Praising the One-speed Bicycle

January 21, 2011

I just got my first copy of The Architect, now subtitled “The magazine of the American Institute of Architects.” After reading most of the featured articles, I’m impressed.

Unlike the AIA’s previous rag, this publication reaches for a wide spectrum of the building industry, content not simply to publish the work of Starchitects. Hanley Wood, a publisher that got its start with home builders, knows that market rather well. One might then expect a lot of blather on construction economics and building products, but there is no more here than in most magazines that sell ads.

Both the articles and the writers were diverse and remarkably un-doctrinaire. Andres Duany, darling of the New Urbanists, gets a page, but so do Michael Graves, Ned Cramer, and several avante-garde writers. The theme of the issue, architectural practice in an age of transition, gets good coverage in pithy essays.

Most impressive, to this reader, was an article in a section called “Your Smart Buildings Aren’t That Smart.” Kiel Moe, the incredulous author, dares to ask why architects are so blind to the myth of technological progress when most of what they design fails so miserably to solve the technical problems posed by a post-petroleum society. As I’ve often written here, the double glazed curtain wall is one of the worst solutions to energy conservation ever invented. Alongside a thick masonry wall with an operable sash window, he illustrates just how poorly even the most sophisticated glass walls handle thermal transmission. At the end of the piece he offers an even more blunt comparison–the one-speed bicycle against the Prius Hybrid. Which one wins the energy efficiency engineering prize? Guess.

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