Friday, March 28, 2014

Lampoon and Love

What we Architects do is not easy. It is a stressful existence scrounging for work and keeping clients’ happy while hoping to avoid lawsuits along the way.  Through 17 years of private practice, I have found humor to be the most effective mood changer and cartooning to be the best vehicle.  Over the last 10 years, the creation and evolution of  Archi-toons (Architecture + cartoons; get it?) has become both my private therapy and public soapbox.

I had dabbled with cartooning for years as I hand-drew my Christmas cards during the 80’s and 90’s.  The futurist John Nesbitt’s high tech/high touch reaction theory was valid; the more hours in a day that I spent on the computer, the more I enjoyed the old fashioned hand drawing of cartoons in my spare time. 
I had always enjoyed the work of Alan Dunn, the noted cartoonist for The New Yorker and Architectural Record but there were no other humorists dedicated to the plight, struggles, idiosyncrasies, and daily experiences of the architectural profession.  

Cartooning is a logical extension for the expression of our architectural talents.  The Architect is academically instructed and professionally trained to be an observer of life. Cartooning becomes the medium for a  re-presentation of these every day experiences…but with a twist. Archi-toons not only point out the obvious but often lampoon the self-righteous, praise the anonymous and fantasize what the profession could be.
A few of these early cartoons first appeared in my second book, the Architects Planner 2000. My editor had specified the page format for the book and my first official architectural cartoons were bound by those constraints. (That format is still followed to this day.)    It was the 2003 publication of Archi-Toons : Funniness, Comedy and Delight that this hobby of mine officially developed into something grander than I had ever imagined.

Part Far-Side, part Thomas Paine, part Seinfeld, a typical  Archi-toons panel is structured into an equation of three parts that include:
            A. a message that provokes protest, touches the memory or promotes enlightenment.
            B.  an element of humor, usually by exaggeration or satire
            C. a singular,  attractive, simple graphic  image
Needless to say, the amount of material and experiences that I have to draw from my 25 years in the profession is boundless. From my days as a student at NC State and Clemson to a Project Architect at LS3P and TVS to my current occupation as an Architect in private practice, I can tell you there is funny stuff everywhere; yet these experiences prove most satisfying when a colleague exclaims: “I feel that way too!”  or “That happened to me!” 

I personally feel we  Architects are,   by our education, licensure and training an exclusive bunch-few “outsiders” truly understand what we do.    In my Archi-toons, the stereotypical professional, the academic role model, the daily professional exchanges, the public’s perception of our craft and many icons of our industry are all “celebrated” in the broadest sense of the word. Cartooning, I have found, is not just therapeutic but can function as an effective method of communicating social commentary, cultural observation or just plain old funny stuff.   With apologies to The Godfather, only family can lampoon family…and that is what I do.

So here is a companion Blog where I park my cartoons:
I hope you like it!

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Fountainhead. Or "How I ruined my first year of work after finishing Grad School"

You don't blow up your own building if the contractor changes the design?  Whaaaaaat?
You don't have total control over all aspects of your work?  Whaaaaaat?
You can't just go jack hammer stone when people don't respect you as an Architect ? Whaaaaaat?
Newspaper published architecture critics can make or break careers? Whaaaaaat?

As a fresh recruit some 25 years into the real world of architectural practice in Raleigh NC, I knew it all.  I had just finished Graduate School with a  Masters Degree and had lived for 5 months in Genova Italy...ah yes, Europe- where architects are revered and crowds of potential patrons clear a path wherever an Architect walks.  Reading Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead in the summer of 1988 only galvanized my fortitude as an Architectural intern ready to change the world !  (And I had not even taken Architectural Registration Exam yet...)  As my buddy Kurt Flechtner was always quick to retort, "What a maroon." I had a lot to learn.  Whaaaaaat?

The Fountainhead (1949) from El origen del mundo on Vimeo.

ARCHI-TOONS™...I guess its time to go solo......

ARCHI-TOONS™ can now be found on their own Blog.

I'll see you there!


Archi-toons: Shovel Shenanigans

Archi-toons: Green Mess

Archi-toons: USGBCInsanity

You Will Only Complain When It’s NOT There…or A Brief History of Thermal Insulation

From the very first cave dwellers to the super-insulated house, man has understood the need for protection from the elements. Organic materials have served as the natural prototype for thermal insulators. Like fur covering the polar bear or feathers on a bird, cotton, wool,  straw, even hair are evolutionary examples of insulation. Pre-historic man clothed himself with wool and skins from animals. He built homes of wood, stone, earth, and other materials for protection from the cold winter and the heat of summer.  The true origins of the science of thermal insulation, however, are difficult to identify. 

For thousands of years, house structures were designed to best suit the climate of their location. For example, using the earth as an insulator, the Egyptians retired to the coolness of subterranean chambers and grottoes on hot days.    Historians believe the Ancient Greeks and Romans discovered asbestos and found many uses because of its resistance to heat and fire. The Romans even used cork for insulation in shoes in order to keep their feet warm. Pliny, in the first century, referred to the use of cork as an insulating material for roofs. Early inhabitants of Spain lined their stone houses with cork bark and North African natives used cork mixed with clay for the walls of their dwellings. 

As technology developed, so did innovations to improve man’s comfort. The introduction of the fireplace and chimney by the Norwegians and people of Iceland during the 12th and 13th centuries provided controlled, artificial heat.   It was evident that the task soon became how to not only keep heat out , but to also, how to  keep heat in. The thatched huts of Northern Europe were built with a roof, up to 2 feet thick, of woven straw and walls of clay and straw. (see Figure 1-1)  Early Spanish Mission Houses of the southwestern United States, where temps rose to 120-140 degrees, were comparatively cool due to clay straw walls several feet thick.  Similarly, the indigenous peoples of the South Seas built huts of dried sea grass. The hollow fiber of the dried sea grass provided a good degree of thermal resistance.  Mineral fiber - another important insulating material - was first used by the natives of the Hawaiian Islands to blanket their huts. The fibers came from volcanic deposits where escaping steam had broken the molten lava into fluffy fibers.

It was not until the advent of the industrial revolution of the late 19th century that deliberate commercial application of thermal insulations becomes mainstream. For example, blanket type insulations were being developed throughout the 1890’s. One such product, known as “Cabot’s Quilt”, was introduced by Samuel Cabot in 1891. The material consisted of a matting of Zostera Marina, a marine plant also known as Eel Grass, sandwiched or stitched between two layers of Kraft paper. ( An unrefined use of this material was found in The Pierce House of Dorchester Massachusetts, built in 1635 with Zostera Marina stuffed between the framing members.) 

Mineral Wool was first commercially produced as a pipe insulator in Wales in 1840. It was produced in the United States for the first time in 1875.   It was almost 60 years later, in 1897, C.C. Hall, a chemical engineer, produced rock wool. By 1901, he was producing this product commercially at a plant in Alexandria , Indiana.   Hall formed a partnership to make the new product and later founded Banner Rock Products Co. (which was purchased by Johns Manville Co. in 1929.) By 1928, there were eight plants manufacturing either rock wool or slag wool insulation in the United States. (By the 1950’s, this number had increased to approximately 90 but has since declined to about fifteen to twenty today. )

Fiberglass had its first beginnings in ancient Egypt when people discovered they could draw hot glass into threads which were placed around vessels for decoration. The modern technique of making fiberglass insulation, developed in 1931, involves jetting of molten glass through tiny heated holes into high-speed air streams wherein the resulting fibers are drawn very thin and to great length.  Developed by Owens-Illinois, Corning Glass Company, and later known as Owens-Corning Fiberglass, was the sole producer until an anti-trust action filed in 1949 by the Department of Justice.

Wood shavings, were once a very popular insulation product due to the wide availability of raw materials and low cost at the turn of the century. Shavings were often treated with lime or other chemicals, to increase resistance to water absorption, fire and fungal growth. These were called balsa wool or "balsa batt" (actually sawdust wrapped in paper), and were popular in homes of Northeastern United States.

Straw bale construction has also been around since “frontier days” of the United States. Nebraska residents have used straw for a building material for over 100 years. When the Kincaid Act of 1904 opened up the part of Nebraska that includes the Sandhills to homesteading, straw was one of the only indigenous materials available. Housing became an urgent necessity for frontiersman and straw bale construction flourished in the Sandhills of Nebraska more than any other known location. Although these settlers planned to build a "real" house as soon as enough money could be saved, such houses were often left exposed on the outside, while plastered on the inside to enhance tidiness and prevent drafts. When the owners finally believed that they were living in a "real" house, a process that sometimes took as much as ten years, the outside walls would finally get a thick coat of mud plaster or cement stucco.

Although straw bale construction was an appropriate, sometimes necessary, response to a unique combination of legislative, geologic, natural resource and socio-economic factors that prevailed in that region, the building of railroads through the midwest is one factor that added to the reduction of straw use. Railroads and merchandizing enabled wood products to replace Nebraska's indigenous materials for buildings needs.
Reflective insulation materials, using bright metallic surfaces,  were first patented in 1804. Aluminum eventually became the predominant reflective material, but not achieving commercial popularity until the 1930’s. 
               The genesis of insulation board products dates to 1910. Two semi-rigid insulation products made from flax (a textile fiber made from plants) were manufactured in Minnesota, called “Flaxlinum” and “Fibrofelt”. These were ultimately replaced by Rigid Insulation board products, also  first produced in Minnesota,  in 1914. “Insulite” was manufactured by taking wood pulp waste products, known as sulfite screenings, and processing and drying them into  a rigid, lightweight insulating material. This plant produced up to 60,000 square feet of Insulite per day.  By 1920, Celotex Company introduced an insulating board made from bagasse, a waste by-product of sugar cane after the juice has been extracted.  This was followed by Celotex’s Cenesto, a fire resistant insulation board surfaced on one or both sides with asbestos cement, used primarily for low-cost housing.   Lower density insulation boards, generically belonging to the family of fiberboard products,  were available in thicknesses ranging from 7/16 “ to 1” and in some cases up to 3”. Fiberboard insulation was commonly used as an insulating lath over the wood studs, a plaster base over masonry and even in some cases as an interior finish. 

The 1920’s saw a rise in public awareness of the value of thermal insulation.  While fiberboard was advertised as the most economical insulation of its time, batts began a rise in popularity as well. Aluminum and copper were also applied to the batts as reflective foils.    Slag wool is a material made by blowing steam through fluid slag (molten rock). Also known as rock wool, this product was later replaced by asbestos, similar in appearance and promoted as the best alternative by heating engineers who dealt with the control and handling of steam.  Glass fiber production started in the mid-1930’s.
The case can also be made that insulation was not as necessary due to the construction materials and methods prior to this time. Materials were heavier, including windows and door sashes, which provided adequate weather resistance.  The growing popularity and use of lighter building materials increased the need for insulation products.   The gradual introduction of air conditioning systems into home design also contributed to a greater need for thermal insulation.

In 1928, the Milam Building in San Antonio, Texas became the first high-rise office building to be completely air conditioned. That same year, Willis Carrier installed the first residential unit air conditioner, called the "Weathermaker" , which heated, cooled, humidified, cleaned and circulated air in homes.   One year later, in 1929, the Frigidaire division of General Motors introduced its first room cooler.  Several other manufacturers, including York and General Electric, began to offer room coolers soon after. The first window air conditioners were developed in the 1930’s, however it was 1936 when Philco-York introduced a 3,675 btu/h window unit. Popularity increased throughout the next two decades sales of window units approaching 300,000 in 1952. The early 1950’s also saw the evolution of smaller central air conditioning systems, using water cooled condensers, become more commonplace in residential use. 
During World War II, the use of building insulation was made mandatory to conserve metal required for heating and air conditioning equipment and to save fuel.   This  probably contributed to a greater awareness by the general population as to the sensible applications of insulation in residences as well. This was explored further by a special report developed by the Secretary of Defense in 1957. “Capehart” housing was rented to civilian employees at remote military institutions. The study concluded that if the 72,000 “Capehart Act’ houses would have been designed to sufficient thermal standards, the United States government, which pays the heating bill as part of the rent, would save $52 million over a thirty year period. 

Extruded polystyrene insulation was originally developed by the Dow Chemical Company in the USA in the early 1940's. Known proprietarily as STYROFOAM , it was first used as a flotation material in liferafts and lifeboats as its fully closed cell structure renders it highly resistant to water absorption.The insulating properties of STYROFOAM extruded polystyrene foam, combined with the advantage of the closed cell structure, led to its development as a thermal insulation material. Initial applications were in low temperature situations for cold store floors, wall and ceiling panels, and pipe insulation.  In the 1950's, Dow's extruded polystyrene foam extended its impact to other areas of the construction industry - as a thermal insultant in commercial and residential buildings.

The domestic perlite industry began in the 1940’s. This process involved the processing and expanding of crude perlite, a type of volcanic glass.   At about the same time,  as the U.S. paper industry grew, it was only natural to look to paper byproducts for insulation. Originally manufactured as a sound deadener, paper-based cellulose soon caught on as an effective, dense insulation material. But early cellulose insulation didn’t benefit from today’s fiber technology and application equipment, so it remained a small portion of the market as fiberglass became increasingly popular after World War II.  (Cellulosic fiber insulation had several patents issued in the 19th century but gained little if any popularity. )

The 1970’s saw a dramatic shift in public awareness and sensibility towards energy conservation. The production of domestic oil had peaked in 1970, which subsequently created a greater dependence on foreign exports. Many researchers point to the Arab oil embargo in 1973 and 1974 as the catalyst for the energy crisis. A second sharp rise in oil prices occurred in 1979 following the Iranian revolution further contributed to public discussion as well as new energy programs. Government mandates have continued this trend with the Federal Energy Management Improvement Act (FEMIA) of 1988 that required a10% reduction in per-square-foot energy use by Federal buildings between 1985 and 1995 followed by the sweeping Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPACT). This Act increased conservation and energy-efficiency requirements for government, energy, and consumers. Federal agencies, for example, were required to attain a 20% reduction in per-square-foot energy consumption by 2000 compared to a 1985 baseline.  All of these initiatives not only contributed to a greater awareness of energy conservation by the general public but greater emphasis by producers, installers and designers on insulation installation materials and methods.

Cellulose insulation has been produced and installed in new and existing homes for more than 40 years. As a result of the 1970’s Energy Crisis, heavy demand for insulation induced many new producers to enter the cellulose industry, causing a resurgence of cellulose insulation popularity. Once the crisis passed, however, only a few companies remained committed to refining the material. 

Urea formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) was introduced to the building industry in 1960. Health complaints started from the occupants of UFFI insulated homes in 1978 and by 1980,  Urea formaldehyde foam insulation was banned across Canada, reportedly due to long term health risk to occupants of houses insulated with UFFI.  (Urea formaldehyde is one of the main resin mixtures of formaldehyde, and of all the formaldehyde compounds contributes the most to indoor air problems, due to its water solubility.)

{A} References
Albert Farwell Bemis, The Evolving House, ( The Technology Press, Cambridge MA, 1933),107.
T. Neil Davis , Alaska Science Forum , Fiberglass Insulation, Article #482, , April 30, 1981 
Thomas C. Jester, Twentieth Century Building Materials, (McGraw Hill, New York, 1995), 122.
Paul Dunham Close, Thermal Insulation of Buildings, (New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation,   1947), 12.
Henry S. Harrison, Houses- The Illustrated Guide to Construction, Design & Systems, (Residential Sales Council, Chicago, 1998), 202.
Carrier & United Technologies website;
Mike Pauken , P.E., “Sleeping Soundly on Summer Nights”, ASHRAE Journal, May 1999, p. 42-44.
Tyler Stewart Rogers, Thermal Design of Buildings, (John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1964), p.2.
J,D. Nisson & Gautam Dutt, The Superinsulated Home Book, (John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1985) Appendix A.
GreenStone, Cocoon and "Simply Smarter Insulation" are trademarks of GreenStone, a Louisiana-Pacific company. Copyright© 1997 GreenStone Industries.
Cellulose Insulation Manufacturers Association website press release,

The Residential Energy Efficiency Database (REED) ,