Monthly Archives: September 2013

Project #2 Preliminary Proposal

assignment 2 sketch 2In a country entirely developed around an automobile infrastructure, American cities, suburbs and the interactions that take place within them are entirely structured around the paved road as the primary means of transportation. On the larger scale, airports and interstate highways dominate long distance travel. In recent decades the negative health consequences and environmental impact from fossil fueled transportation has come to light suggesting the need for a fundamental change in the way we live and, more importantly, travel. My proposal for this project is to intervene at one critical point in this developed system of travel to develop a transcontinental web of bicycle roadways, sparking a revolution in the way we think about travel and helping break our addiction to oil.

I plan to achieve this by retrofitting abandoned railroad lines into cycling trail highways. This technique has already seen much success in instances such as The Great Allegheny Passage and Rails to Trails organizations. The American railroad system connects existing cities as the once primary means of goods transportation but as the interstate highway began to dominate during the early 20th century this shifted in use to the cheaper tractor-trailer and automobile or airplane for long distance transportation. This left thousands of miles of rail lines abandoned. Their long, often unbroken paths and clear land ownership makes them perfect to be utilized as trailways.

assignment 2 sketch 1Some of the health and societal problems this project would hope to address include social alienation due to suburban sprawl, respiratory problems associated with dense traffic and smog in the city, stress and obesity attributed to long daily commute times as well as a long host of others both direct and indirect. The automobile has been attributed to increased dependance on fast food, decreased community involvement and decreased physical activity resulting in a positive feedback loop, further increasing our dependance on the automobile. My aim is to break this cycle at its core, eventually eliminating the need for automotive transport on the personal scale.

In the long run, my hope is that travelers–many of which, young adults–will choose to use these cycling paths as a serious alternative to automotive and airline travel. Along these long distance trails small cities would spring up to accommodate travelers. Conceivably, many of these cities would, through recursive feedback loops, develop on average a days travel by bike apart. My sketch to the right outlines some of the key differences between these two types of cities. Being born of a bicycle and pedestrian motive infrastructure these cities would have a relatively small optimal population and environmental footprint as daily commute times would determine the maximum radius of the city. This could result in the formation of a “new” typology of American living that would closely resemble a subsistence based tribe. Communities would be close and involved, and physical activity would be an integral part of daily life.


Tranter, Paul J. “Speed Kills: The Complex Links Between Transport, Lack of Time and Urban Health.” Journal of Urban Health (2010). 155-166. 24 Sept. 2013.


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September 29, 2013 · 9:56 pm

Reading Response #2

In reading the first chapter of Peter Buchanan’s book, “Ten Shades of Green” and listening to Professor Sherman’s lectures there emerged in my mind a recurrent theme on the fundamental goals necessary to propel human interaction with ecological systems into a sustainable state: “diversity”. I first encountered a straightforward discussion of diversity in terms of systems this past semester while in Phoebe Chrisman’s course “Global Sustainability.” Among other things she made clear that in a biological system the greater number of species there were the more resilient the system would be to cyclical shifts and (more importantly) unexpected pressures. One is immediately reminded of the devastating asteroid impact of the Cretaceous Period and the resultant Ice Age that followed. While many prehistoric species were lost to the incident it was only because Earth had accumulated such a mass diversity of species that life sprang back even stronger than it had been before.

Roughly 66 million years later we are now faced by a potential biological disaster no less dire. Buchanan enumerates a long list of the impact of global warming on ecological systems. He states that we have to make a fundamental change in the way we live if there is any hope of halting the degradation of the natural world. However, as we have found in class and through the readings this is not possible through a single top-down change in policy or through more energy efficient building design. “It should be clear by now that green design, though not dauntingly difficult, cannot be achieved by any simplistic or formulaic approach: no single approach is likely to be adequate, let alone appropriate or even applicable, to all situations.” (Buchanan, 19). This quote elegantly embodies the shift in mindset and dialogue that needs to occur in the coming liminal decades. Rather than individual sustainability efforts competing for fruition or even merely coexisting, we need to approach possible solutions through systems based thinking. This way, the positive feedback loops of efforts made–for example–through better architectural design, shifts to comfortable living standards and changes to consumerist behaviors will create a multiplicative effect rather than a mere cumulative effect.

The importance of diversity can be seen across disciplines and scales. For instance, look at the impact of diversity on agriculture. For years it has been our response as a competitive, consumer-based economy to increase crop yields by streamlining the once natural growing process and dedicating large swatches of land to a single crop. This has a major downside however. When pests or soil nutrient deficiencies threaten the crops viability we are forced to use more and more pesticides and fertilizers. But as Marie Haga wrote for the Global Crop Diversity Trust, this is neither ideal nor necessary. She writes that “Brazil has one of the most active and innovative agricultural research systems in the world… [It] would not have been able to create such a unique and strong agricultural system if not for the crop diversity.” (Haga) A system of small scale farming using regular crop rotation methods reduces the risk of large crop failures and thus such a strong dependance on unsustainable, inorganic agriculture.

So too is the case of the exploration for solutions to present-day issues such as world hunger, social unrest, our dependance on oil, and a full range of problems caused by the ever widening disparity between classes. Buchanan asserts that interdisciplinary collaboration between fields is the only way to realize a truly sustainable future. In reference to designing green architecture, Buchanan states, “Devising a fully green design often requires a greater range of skills than any architect can provide. Engineers of various sorts make crucial contributions tot eh design, as might ecologists, hydrologists and geologists, horticulturists and landscape architects and various other specialists–including those with intimate knowledge of local climate, materials and crafts.” (Buchanan 20)

Put simply we cannot, as the old saying goes, put all our eggs in one basket. The resiliency of a system relies heavily on the diversity of its integral parts. On scales ranging from the global to the individual we must embrace the diversity of Our condition for in any given scenario there are far too many dynamic factors to predict with absolute certainty any one outcome. It is this uncertainty (and thus the possibility for negative outcomes) that is neutralized through diversity.



Buchanan, Peter. Ten Shades of Green : Architecture and the Natural World. New York, NY: Architectural League of New York , 2005.

Haga, Marie. “Crop Diversity, the Key to the Success and Future of Brazilian Agriculture.” Global Crop Diversity Trust. n.p. Web. 16 Sept. 2013.

Ristinen, Robert A, and Jack J Kraushaar. Energy and the Environment. New York: Wiley, 1999.

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September 23, 2013 · 1:32 pm

Assignment #1: Sun Path Diagram

Solar Diagram

This first assignment aimed to explore the solar conditions of a site in Charlottesville using graphic overlay of site photos and an existing solar map for the area. I chose the site along Main Street because the plot of land is in a prime location for future development and for the fact that the east and west horizons are both obscured by existing buildings, creating an interesting delay in sunrise and a premature sunset. The following answer questions posed about my site and findings.

A) How many hours of sunlight does your site receive on March 21st?
Rising at 7:50am and setting at 8:50pm, the vernal equinox sheds 8 hours and 20 minutes of sunlight on the survey position.

B) When does the sun first strike your site on December 21st? June 21st?
The sun crests the surrounding urban environment at approximately 8:10 and 6:10am respectively.

C) Which day of the year has the most sunlight on your site?
July 15th observes the greatest length of sunlight due largely because of a small gap between the buildings of Main Street and a tree.

D) Where is the sun (altitude and azimuth) on August 15 at 3:00? Does it strike your site then?
The altitude is approximately 46 degrees and the azimuth is 248 degrees with my site in full view of the sun.

E) If you were creating a porch that would be warm in the winter and cool in the summer, how would you orient it on your site? Would this be possible on your site?
I would orient a porch to the south with a moderate overhang to reflect much of the summer heat when the sun is at a higher altitude.

F) Are there any notable features of your site that would influence the orientation, location of windows and shading?
Because the buildings to the east block much of the morning sun than the west buildings do of the evening sun I would have most of the windows facing the east. However, because there is no other break from the sun during the hottest part of the day I would refrain from putting too many windows on the southern edge so as not to make the building too hot.

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September 12, 2013 · 3:22 pm