discusses the need for spending adequate time in choosing the project’s site they bring up the potential cost-savings along with the benefits to the environment. This is evident from NRDC’s recommendation of landscaping “the building's grounds or roof with native or adapted trees and plants” in order to help “increase occupant comfort and lower air-conditioning costs.” In addition, the content on the NRDC site is reliable and concise. The website provides information about sustainable architecture in ways that are easy to understand given that the main constituency is not aware of the specifics of the field. For instance, the word charrette is used several times. Knowing that their audience may not recognize this word, the NRDC has not only provided the definition, but has also included trivia about where this interesting word originated.

The NRDC has provided manageable information that is not overwhelming in size or depth. As mentioned earlier, only those topics relating to sustainable architecture that are relevant to businesses are discussed on the website. Main subjects include “Capitalize on Your Achievement” and “Set Your Budget and Goals” are highlighted instead of various construction techniques. The site focuses more on why various methods are used, rather than the specifics of the approach itself, as can be seen from the suggestion to “install operable windows, which keep occupants comfortable and more satisfied by allowing them to control their access to fresh air.” As can be seen through the various examples given thus far, each concept is succinct. The Building Green website avoids including too many details which can cause the user to miss main concepts, or even worse, leave the site for one that is more concise and possibly less informative or reliable. According to Web Style Guide, information should be distributed throughout the site in “chunks.” The NRDC has avoided this potential problem by dividing the information into small, yet highly focused subjects, thereby maintaining user interest while also catering to those who are looking for answers to very specific questions. A visitor can easily find out about becoming green certified or how to “alert the local media” about their green building.

Links to case studies can be found throughout the site as evidence to back many of the claims brought forth by the organization. These case studies are supplied in both summary and in full, which can be useful to a person looking for evidence regarding the possible construction of a sustainable building. Some of the topics that can be found under the summary heading are the architects, occupancy, dates the buildings were created, and the various awards received. This allows the reader to find those cases that are specific to his needs and interests and to avoid those that have little relevance to his project. Additionally, given that the primary focus of the website is to inspire businesses to build using green technology, the site includes many impressive statistics to back all claims. According to the NRDC, “by paying an average of 2 percent up front on efficient green features, you can save as much as 30 percent to 40 percent on your energy and water bills.” This extraordinary fact is enough to turn anybody’s head, but especially a person looking to maximize profits on their investment. Overall, the NRDC has made a positive attempt at persuading their audience to think green by providing important and relevant information.

Although award winning, the site is not without flaws. The Green Seal link and others under the resource center do not connect to their intended pages. This leads one to speculate whether the information on the entire site is relevant, since there is no revision date. According to Web Style Guide, “every Web page in a corporate or institutional site should carry a revision date that is changed each time the page is updated so that users can be sure they have the latest version.” In addition to the outdated links, the visitor could become annoyed by how the page is aligned to the left instead of centered. These problems are minor, but if not corrected, they could damage the site’s reputation for excellence. One of the greater weaknesses of the site, however, is in regards to the content. Despite the numerous topics commented on throughout the website, only a few are fully elaborated. Each topic appears more like an introduction than a rich full body text. For instance, the subject titled "Lower Your Maintenance Costs" states, “by saving on operations and maintenance, you can generate increased cash flow and higher margins.” Aside from this, the topic relies on only two pieces of evidence, which require the visitor to rely heavily on reading the case studies. It must be noted that even though the case studies are important, they are specific instances and their results could be abnormal. Even though the NRDC should still avoid using too many details, their website could be more persuasive if more each topic went a little more in depth.

Another aspect of the website that the NRDC could improve on in regards to content is the amount of the information provided by the website that is repetitious. Due to this, the reader may infer there are fewer reasons to spend the additional money using sustainable architecture than the site initially suggests. For example, many of the topics mentioned in the section titled “Set Your Budget and Goals” are repeated later in “Apply Sustainable Building Strategies.” Both sections Although these topics are elaborated on in the latter section, it could be more efficient and beneficial for the audience if the NRDC combined the two sections in some way, or made the each section completely distinct.

Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, the website provides an assortment of impressive findings and figures that serve to inspire the audience to build green, however, there are few places where these findings are cited. In one case, the NRDC claims “you can save up to 30 percent on your energy bills by choosing an orientation and shape for your building that will optimize solar heat gain and loss.” This fact would be much more impressive and reliable if there was a citation accompanying it. According to the Web Style Guide, “The key to good hypertext linking is to maintain context, so that the reader stays within the narrative flow and design environment of your site.” Instead of merely having a section devoted to links, it would be beneficial for the NRDC to disperse them throughout the site. Given that their audience is looking to make a major investment based on the information on this site, it would behoove the NRDC to state which sources the findings came from in order to give more validity to their argument.

Obtaining information in this day and age is easier than ever before, however, ensuring that specific information or opinions are heard is much more challenging. The NRDC has created a thought provoking website that concentrates on appealing to the audience they have set forth to persuade. The website is not only informative, but also well organized and aesthetically pleasing, all of which help guarantee that their message will not be lost among the vastness of the web. Although the NRDC could take certain actions to enhance their argument, it is clear that their Building Green website well deserves the accolade presented to them by The Webby Awards.

Reflection

My writing has improved dramatically. I have started to take time to reread what I have written, something that I have been taught throughout my life, but have found hard to apply. Perhaps most enlightening about my blogging/writing experience was that it was brought to my attention that I repeat words throughout my papers. At first I thought that it was due to a limited vocabulary and tried to rectify the matter by using a thesaurus. I soon noticed, however, that there were no alternative words that correctly expressed what I was trying to say. This made me go in search for other areas that might be causing the problem. It turned out that I was writing the same words because I was using the same sentence structures throughout my papers. I am by no means close to where I want to be as far as the quality of my work is concerned, but it is refreshing to see where I can improve and actually take the steps to make better papers.

In addition, this class was an excellent way for me to talk about topics that interest me. Being a business major whose true passions are architecture and politics, I have found it difficult to find time to read, write, or learn anything about my interests. WRIT 340 has given me this opportunity. Initially I was concerned that since I was a novice to architecture I would not be qualified to write a blog. I felt that my inexperience with the topic matter showed through. By the time I wrote my final essay, however, I had become more confident in my ventures. I have learned everything from current events regarding the Los Angeles Unified School District to methods of sustainable architecture, all of which I was not aware of when I started the class.

Apart from my improved writing skills, I am taking away the ability to find information quickly and effectively. Although I have been well acquainted with the internet since I was a child, this year was the first that I realized just how powerful a tool it is. Through my blog, I have learned how effective links are. Now when I read articles I always look for the hypertext, which has dramatically impacted my knowledge about the topics I research. Overall, my experience with WRIT 340 has been valuable.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Societal Architect: Richard Swett

According to James Freedman, "honorary degrees... are one of the ways universities advertise themselves" (125). This makes it imperative that USC carefully inspects the numerous nominations each year in order to select the person they believe have and will represent their ideologies, principles, and mission in a respectable and exemplary way. Richard Swett, an architect, civil servant, and businessman fully embodies the essence that USC attempts to pass down to its students. He is a professional who takes his craft seriously and gains as much from his concern for society and its individual citizens as he does from more ordinary means of compensation. While his ideology can be criticized, few would disagree that Richard Swett deserves one of the university’s highest accolades: the honorary degree of architecture and public policy.

An honorary degree nominee must be skillful. Nominees must be “distinguished, whether through their profession or through creative means.” Richard Swett has taken his primary title of “architect” and turned it into something that means much more. Swett explains that within the past two centuries, architects have taken a back seat to engineers and others and are now currently seen as “just designers.” Swett has realized that this definition of the architect has severely limited how much the profession feels responsible towards the greater picture.

James Freedman has said that “in bestowing an honorary degree, a university makes an explicit statement to its students and around the world about the qualities of character and attainment it most admires” (Freedman 117). Perhaps what is the most unique and admirable quality Richard Swett’s demeanor is his idealism. He believes in the world and that everybody can and must make a difference to better society. In his book, Leadership by Design: Creating an Architecture of Trust , Richard Swett explains that architecture “is not a solitary pursuit,” but rather being a “multilayered process built on coalitions, cooperation and understanding.” This is not only inspiration for those who are in the field of architecture, but also for those throughout society. Architects create society, but there is a certain responsibility for architects to include the people they desire to serve. Instead of merely being designers, Swett believes that architects are actually "polymaths", culminating math, science, society, and environment to create something that is beneficial for society long into the future.

Richard Swett practices what he professes. In addition to being a licensed architect, he has taken on many other titles including, ambassador and for the United States, consultant, business owner, financer. He has served on many different committees and is involved in every part of a process. A powerful illustration of his viewpoint is best exemplified in the following statement: “Like an artist’s rendering of a proposed building, what is presented…is a flat illusionary image of the much more desired three dimensional reality.” Swett sees the world in its entirety and believes that to dissect it, is to do a disservice to its complexity and beauty. The University of Southern California holds a similar view. Over the past few years, the school has created a scholarship geared towards graduating students who studied seemingly differing subjects. “The objective,” of USC's Renaissance Scholarship, “is breadth with depth, and the extraordinary release of intellectual energy that often occurs when two widely separate fields of thought.” Swett has shown true to this spirit.

According to the criteria for honorary degree recipients, USC looks for people who “have made outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of USC or the communities of which they are a part.” Richard Swett has helped the much larger USC community, by advocating peace. To Richard Swett, politics is not just a chance at fame, more importantly it is a chance for change, something that should drive all politicians. Although no longer holding office, Richard Swett, as recent as September 2006, was making America’s voice heard in the International Peace Conference. He did not back down to accusations made by the Secretary General of Egypt that America was causing the distress of the world. Swett explained that peace requires love, and with the hatred of the United States from the Arab’s perspective, peace will always be a farfetched dream. Richard Swett was assertive, but understanding to the situation, listening and replying carefully to the delicate topic.

The quality of Swett’s work and contributions is exemplified in his numerous accolades. While at Yale finishing his bachelor’s degree in architecture, Swett was awarded the prestigious Timothy Dwight College Master's Cup. In 1993, he was recognized by the Junior Chamber of Commerce as one of the ten most outstanding young Americans of that year. The awards and recognition did not stop there, however. He has gone on to judge numerous design competitions, and was even on the board that chose the architects for the World Trade Center and Lower Manhattan rebuilding project. In 2002, Swett was asked to be on the advisory board for the organization Architecture for Humanity, a position held in concurrence with world-renowned architect Frank Gehry. His opinion is highly valued, not only in the profession of architecture, but also in the professions of business, consulting, and humanitarian efforts. He was elected as representative by his peers in the early 1990’s, and was nominated and granted the ambassadorship to Denmark by President Clinton in 1998.

However, according to Mike Martin, satisfaction must go beyond money and social recognition” (Martin 26). Although the power and fame that come with his professions are undoubtedly important to him, one could conclude that his motivation is not entirely self-interested. In fact, one might even go so far as to say that he gains the most joy from recognizing the potential of others in society. Architects could easily become self centered and egotistical by designing and building only what they see fit and using the most resources possible without regard to the environment or the lives of the future population. This view is the complete antithesis of Richard Swett’s. He is the ideal role model of Martin’s professional who “provides opportunities to make ongoing contribution to the well being of others and should promote the good of clients” (Martin 23).

Furthermore, Richard Swett believes that “citizens must feel ownership” of the work he presents to them. Everything is a team process. His purpose is not to create buildings, but rather to help people create their own reality, according to their needs and wants and also according the needs and wants of those far into the future. He is involved in all parts of the decision making process and is fully informed about how things work and who is affected by certain actions that are taken. Swett, like USC, looks to “nurture an environment of mutual respect and dignity.” In a similar claim repeatedly stated by Martin, Swett explains that the foundation of architecture is trust and in order to gain the trust of clients and the community, an architect must reach consensus with everybody affected by the decisions he makes. Therefore, he not only calls upon architects to become more involved in their civic duties, but he requests that the general public does the same. The University of Southern California embodies the idea that it is necessary to “develop human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.” Richard Swett holds true to this philosophy by not only empowering himself, but by empowering those he works with as well.

Perhaps the greatest criticism of nominating Richard Swett for an honorary degree is the fact that he is a politician. According to James Freedman, there has been a long history of politics behind the honorary degree. One Dartmouth President refused to honor Abraham Lincoln during 1864 because he disagreed with Lincoln’s activism towards the abolishment of slavery. In more recent history, President George W. Bush’s honorary degree was questioned by students at Yale as being premature, seeing how he had been in office for less than a year (Freedman 123). It is understandable that colleges must be careful when choosing politicians as honorary degree candidates. However, no more care should be taken with such figureheads than the ordinary citizen. When observing a candidate, whether involved politically or not, it is necessary to take their morals and ethics under consideration.

In the case of Richard Swett, his actions match his words. He works for the good of the public, free from alternative motives that are inconsistent to the wishes of the public. This can be seen through his votes during his time as a representative of New Hampshire. Although he is a registered democrat, he never took a specific side when voting. From this, one can infer that he made what he believed was the best decision for his state and for the country at large, a quality that the University of Southern California. USC explicitly states that a key mission for the university is to “provide public leadership and service” in both our neighborhood and the world communities.

Political affiliations must be taken into consideration for all nominees as a means of evaluating the person’s morals. It is also important to note who is in the nominee’s personal circle, who they emulate, and who they look up to. Although this is helpful in determining what motivates who they are and where they are going, these are only indicators, and do not reflect the entire person. People may have disagreed with President Clinton’s policies or how he led his personal life, but it would be foolish for an organization or a person to allow this to dilute the importance of Richard Swett’s appointment as ambassador to Denmark. In addition, his support of democrat Joe Lieberman should be taken at face value, even amongst the controversy of his recent reelection to office.

Another criticism Swett faces is that he could be seen as undedicated. Many people might see his involvement in so many fields as a means unto its self an act of self-interest. Instead of learning and becoming extremely experienced in one particular field, such as architecture, some people could see Swett as a person who is uncommitted and unable to make up his mind. What makes Richard Swett stand apart from the rest of the honorary degree nominees at the University of Southern California, however, is that he is so dedicated, and not only to one field, but rather to many. In fact, he sees everything that he does as a part of architecture, not as something completely different. This is something, as mentioned before, that USC encourages in its students, and would surely encourage in its honor degree recipients.

The University of Southern California recognizes people who have made an “original” and “exceptional” contribution to society. Richard Swett has created his own profession. He has taken a career in architecture and turned it into something that is unique and specific to his own interests and talents. He has aligned his belief system to the rest of society and sees his part as a continuation of everything else, instead of something completely separate. His belief that “design must meet communities’ needs not only the developer,” is recognized throughout the professional realm. An innovator and strong adherent of working together, Richard Swett’s vision is close in line with Martin, who states, “improving community, alleviating suffering, and furthering justice are not unique to any profession” (Martin 21). The students and faculty of the University of Southern California would surely be proud to call Richard Swett an honorary member of the Trojan Family.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Green Persuasion: A Website Analysis

With the natural resources such as oil becoming scarce, and the threat of global warming looming, people are looking for alternatives to conventional ways of building. Instead of focusing on merely minimizing immediate costs, companies are beginning to look at the their effects on the future natural environment, by way of sustainable architecture, or “green building.” But businesses are by no means altruistic. They will be good corporate citizens, but only if they can receive some monetary benefit, whether that is now or in the future. The National Resources Defense Council has realized this and created a website to cater to the interests of the business owner. Knowing how fast paced society has become, the NRDC has chosen the best medium available to get the message across about green building and the potential cost saving aspects of the process. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, in the beginning of 2006, 73% of American adults used the internet, of those, 91% had a household income of $75,000, many of which are likely to be business owners or managers. Given these statistics, the NRDC would be at a loss if they did not take advantage of this new phenomenon. The NRDC’s Webby Award winning site breaks down the incentives of green building into terms that make sense to the practical business owner, who does not have time to sift through superficial details. While the site, still has room for improvement, the NRDC has provided useful and relevant information to prospective adherents of green ideals.

Part of the awe of the web comes from the ability to use powerful visuals that enhance the content and give the information a different dimension. Web Awards cites design as the first of seven key criteria they use to judge nominated websites. The effective use of visual aids and design, including page layout, can dramatically influence how much information users process and whether they will remember the site’s content long after leaving. In the case of the NRDC website, the visual theme is one of the strongest assets the site has to offer. Upon arriving at the website for the first time, the reader is instantly drawn to the bold colors and clean structure of the layout. Although Web Style Guide warns against the use of such color schemes, in the case of the NRDC, the bright and prominent colors help capture the user’s attention. This is most likely a result of the appropriateness of the hues, which are all shades found in nature and reinforce the theme of sustainable architecture and environmental conservation.

In addition to the colors, the building green website has a cogent design. Quick and easy access is necessary in the business world because without it, there is a potential for millions of dollars to be lost. The NRDC appears to have taken this into consideration when constructing the overall look and feel of the website. Along with looking professional, which is a must in business, the visual hierarchy is consistent and gives a sense of logical progression. Since the user knows what to expect and where to expect it, the NRDC has, in essence, minimized uncertainty, one of the most highly sought after ideals in business.

In the same way that people expect for a building to work and meet the demands of the residents without seeing the pipes and air ducts, people also expect their websites to function without being aware of the inner workings of the structure. “The best information designs are never noticed,” according to Web Style Guide. The building green website adheres to this principle by providing a structure that is simple and logical. Information is organized by the use of sequencing. On the main menu bar, the user quickly realizes the progression from “Build Your Business Case” to “Capitalize on Your Investment.” This “division of information,” as said by Web Style Guide, continues throughout the website in other forms and is crucial to providing clear and organized content.

Visitors can easily access different parts of the site. For example, in order to move from the “Sustainable Buildings” section, to the “Building Your Business Case” section one would only need to go to the main menu found on all of the pages. This menu allows the person to read about a certain topic on a different page without the fear of losing their place within the order of the information, which is necessary for people whose time is limited, such as owners of businesses. The NRDC has insured its audience is able to rely on this structure throughout the site. Titles such as “Reduce Your Risk” and “Command Higher Rents” are straightforward and do not leave the user guessing as to what might be discussed. Overall, the navigation and organization of the Building Green website is “consistent, intuitive, and transparent” while also allowing the user to know what to expect when they click on a topic, which are the key criteria of effective structure according to Webby Awards.

“Good content is engaging, relevant, and appropriate for the audience,” as stated by Webby Awards. In the business realm, good content is everything. Information must be reliable and concise in order for a website to be useful and dependable. NRDC’s Building Green website provides information about sustainable architecture in ways that are easy to understand given that their main constituency is not aware of the specifics of the field. For instance, the word charrette is used throughout the site. Knowing that their audience may not recognize this word, the NRDC has not only provided the definition, but has also included information about where this interesting word originated.

The NRDC has provided manageable information that is not overwhelming in size or depth. Only those topics of sustainable architecture that have relevance to business people are discussed on the website with subjects such as “Capitalize on Your Achievement” and “Set Your Budget and Goals” instead of focusing on construction techniques. In addition, the Building Green website avoids including too many figures and data which can cause the user to miss main concepts, or even worse, leave the site for one that less burdensome. According to Web Style Guide, information should be distributed throughout the site in “chunks.” The NRDC has avoided this potential problem by dividing the information into small, yet highly focused subjects, thereby maintaining user interest while also catering to those who are looking for answers to very specific questions. A visitor can easily find out about how to become green certified or how to “alert the local media” about their green building.

Many of the topics are backed by a variety of case studies within the site in which the NRDC provides links. These case studies are provided in both summary and in full, which can be useful to a person looking for evidence regarding the possible construction of a sustainable building. Additionally, given that the primary focus of the website is to inspire businesses to build using green technology, the site includes many impressive statistics to back all claims. According to the website, “by paying an average of 2 percent up front on efficient green features, you can save as much as 30 percent to 40 percent on your energy and water bills.” This extraordinary fact is enough to turn anybody’s head, little lone a person looking to maximize profits on their investment. Overall, the NRDC has made a positive attempt at persuading their audience to think green by providing important and relevant information.

Although award winning, the site is not without flaws. The Green Seal link and others under the resource center do not connect to their intended pages and the visitor could become annoyed by how the page is aligned to the left instead of centered. These problems are minor, however, if not corrected, they could damage the site’s reputation for excellence. One of the greater weaknesses of the site, however, is in regards to the content. Despite the numerous topics commented on throughout the website, only a few are fully elaborated. Each topic appears more like an introduction than a rich full body text. For instance, the subject titled "Lower Your Maintenance Costs" gives basic ideas on how this might be done, but realies too heavily on the visitor reading the case studies, which are specific examples rather than general actions that can be taken by any company. Even though the NRDC should still avoid using too many details, their website could be more persuasive if more each topic went a little more in depth.

In addition, the information provided under each subject title is often repetitious, which can quickly become monotonous and could also imply there are fewer reasons to build green than the site initially suggests. For example, many of the topics mentioned in the section titled “Set Your Budget and Goals” are repeated later in “Apply Sustainable Building Strategies.” Although these topics are elaborated on in the latter section, it could be more efficient and beneficial for the audience if the NRDC combined the two sections in some way, or made the information provided by each completely distinct.

Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, the website provides an assortment of impressive findings and figures that serve to inspire the audience to build green, however, there are few places where these findings are cited. In one case, the NRDC claims “you can save up to 30 percent on your energy bills by choosing an orientation and shape for your building that will optimize solar heat gain and loss.” This fact would be much more impressive and reliable if there was a citation accompanying it. Given that their audience is looking to make a major investment based on the information on this site, it would behoove the NRDC to state which sources the findings came from in order to give more validity to their argument.

Obtaining information in this day and age is easier than ever before, however, ensuring that specific information or opinions are heard is much more challenging. The NRDC has provided a thought provoking website that concentrates on appealing to the audience they have set forth to persuade. The website is not only informative, but also well organized and aesthetically pleasing, all of which help guarantee that their message will not be lost among the vastness of the web. Although the NRDC could take certain actions to enhance their argument, it is clear that their Building Green website well deserves the accolade presented to them by The Webby Awards.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Challenging Job : Designing The 9/11 Memorial

Daniel Libeskind and other top architects took on the immense task of creating a memorial for
the victims of the September 11th attacks. After five years of controversy, their visions are
beginning to take shape. The plans for three new structures were unveiled last week. These skyscrapers will be constructed in addition to the Freedom Tower, which will hold the memorial museum, and a reflecting pool that will signify the holes left by the fallen towers. As stated by the author of one blog, these additional buildings lack the depth and significance the memorial building embodies. I agree that the additional buildings are out of place and lack the uniqueness that the victims of September 11th deserve, as I stated in my comment to his post. Another blog expressed a similar view, but the author added that she was pleased to see the project “moving forward again.” I responded that while I am glad progress is taking place, I would like to see more thought given to the newly unveiled buildings, even if that means postponing construction. We owe the victims of September 11th a well designed memorial that expresses our deep gratitude for their sacrifice, and rarely do these memorials come about within a span of five years. Although the plans for ground zero have been well thought out with attention given to sustainable architecture, I think more work is to be done before we can present this monument to the victims’ families and the American public.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Los Angeles Schools: Designed To Learn

Los Angeles is facing a crisis. About one out of every four students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) will drop out. Part of the problem lies in the fact that there are not enough schools to meet the demand of the area. To address this, LAUSD officials created an initiative plan in 2002, which promised to dedicate $19.3 billion to creating new schools and refurbishing old ones over a ten year period. The challenge that the district now faces is whether or not they should take the conventional route by providing Los Angeles with a number of cookie cutter buildings. This would solve the seating problem, but it would not answer the much larger issue of dropouts. The key to the district’s fate and the fate of millions of current and future students lies in the design of the buildings themselves.

Asking someone to remember what their first school was like is bound to bring back a flood of memories. Schools are magical places in which learning and imagining take place. Therefore, it only makes sense that the building itself would need to inspire. Research has shown that the ideal student occupancy is somewhere around 300 and 400 people. Large schools have always been thought of as efficient, i.e. less buses, a larger number of students that can be taught, etc, however, this is a misconception. Larger schools typically have lower teacher satisfaction and higher drop out rates, as can be seen in the Los Angeles school district.

Other design factors include natural lighting and natural ventilation, which help break the prison feel so
commonly associated with schools among today’s youth. The latest design focus has been on creating open and versatile spaces. Just as education is not “one-size-fits-all,” neither should the spaces where people go to learn. Schools should have “play areas” and “quiet spaces.” They should be group oriented, with few walls separating specified classrooms, so the students can “explore.”

The LAUSD has attempted to address some of these issues in the design of the new South Los Angeles High School, but has generally reverted back to its conventional ways of building. The new school has a unique façade that attempts to blend in with its urban surroundings. Unfortunately the school’s intended population of 2, 403 students is a far cry from the ideal 400. When architect Randall Fielding asked the building firms involved why this was so, they replied by saying that they “tried [to incorporate new features], but that they were told [by the district] not to push the issue because of time constraints.” This, along with the concern of cost, is the oft-told reasons why few schools actually embody the spirit of learning. These problems can be reconciled with educational design, however. One solution is to create “prefabricated” schools where sets of walls, floors, etc. are made in a factory and brought to the site.

Building schools out of prefabricated materials is not a new concept. In fact, Brandlehow Primary School in England is an example of such. The school was recently renovated using the same techniques of prefabrication incorporated by the original designers in the 1950s. In addition to building an entire wing in a matter of weeks, the architects included many of the educational design measures mentioned earlier, such as a roof window to allow natural lighting.

Another example of prefabricated schools puts a twist on the design challenged portable. Architect Jennifer Siegal took the traditional portable and turned it into an educational oasis. She kept with the dimensions, but added color to the outside of the structure and created larger windows to let in more light. These new portables can be made in advanced and placed in schools that need them, or they can create the entire school. The cost would be approximately $1.7 million instead of the $2.5 million for the normal concrete and steel school buildings. According to Evantheia Schibsted’s article, portables have the added benefit of being able to “withstand a magnitude 8.5 earthquake,” while normal schools are built to handle much smaller earthquakes.

A well designed school will arouse students' curiosity and will be a place that everybody looks forward to attending each day, which is exactly what Los Angeles needs to solve its abysmal graduation rates and poor test scores. The decisions that the Los Angeles Unified School District makes today have a profound effect on how successful their campaign will be. By employing prefabrication methods and incorporating successful educational design elements to the schools they are currently building, the district could see a renewed interest in learning at a much lower financial cost than once thought.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Sustainable Architecture: Is Going Green Worth the Trouble?

“Going Green” is all the rage now. With global warming in the news every couple of days, it is no wonder that people are looking for solutions to world’s impending environmental problems. Whether global warming is real or not, this environmental kick is likely to stay. Recently, it has taken form by way of architecture. Doing the little things just is not cutting it any longer. Now the public must go all out, but is it worth it? Contests with notable architects and even movie stars backing them are appearing from New York to New Orleans, but is “Going Green” really as good as it sounds? Although the movement has some serious issues that it must tackle, the reasoning behind it is sound and it appears as though sustainable architecture is the main solution to the rather ugly problem of a decaying earth.

“Going Green” is the term coined by the media for the rather new and highly researched area of sustainable architecture, also known as “cradle to cradle,” an idea brought forth by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. The concept of sustainable architecture is based on the laws of thermodynamics. One of the laws states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. This principle can be found throughout “green” homes. The idea is that materials can be reused and recycled to fit the parameters of the house. It is not just the materials that sustainable architecture focuses on, however.

Perhaps more importantly, sustainable architecture looks to achieve an entire structure that “recycles and reuses.” Buildings “consume” heating, electricity, water, and food. The Minnesota Office of Environmental Assitance states that, "buildings use 70% of all the electricity in the US." Buildings also create waste and sewage. The philosophy behind sustainable architecture is to make these buildings more interconnected with the earth. Houses can be heated geothermally. They can make their own electricity by way of solar panels, and they can recycle sewage and provide clean drinking water. Sustainable homes and buildings are meant to become part of the earth, not just another concrete slab situated over an animal’s old habitat.

Sustainable architecture is not without its problems, however. One of the most widely held beliefs is that it is too costly. With the incredible amounts of planning and the new technologies that are required to create a completely green home, these houses are often thought to be luxuries that only the wealthiest people can afford. While it is true that “you could spend more, and it certainly would be justified with all the quick paybacks from reduced operating costs… it's not necessary,” as stated by the California Energy Commission.

The main cost issues that are currently plaguing the existence of sustainable architecture include continuing challenges from the government. Currently, subsidies are given for power and material costs with few substantial tax incentives for sustainable architecture. According to David Bainbridge, associate professor of Alliant University, governments give “subsidies up to $45 billion per year for non-renewable fuels [which has] biased the market against renewable energy.” The incentives that do exist are insignificant and do not offset the ‘savings’ a person could get from building a normal facility.

The fundamental question is: Do humans have the right to use whatever they want whenever they want without taking the consequences into account? I believe that people have a certain responsibility, if not to the earth, then to future generations. Sustainable architecture is more than just a dream. It is a viable plan that appears to be headed in the right direction, but in order for it to work people have to want it. They have to want it badly enough that they are willing to, both on an individual and societal level, make initial monetary sacrifices. In the end, the switch to sustainable architecture will be well worth the investment.