Mark Raymond: Victims of the City


Victims of the City

This was our first introduction to Mark and his thoughts about the commoditization of the world and modern day architectural design in support of it. He explains that architecture is much more than a structure plopped on a vacant piece of land. It can and should balance environment, economy, and society.  Part of his message addresses the change in our cities as towers, malls, and other financial components move-in and in the same way move-out certain portions of society. This change is often costly and inefficient by serving only a small portion of the existing community and causes social change.

To expand on that I'd say that all cities have a culture which must be preserved and work in harmony with developments. If the city embraces its culture but pushes out those that have created the culture, then the culture becomes a stale marketing tool that then lacks the organic life it once had.

click to watch

Bjarke Ingels: Hedonistic Sustainability


Hedonistic Sustainability

As mentioned in prior posts, We are huge fans of TED. We will continue to share those sessions that speak to us, expand our experiences, and challenge modernism.

Bjarke is a dynamic speaker who seamelssly incorporates technical data, humor, and innovative design concent in each presentation.  In Hedonistic Sustainability he presents a number of projects that allow direct interaction of people, environment, and structure.

click to watch

Cameron Sinclair: My Wish: A call for open-source architecture


Architecture for Humanity

Open Architecture Network

We are huge fans of TED and really enjoyed this TEDtalk. Many of Cameron Sinclair's design ethics hold true to designshop principles. we believe his drive to design for the world is just as valid here at home. A few powerful quotes that connected with us are...

"Architects have the power to either improve or create a detriment to the community to which we are designing in"

"We are not just building for residents or people who are going to use the building - but for the community as a whole"

"My wish is to develop a community that actively embraces innovative & sustainable design to improve living conditions for all"

all commuinities need better housing, better buildings, and better public spaces. we are fortunate to be in an industry that affects the lives of others through action and innovation.

Energy Efficiency + Building Science

article by Mark LaLiberte

Where we go from here rests on education, training, and wide-spread commitment.

2020, we will see walls that are insulated to R-30, attics to R-60, foundations to R-20, and triple-glazed windows in every climate. HVAC systems will commonly be installed in conditioned space and will be simple and small, with operational savings that cover the cost of installation. Mold will be a rare occurrence that is easily fixed. Indoor air quality and our general health will improve with proper ventilation systems that filter outdoor pollutants. Material toxicity will be reduced. Our homes will be the safe havens we need them to be. And they will be more efficient, with significantly lower operating costs and reduced warranty concerns. In this regard, everyone wins: With fewer costly call-backs, building companies will be more profitable.

The main challenge to achieving these goals is how difficult it currently is for home builders to apply today’s best practices on their jobsites in order to create and repeat proven performance. One big obstacle is the variation of labor quality. At times, builders struggle to repeat the same task from site to site or to retain the crew from last year or even last week. Many trades receive little formal training, and fewer still are unlicensed. Most states do not require continuing education, even though most of these tradespeople participate in a skilled craft.

This isn’t a new problem. Little has changed in the process of building homes over the last 50 years. Yes, homes are bigger, designs are more complex, and new products and codes affect their performance. But the processes and jobsite conditions that have shaped our industry are generally the same. And so, if we are to respond to the new pressures we face, we will need to transform the way we build and look for ways to replicate quality, performance, speed, reliability, and profit. Looking ahead, homes in the next 17 years should look, feel, and perform differently. Here’s a path to make that happen:

Change the Delivery PathOne approach to address quality consistency that has been successful in other parts of the world is building factory-crafted homes. There are different methods to do this, but all of them strive to create consistent results. These construction methods range from panelized wall systems shipped to the site for assembly to modular factory-built homes crafted nearly completely offsite and craned into place onsite. There is also a kit-home market that sends pre-cut and packaged material to the site for assembly. All of these methods are designed to take the immense variability out of the home building process and create a higher-quality, lower-cost, better-performing home.

For a proven example of this process, look to Scandinavia, where 90 percent of homes are factory crafted. The design elements are flexible and beautiful, and they meet very high performance standards. Germany, an engineering-focused country, is following a similar model—and they are reaching the United States’ 2020 goals now.

Meet Future DemandsMany American companies are now successfully designing and building homes that exceed current 2012 code requirements and easily meet green building standards, while also meeting the needs and expectations of the U.S. customer. Home buyers in the next decade will be savvy enough to see the benefits and features of homes crafted to a higher level of sophistication. They will expect automation with easily integrated electronics, audio and video interactivity, advanced lighting systems that operate in response to motion, daylighting opportunities, and optimum energy use. The technology we find in our cars—synchronized features using Bluetooth, a smartphone’s operational assistance, and satellite radio that delivers anything we want to hear or watch to anywhere we are—should make its way into our homes. It’s all available today.

Make the ChoiceWe already can create homes that consume 50 percent less energy, and beating our carbon- and energy-reduction targets of 2020 and 2030 is easy if we fully commit. Doing so would lower our dependence on volatile fuel sources and place the saved funds in our pockets. Unfortunately, I still see too many homes lacking proper flashing and well-installed insulation, and too many HVAC systems in unconditioned attics.

Also, we have to push others to commit to these goals. Giving today’s buyers the power to choose quality and high performance is our responsibility, and if we trust our craftsmen to build what works and teach our buyers to value this work, the markets will prove that performance does pay. We currently make the incorrect assumption that people won’t pay more for definable quality. The problem with this is that consumers do it every day. It’s our assumptions and messaging that are incorrect. Without a well-structured and properly conveyed message regarding the value of quality and high performance, we will continue to lose ground to the old-world sales pitch that location and granite is all that matters.

We need an integration of all of the elements discussed above: marketing, sales, production, and demonstrable performance. The proof is there: Buyers will pay more for their homes, they will default on their mortgages less frequently, and they will sell their homes for higher prices.

We need to prove that all of this matters by acting with intent. We can move to 2020 and 2030 with ease, and have already started proving that it is possible. We can see what is possible. Now we just need to implement the vision.

Building Design + Performance

article by Tedd Benson

We must reboot our entire industry and create a new operating system.

If we fully accepted the implications of failing to stem global warming, Architecture 2030’s 2030 Challenge wouldn’t be a challenge at all. We currently have proven antidotes to our energy-guzzling, heavy-carbon footprint ailments, and we have the knowledge and capability to apply the solutions on a broad scale. What is holding us back are belief and conviction.

We have a wide gap between our capabilities and our actions, and our home building industry is strangely bipolar: We are both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As good Dr. Jekyll, we have focused on reducing—and even eliminating—the energy waste of our buildings. We’ve spent the last couple of decades doing an enormous amount of research to prove the practical viability of a new class of resource-efficient homes that are durable, healthy, and net-energy positive. But as bad Mr. Hyde, we continue to build as if we have learned nothing, and as if there is no necessity to alter our environmentally destructive course. The disaggregation and misalignment of the home building industry is compounded by a pervasive societal disengagement from the natural systems of which we’re a part, and on which we depend. This hitch in our industry’s genetic code is preventing faster adoption of readily available solutions that would reduce the vast, unnecessary energy waste from our nation’s new homes.

The industry doesn’t have high-performance home building as a priority because it has never had its hand forced by consumers. And customers aren’t demanding it because they’ve never experienced it.

Therefore, while the industry–consumer relationship should be symbiotic, here it is often mutually destructive instead. Both the home building industry and its consumers bought heavily into fraudulent subprime mortgage promises in the middle 2000s. As an outcome, a glut of terrible homes was produced which helped contribute to a global economic collapse. Given any kind of similar caustic intervention, no other form of manufacturing—be it auto, computer, or appliance—would have so quickly and completely self destructed against its own self-interest and that of its customers. We need to seriously consider the implication of the debacle we brought upon ourselves.

But our mistakes can also lead us forward. If we’re serious about making the kind of homes that are both good for people and good for the planet, we need to do nothing less than replace our industry’s DNA. All that we are, and all that we do, needs to be different. For the environmental strategy that is necessary for our survival, we’ll need to think, act, and organize differently. We’ll need to change our core values. And we’ll need to be bold enough to adopt a new operating system. In other words, we need to act audaciously and disruptively. There is no time to waste.

For an industry genetic code makeover, here are a few suggestions:

Embrace the Vitruvian ImperativeWhen a patient asks a doctor for a medicine that the doctor knows will make him ill, the practitioner doesn’t accede to those wishes. He knows full well that the patient isn’t always right. The Hippocratic Oath that the doctor took also disallows it. Our work is the same. The consumer isn’t always right, and our industry needs its own oath to ensure that we’re doing our best to serve consumer desires while not delivering products that are unhealthy, environmentally destructive, or unsustainable.

Many in the industry know about the seeds of such an oath already: the Vitruvian Triad. Asserted by Vitruvius some 2,000 years ago, the three elements of the triad are beauty, strength, and function (orvenustas, firmitas, and utilitas). Those values are all equally important and should not be sacrificed one for the other. At my company, Bensonwood Homes, we have added parsus (frugality) to reflect the need for energy efficiency and affordability. We call it the Vitruvian Imperative.

If the Vitruvian Imperative were our oath, we’d have better homes. So much of what is currently built is about maximizing size and compromising beauty, durability, and frugality. Instead, we need proud industry standards to serve the public and the environment better. What we no longer need are insufficient code minimums, that are full of loopholes, and poor enforcement, both of which become standard industry compromises masquerading as value.

Adjust Dimensional Coordination and Interface Standards Due to a lack of dimensional standards, our industry is forced to produce every new building as a prototype. Some of our industry’s biggest companies are producing relatively stupid commodities only because we don’t have a simple modular coordination system. It’s a shame. Anyone who has played with LEGOs knows that infinite possibilities arise from only a few basic standards. And it works. For instance, since we have only a few accepted dimensional variations for interior doors, designers can set door sizes long before the door itself is chosen. This brings greater choice, higher quality, and reduced cost to that one element. The cabinetmaking industry has also standardized enough to make standard doors, drawers, and other cabinet parts. If housing had a similar set of standards that applied to everything (coarser for structure; finer for space plan; and even finer for systems and finishes), then waste could be nearly eliminated, manufacturers could add greater value, and every new home wouldn’t have to begin as a pile of raw materials dropped off in the dirt.

Our company has been using dimensional standards for almost 20 years. It has yielded a vast library of elements and patterns that are now products—which are, in turn, made up of subset products, or smaller parts and elements. I can easily envision a new world of building in which manufacturers make more complete elements that can be rapidly assembled into larger assemblies. These can lead to complete building systems that are quickly montaged on site with zero waste and low defect rates. The low-cost, high-performance building of the future will arrive when we boldly adopt an operating system with this kind of game-changing impact.

Restore the Noble Profession Homes are important. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, our industry may primarily shape the homes, but then they, in turn, shape people’s lives and a critical aspect of our civilization. We have been wrong to think that we can do this job properly with unskilled (and often uncivilized) labor. Good-quality, energy-efficient homes involve craftsmanship, building science, materials knowledge, mechanical systems proficiency, and a complete dedication to eliminating waste in the building process. We need desperately to bring education, training, and pride back to our industry.

We need established educational curriculums, training programs, certifications, and much higher standards—and then we need to offer better jobs. How will we pay for it? With less hierarchy and fewer warranty problems. When done well, home building is a service to civilization. We need to make sure that it rises once again to be known as one of our society’s noble professions.

In practice and product, we must commit to do what we have proven achievable. We can meet the 2030 Challenge ahead of schedule, while reasserting the promise that is inherent in the very idea of “home”: that it can be beautiful, enduring, and generally the healthiest and safest place that its owners can be.


There are Smart Phones, Smart Cars, and Smart TVs.  Are we ready for Smart Homes, Smart Buildings, and Smart Communities? A growing number of architects, planners, and energy specialists think we are.  We agree that design starts early and incorporates performance goals right along with shape, size, and color. These goals then affect reduced energy and water use targets, indoor air quality (helathy environments), econimcs, and sustainability.  Our communities are currently built on consuming ineffecient amounts of the above. We believe that by the year 2020, our homes, buildings, and communities as a whole can turn the switch from consumer to producer.  Now, the only thing left to become Smart is us - home buyers, developers, designers, and city leaders.

designshop, llc is a proponent of Vision2020 and not the originator.  We will share readings and other finding as we grow along with the initiative.  We welcome comments of shared or opposing views.
images and content from this series are the property We encourage frequent visits to this blog.


Sustainable Communities

article by John Norquist


By 2020, we will see the return of Main Street, U.S.A., and mixed-use, walkable developments. But we have a lot of red tape to clear first. 

Sustainable, mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods are the future of American housing—if we can harness the support that is needed across public and private channels.

Human settlement patterns as a whole play a large role in energy consumption, and therefore in sustainability. For example, since residents of New York City live closer together, use transit, and rarely drive cars, they use about one-third of the energy of the average American. Chicago residents use about half the energy per capita, for the same reasons. Any compact, well-connected, and walkable neighborhood with amenities such as shopping will tend to outperform a neighborhood that is auto-dependent. Yet, government programs tend to encourage development of the latter, and in some instances, they actually obstruct or undermine environmental performance—to the detriment of the community.

Before World War II, traditional Main Streets were the norm, with urban thoroughfares composed of a mix of retail and housing. These developments were common partly because lenders appreciated that risk was spread over the types of real estate. A flower shop with an apartment above, for example, provided two sources of income. One might perform well when the other did not. However, with the growth of federal housing initiatives in the 1930s and the creation of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) in 1934, this regulatory stance changed. Today, the FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac mortgage programs look at these traditional districts as adding risk. This signals to investors and developers that if you want financing, stick to single-use structures. This has to change by 2020 in order to facilitate more efficient, sustainable growth patterns.

Currently, the FHA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 221(d)(4) and Section 220 programs all cap a mixed-use development’s commercial component at a small percentage of the gross floor area/net rentable space, or the gross income derived from a given project. Combined with the even-more-restrictive policies of private lenders, almost all of America’s pre–World War II Main Streets, as well as newer forms of live–work units, are excluded from the secondary mortgage markets and HUD’s capital program for rental housing.

The market will drive this to change. The evolution in demographics and consumer preferences over the last decade have created greater demand for walkable, urban real estate in communities with mixed residential and commercial uses, and this demand will continue. Arthur Nelson, a presidential professor in the University of Utah’s City & Metropolitan Planning department, estimated in a 2007 article, “The Next One Hundred Million,” that the current supply of unattached single-family housing already exceeds projected demand and will continue to do so until 2037. Further analysis by Nelson indicates that as the glut of large-lot homes continues to flood the market, the demand for smaller housing in walkable, traditional neighborhood settings will increase substantially and consistently. A 2012 Brookings Institution study—“Walk this Way: The Economic Promise of Walkable Places in Metropolitan Washington, D.C.” by Christopher Leinberger and Mariela Alfonzo—highlighted the economic appeal of amenity-rich, walkable, convenient communities, and a New York Times review of the study’s findings noted that “each step up the walkability ladder adds $9 per square foot to annual office rents, $7 per square foot to retail rents, more than $300 per month to apartment rents and nearly $82 per square foot to home values.” Given this stronger appeal, walkable, mixed-use urban development does not appear riskier than single-use developments. And by 2020, those programs that do not foster mixed-use will likely be considered more perilous.

By 2020, current federal housing finance regulations will need to be updated to reflect more current market conditions. And that work is already underway.

Since 2010, through its Live/Work/Walk: Removing Obstacles to Investment initiative, the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) and its allies have been advocating for the FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac to revise the regulations on the amount of commercial space allowed in mixed commercial–residential areas. On Sept. 13, 2012, in HUD Mortgagee Letter: 2012-18, the FHA increased the cap of commercial space in mixed-use condo buildings from 25 percent to 35 percent, with possible waivers for developments with up to 50 percent commercial space.

CNU holds high hopes that Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and HUD’s 221(d)(4) and 220 programs will follow this FHA action. This will help developers and builders better meet current and future market preferences.

Housing finance reform coupled with better transportation policies—such as those in Vancouver, British Columbia, where no freeways exist within city limits—will build value for the United States economy. Recently, the Federal Highway Administration embraced the “Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach” guide produced by CNU and the Institute of Transportation Engineers. This empowers traffic officials to build streets that create walkable communities—places that people want to live. By 2020, the growing demand for this type of development will surely push the market and the government to change direction and level the playing field.