In the past decade, there have been increasing instances of church closure. So what happens when a church is no longer needed? When a congregation moves, or a denomination consolidates, something must be done with the old places. Other congregations, or sympathetic groups may purchase and re-use the structures. However, without a program or strategy for transition, many of these buildings face demolition, or are re-purposed in ways that cause lingering hurt or sadness for the surrounding community.
A recent conference in Albany, New York brought together preservationists, developers and public officials to focus on the unique challenges of preserving closed churches. In an article about the conference, the Albany Times Union quotes our colleague, Tuomi Forrest, of the Partners for Sacred Places. “We are on a cusp of accelerated closures and mergers." The number of vacant religious buildings is on the rise and will continue to grow.
The day-long conference featured panels and presentations with ideas for adapting these structures and examples of successful conversions. There are some good examples of churches converted to condos or apartments. One of my favorite is a project from the 1980’s by Boston architect Graham Gund. He successfully transformed the remains of a church that burned into a condominium project called “Church Court.”
Several years ago, I visited a church in Vermont that was turned into a pharmacy. That visit, and visits to several churches that are for sale, have started me thinking about the re-use of sacred spaces.
Heimsath Architects has addressed this issue on several occasions with congregations renovating, replacing, or re-purposed their old worship spaces. Sensitivity to the unique issues in each community has been fundamental to making each case a success.
In the case of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, we facilitated a process of discernment with participation of the entire congregation. After considering all alternatives, the large majority agreed that the old chapel should be torn down in order to build a new worship space on the same site. The old chapel was not historic, however, we felt the need for extra sensitivity to this issue. The materials and proportions of our new church design recall the original church.
But when a congregation leaves an otherwise useful building, it becomes a special challenge to find ways to preserve and/or adapted the structure to new uses. A large number of vintage churches are architectural or community landmarks. The Times Union article also notes an unsuccessful attempt to convert a closed church into a brewery. That brought back an old memory from my childhood in downtown Houston, Texas. A nightclub opened in an old church in the Montrose area. Re-named “the Sanctuary,” the establishment closed quickly, and the church was summarily torn down.
What happens when a place of sacred worship no longer serves its purpose is a fascinating question. Some religious traditions suggest that a place, once sanctified, can never be abandoned or secularized. Other faith traditions have rituals or activities associated with “de-sanctifying” a space.
The conference, sponsored by the New York Landmarks Conservancy, is just a start in addressing this complicated challenge. The big issues of community sentiment and tradition need to be addressed with exceptional care. One conference attendee mentioned how deeply communities were beset by grief at the prospect of church closure. This just shows again how a place of worship has connections to its neighborhood, its town, and to its congregation that makes it unlike any other building.
Do you need resources for your older church? We’ve collected some of our best practices for reviving and keeping historic buildings, including churches, in good shape. Download “The Care and Feeding of Your Historic Building.”
The church steeple restoration at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Austin is nearly complete. The project consisted of replacing most of the exterior materials on the original tower and restoring the original trim profiles.
The church called upon Heimsath Architect’s expertise when a portion of a column fell to the ground. Originally constructed in the 1950’s, the church tower had been patched and repaired over the years, but recently showed signs of significant deterioration. A large bee colony had made its home in three of the columns, filling them with honeycomb.
The architects conducted a conditions assessment study and worked with structural engineers to evaluate the extent of the problems. A structural analysis determined that interior supports were still sound. A local bee keeper was called in to give the colony a more suitable home. The restoration program was then focused on rebuilding the exterior with new columns, roofing materials and wood details.
The condition of the tower had deteriorated significantly. Well-intentioned patches and repairs had covered or compromised the wood trim profiles.
The original copper roofing proved to be in good shape, but the drip edges were not diverting rainwater properly. By resetting the drip edges and re-soldering seams, the copper dome and other roof elements remained intact. The contractor ultimately removed 400 pounds of honeycomb from the tower!
The new wood details and profiles show the quality of the steeple's cupola and are an important part of the overall design.
The congregation included the church steeple restoration as part of a larger program for the historic church building. The completed work includes, roof repairs, brick repointing, stained glass window restoration and protection, wood trim replacement, exterior repainting, and an upgrade of the a/c distribution system. The contractor, Braun and Butler, scheduled the work so the church could continue to use the space during construction.
Expand your practical knowledge of historic preservation. Sandy Stone, preseravtion architect, explains how to keep these buildings in top shape. Click the link below:
In the early stages of a church design, when we begin working with congregation members, someone inevitably will say “I want this to look like a church.” In most instances, the person has a strong image in mind, often based on the church where they grew up. The person may also be expressing displeasure with the current building, which, by implication, does not look like a church.
But what should a church look like? When a congregation builds, there may be hundreds of images and ideas, but ultimately, only one can be built. What appeals to one person may be wrong for another. If it were easy to resolve these issues, we’d have church forms as simple and un-subtle as the Big Duck. This building leaves no question about its purpose.
The Big Duck on Long Island is a National Historic Landmark. Originally built by a duck farmer to sell his products, its purpose is immediately obvious.
The church design process is much more difficult than that of other building types. Most people have a hard time putting into words the intensity and deep feelings associated with their faith. These are often connected to places or events that are particularly important. How to relate to those feelings and connections is an on-going challenge in the process of creating an environment for faith.
There are no formulas or specifications for making a worshipful environment. However, there are many traditions associated with different religions or denominations. These traditions come from many cultures, and a variety of historical periods. In the United States, builders and architects have freely combined traditions from all sorts of religious, cultural or historic periods.
Woodlawn Baptist Church members wanted a strong image for their new sanctuary addition but also wanted to relate to the existing modernist building.
Merely copying or re-creating an old form doesn’t guarantee a successful spiritual experience. In some cases a poor rendition or reference to a traditional form feels out of place or becomes a distraction. And new technologies or building practices provide a host of new opportunities and challenges. For example, the traditional Italian basilica didn’t deal with modern lighting, acoustics, video recording, or projection.
But starting a design from modern structures and technology offers its own challenges. It can be tempting for an architect to place visually impressive elements in their designs. But a dramatic design may or may not be appropriate for a community of believers. Many new buildings are visually impressive, (galleries, offices, or shopping centers) but they have nothing to do with spirituality.
Careful consideration of each ministry is essential. At a fundamental level, the design needs to accommodate the rituals and rites of a given faith. There may be certain ways that these rites are accommodated in some traditions, but the designers shouldn’t limit itself to just one form. See our previous blog post series on the many ways to accommodate the rituals of baptism.
The design of a church cannot be a “one-size-fits-all” program. The design team should be closely communicating with the congregation and its leaders. They should expect inspiration to come from both traditional and modern ideas. The church design ultimately should be tailor-fit for each community.
Unity Church of the Hills developed a strong image for their 14 acre site. The welcoming entry is surrounded by a canopy of existing trees.
I presented a paper at the ACS (Architecture, Culture, and Spirituality) conference several years ago. I equated the process of design with the spiritual journey experienced in other ministry endeavors. The paper included a case study of our work with Unity Church of the Hills in planning for their new site. The church has been settled in their new location for over a decade, and has just recently worked with us to complete a Phase 2 program. Recalling the steps we took in the early planning stages, we used a similar process the second time that also evoked a sense of spirituality from all who participated.
So what should a church design look like? It might look like almost anything. But above all, it should look like the spiritual home of the group of believers who shaped and formed it.
Need information about designing a church? Learn how a master plan can be an essential first step.
A half century ago I was an expert at drawing 3D images with a T-square and triangle. Architects drew on large sheets of vellum or mylar with sharp pencil leads and precise technical pens. The process of laying out a 3-D drawing started by locating the horizon line. We worked from a 2D plan and would then project from the elevations by manually taking each line to the proper vanishing point. We learned to render one-point perspectives for most interiors and two-point perspectives for exterior views.
Clovis Heimsath in the Early Days
I was fast. But it still could easily take me an entire day to layout the overall perspective and then erase the "hidden" lines and use shading or line-weight to make the image more legible. Frequently, the line drawing felt too diagrammatic. I learned to embellish my 3D perspectives with watercolors or pen and ink to make presentation renderings.
Sometimes a client liked the first 3D picture of our proposed design so much, they would want another from a different point of view. It was faster the second time since we'd be using the same plan. I'd reestablish the horizon line and place new vanishing points. Within a half day I could have a pretty good new picture, having projected all the walls and roofs as I had before. I might not embellish the rendering to the same detail, though. It took a lot of time to render in the stones on the wall, for example. That was quite a lot of fun and made the picture look good, but I might not have the time to do it twice.
The production of 3D renderings evolved a little when published perspective charts became readily available. You could pop a plan onto a perspective chart that had lines going to vanishing points and save the time of constructing the lines by hand. At the end of the layout, of course, the building had to be brought into 3D by blocking in the elevations in perspective. I was good at 3D drawings and I have always felt we must see a building in 3D to understand the scale and ambience of the elements.
In the early 1980s I began to use an early MacIntosh computer. I tracked down a beta version of MacPersective and soon realized that we were at the cusp of a revolution. This primitive program made it possible to layout a building in plan, while it projected up the elevations to make a wire-frame 3D model. I was one of the first in the office to master this technique. I was delighted to do away with the horizon line and vanishing points. Once I construct a building in the program, I could view it from any location.
I contacted the inventor of MacPerspective to encourage him to go further. Soon, he had developed an upgrade to automatically erase the hidden lines! These were just the baby steps, but I knew it would only be a matter of time before the use of computer 3D would be second-nature to anyone involved in design or construction.
We've experienced many benchmarks as we've integrated the electronic perspective into our design process. I was an early user of Sketchup, and I still enjoy using the software's flexibility and intuitive interface. Soon, the office started to explore the benefits of real-time walkthroughs. For a while we were power users of Virtus, an early walkthrough program. Our CAD software at the time allowed us, with some effort, to take our 3D diagrams and make short film clips moving through the images. We have a collection of these presentations like the one featured below. Here's a link to our UTube site HeimsathArch with architectural videos.
We also soon realized that there was still an important place for the watercolor rendering. I continue to render using our computer images as a starting point, then embellishing the images with my artistic hand. Though it is possible today to use highly refined imaging software, making the final presentation by hand can be much more successful.
But the biggest change is still unfolding. Our current CAD software actually keeps its data in a 3D model. This makes it possible to access a real-time image of any part of our building design at any time. Though we continue to export fly through video clips, we prefer to take our computer files to meetings so we can move around and through the spaces. It is the closest thing I know for sharing with clients, consultants or anyone else the images we, as architects, have in our imaginations.
You also may enjoy a terrific feature on Clovis and Maryann Heimsath in the January magazine of Texas Architect. Get a link to this feature this in our NEWS.
There's lots of talk about green building - but what does it really mean for your project? We've been impressed with many improvements in our industry that have come from the sustainability movement, often referred to as green building. However, not everything that's promoted as green makes sense. Here is the second half of my article on residential green architecture and the frequently asked questions we often encounter -- or download the entire two-part article now:
Does my building need to be certified in order to be green?
Not at all. There are a number of very good ratings agencies that focus on one or more areas of green design. You may want the acknowledgment of an outside authority just to feel good about your work, or to help in promoting your project. Eric MacInerney's Purple Heron Residence was given a 5-star rating through Austin Energy's Green Building Program.
Most ratings systems cost some amount of time and money to complete the certification. However, a quick read through the requirements of many building rating systems, such as LEED, can suggest great ideas, even if you aren't using the entire system to certify your project. Other ratings systems may help evaluate green building products or strategies. The Energy Star program, for example, sets standards for energy efficiency for a wide variety of household appliances and equipment. Any consumer can use the program and you don't need to register or pay for tracking your project.
We definitely recommend going green for anything that conserves resources, saves money, or improves quality. Whether or not to spend extra time and expense to register your project is up to you.
Should I consider green building practices?
Yes, you should. First and foremost, at least look into the opportunities to save money! For example, one of the most basic green building practices is to focus on efficient ways to heat and cool your home. This may reduce or even eliminate your monthly electricity bill. This solar array was located on a traditional dormer.
Building well, for the long-term is a good investment. Your payoff comes year after year with lower maintenance and utility costs. Your return on investment may come in a higher resale value. Buyers will often pay a premium for a more efficient home.
Many green building supporters also make a strong connection to conservation in general. Reducing stress on the environment, even in small ways, can be gratifying.
Does green building cost more?
Not necessarily. You can spend more, if you choose, but the principles of green building have mostly to do with investing wisely for the long-term. Many choices and strategies don't cost more, or may come with only a modest premium. But like any quality issue, it is up to the building owner or builder to decide what choices to make. And if spending extra can be beneficial, it is up to you to decide.
More insulation is better, right?
Spray-on icynene insulation provides high R-Value and creates a great air-tight seal.
OK, this question isn't often asked by our clients, but you would be surprised how much discussion there is about insulation in the building industry. Contrary to popular perceptions, more insulation is not necessarily better. Yes, insulation is crucial, but the best way to make an efficient house depends on your climate. Too much insulation in the wrong places can make little or no difference and be a big waste of money. The right insulation in the right location takes some planning. In our hot, humid climate, there are several major considerations that can help you to make the best use of insulation.
Since the heat load is higher on the roof than the walls, the roof insulation should be the first consideration. One of the best things you can do is to place the attic insulation under the rafters. A vented roofing system, under-rafter insulation and the use of a radiant barrier offer great protection from the merciless sun. This provides a big benefit to the air conditioning system. When the ducts are inside the insulated envelope, instead of a sweltering attic space, you save a lot of energy.
It is best to keep the insulation barrier continuous, with no breaks in the materials that separate outside from inside temperatures. Tight seals are important as infiltration or "leaks" can compromise the insulation and even become unintended collection points for moisture.
Double-or triple-pane windows and well-sealed exterior doors help to keep the hot air out. Consider the crawl-space or foundation as a further opportunity to make use of the moderate temperatures of the earth below, while providing proper barriers to prevent potential infiltration of toxins or gasses.
Consult with your local architects, builders and materials suppliers and have them discuss seriously the best practices and products for your area.
If you are thinking about remodeling or building a home, you ought to give Houzz.com a try. It is a repository of 800,000+ pictures that various people have uploaded to the site. With this you can browse and find spaces you like and create idea books that you can share. One of our recent clients used this a lot both to help her understand what she wanted and to communicate this infromation to us. One of the interesting things, is that the pictures she was choosing did not completely jive with some of the initial discussions we were having—especially about color. By reviewing the overall content of all the pictures that she liked, we were able to quickly come to a color and design scheme.
Another interesting aspect of this site is the discussions. Whereas most discussion are asking simple but useful questions like 'who made that light fixture' or what 'color is that on the walls', some of the questions are more in depth and you can get some good design conversations to occur. For example, there was a discussion about how to deal with a front door to which a responder posted a picture of the front door at Purple Heron. I was notified and was then able to discuss what we did and who made our door.
The numbers and variety of pictures makes this site incredibly useful, but the ideabooks and the ability to ask questions and have discussions separate it from just your average image search.
Here is the link to the Purple Heron House, you can see the questions that have been asked.
Check it out, there is lots of good information to be found!
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Last week I dicussed options for reducing the amount of water that you use inside your house through adapting your habits and installing fixtures or appliances that are more efficient. This week we need to talk about what goes on outside, because a lot of the water that you use never actually enters your house but instead gets used for irrigating landscaping. This water has been processed to make it safe to use for consumption, which is a much bigger investment of energy than needed. There are a number of sustainable water solutions that address not only reducing the amount of water used for irrigation, but also what you can do with water as it comes to your site (in the form of rain) or leaves your house (as greywater). All of these are important considerations in green building.
Plant native landscaping: The most important thing that you can do to reduce water use for landscaping is to put in native or drought resistant plants. If you are lucky enough to live in Austin, the city provides a great searchable database of plants that are suitable to this area, with information on how much shade and water they need, as well as details on when they bloom, how large they get, and what wildlife might be attracted to them (http://austintexas.gov/department/plants).
If you live elsewhere in Texas or the US, your local nursery should be able to provide you with information about what plants are suitable to your area, or you can find information from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on what plants are appropriate to each state at http://www.wildflower.org/collections/. It used to be difficult to find native plants, but they are making a comeback in many nurseries and are sometimes even available now at big chains, if you know what to look for. If you commit to planting only new plants that have low water needs, you can slowly transition your landscaping to use less and less water. Grass is one of the biggest water consumers, so you may want to consider replacing lawns with landscaped areas that have native grasses, mulch, or stone landscaping.
Harvest your own water: Even drought resistant landscaping still needs a little help sometimes, and you may not be able to give up that last piece of grassy lawn, so even if you do change your landscaping you might also consider collecting water to use for irrigation. Rainwater collection systems can range from simple old barrels under the eaves to fancy underground tanks with their own filtration systems. Many new systems are cropping up in response to increased interest in rainwater collection, so you will have a lot of options to choose from.
If you want to start simple, take a look at your roof and see if there are areas where water is concentrated when it comes off the roof (typically this happens in troughs where two roof pitches come together) and put a rain barrel there that you can use to fill a watering can. If you are interested in taking it a step further, install gutters that direct water into a series of storage tanks. These storage tanks can then be connected to a drip irrigation system for your landscaping, which delivers water directly to plant roots where it is needed rather than putting it on the surface to evaporate. Another great source for water during hotter months is condensate from your air conditioner, which can be collected and used to water plants at the times when they most need it. You can locate the condensate drain in your house and see if there is a way to redirect that water toward areas where it is needed.
Recycle water: The water from showers, sinks, and washers is generally fairly clean and can often be reused with minimal treatment, as long as harsh detergents and cleaners are avoided. Greywater, as it’s called, can be collected, filtered, and used to flush toilets or irrigate landscaping. Installing a private collection and filtration system can be problematic in urban areas with restrictive regulations, but some new neighborhoods in dry areas like Austin and Phoenix are installing greywater collection systems alongside traditional wastewater collection. While this is a step in water conservation that goes beyond what most people are used to, it is likely to become more common and is worth considering, especially in new construction.
If you are building a house, find out what the regulations are regarding greywater in your area, and whether future plans might include developing greywater collection. Consider installing a plumbing system that distinguishes between greywater, which can be treated and reused on-site, and blackwater, which needs to go through a sewage or septic system for treatment. If you are permitted to collect and treat your own greywater, there are a good resources available to help you figure out how to use it, for example http://greywateraction.org/content/about-greywater-reuse. Most greywater can be used directly to irrigate landscaping, but if you generate more than is needed for this or want to reuse the water for other things, you could install a constructed wetland treatment system that also functions as a landscape feature, since certain kinds of plants are particularly good at filtering water and removing the phosphates from detergents.
As the newest member of the Heimsath staff, I have been offered the opportunity to share some of my interests through this blog. Since I am particularly interested in green building, I wanted to kick off with a series on sustainable water solutions. A little background may be helpful to explain my interest in sustainability. I grew up on a farm in Vermont where waste was closely associated with want, and every part of a resource got used to maximum effect. For example, when my dad cut down a tree, every part was designated for some use: the branches to be piled and burned for ash to spread on the fields as fertilizer, the trunk to be sawn into lumber, the scraps from sawing to be used as fuel to boil maple sap into syrup, and the sawdust as bedding for animals, which would in turn be used for fertilizer.
This early training in frugality and careful use of resources developed into an interest in sustainable design and construction, which often seems to me mostly a matter of figuring out the most efficient and sensible way to do things. While in graduate school I worked for the UT Center for Sustainable Design developing materials to educate students about different sustainable design strategies, and I have found opportunities to use this knowledge since then in practice. I hope that this information will be helpful to you as you consider how you wish to integrate elements of sustainable design into your lifestyle or project.
SUSTAINABLE WATER SOLUTIONS
We have been lucky enough to get some rain this week in central Texas, which has served as a reminder that water is a rare and increasingly precious commodity in this area and throughout much of the west, as the drought conditions map from the national weather service indicates (this map is updated weekly and can be viewed at: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/). Growing populations combined with long-term drought are making water conservation an increasingly urgent issue. While the southwest has historically seen major droughts in decade-long cycles, recent dry conditions are unprecedented. If extended periods of drought continue, it will be difficult for much of the southwest to support current population levels, let alone continue to grow. Even in areas where plenty of water is available, treating and distributing it can be expensive and energy intensive, providing another incentive to reduce consumption. While some strategies for reducing water consumption have been around for a long time, growing concerns about water conservation have encouraged the development of more products and options. There are a number of strategies that you can employ to make your home use water more efficiently, many of which are simple and easily implemented. Part 1 will look at things that you can do inside your house, while Part 2 will address options for landscaping and water treatment.
Awareness and patterns of use: The habits that you develop surrounding water use have a huge impact on your rate of water consumption. For example: do you leave the faucet running when you shave or brush your teeth? Changing this one habit could save hundreds of gallons per year. Doing laundry or running your dishwasher only when you have a full load can also save water. In some cases, doing dishes by hand might be more water efficient than using a dishwasher, especially if you only have a few dishes. Long showers or large baths can also use up more water than needed. In all of these cases, changing your habits can result in substantial savings without changing anything about your living space.
Low flow fixtures: While this may seem obvious, many people don’t realize what a difference it can make. It is easy to retrofit existing faucets and showers with aerators and low-flow showerheads for immediate results, and a multitude of great options exist for choosing new fixtures. Using low flow fixtures alone can reduce water usage by 25% - 60% annually. While some of these products have been around for a while, a much greater range of appliances and fixtures is now available, in a variety of styles and functions. Some innovations may seem strange at first, but offer practical alternatives that can be implemented right away. For example, if the water from your sink could be used to flush your toilet, using the water twice before it goes into the sewer system, why not allow your sink to drain into your toilet? Products have been developed that integrate a sink into a toilet tank cover, allowing water to drain directly into the toilet bowl. An example can be seen at http://sinkpositive.com/site/home/, although there are several other products available as well. All of these options can allow you to incrementally replace or update fixtures in your house, or choose a set of fixtures for a new project that can start it out at a great baseline.
Recirculate: Typically our hot water heaters are a long way from our faucets and showers, so we spend a long time running the water and waiting for it to get hot while all of the water that was sitting in the pipes gets wasted. Installing a recirculating pump can solve this problem. When turned on, the pump sends the cold water that was in the pipes back to the hot water heater to get warmed up, while bringing hot water up to the faucet for you to use immediately. A number of these products are available and they are becoming more popular, so your plumber should be familiar with installing them. It is often possible to install them inside the cabinet of an existing sink – consult your plumber to see if this is an option if you are interested in retrofitting.
Next week: Ideas for sustainable water solutions for landscaping and water treatment.
Like many Austin residents, I'm quite familiar with our city's alternative transportation system. I cross the rails at MLK or Manor Road or 45th Street - often several times a day. However, I'm always in my car. But a full day of presentations at the Austin Convention Center provided the perfect opportunity to test the train. I've posted my thougths on Austin's transit system in a previous blog
and it was time for an update. I decided to give MetroRail
The day before, I brought the car and parked in the Convention Center garage. It isn't the nicest, and it's several blocks from the Center. And I shelled out twelve bucks for my car to sit in a garage all day. It was time to ride the train.
The closest station is at MLK, just west of Airport Blvd. It was easy enough to pull up the schedule online. The trains ran on roughly 30 minute intervals, and there were several I could take in order to arrive before the start of my first meeting at 8am.
I saw three options for getting to the train - I could take a 20-minute walk from the house. This necessitated walking across Airport Blvd at rush hour; not a very desirable prospect. I could have my wife drop me off on her regular commute. But she leaves so early I'd have to take the first train and wait for an hour-plus once I got downtown. I opted for a short drive to the station and hoped for some on-street parking nearby.
I left home with enough time to make the 7:14 train. But I hadn't planned on the MLK and Airport Blvd intersection. I got stuck at a long light with three lanes of car commuters coming in from the suburbs. By the time I got through the intersection, I could see the crossing gates were down in front of us. The train was arriving and I was stuck on the wrong side. When the crossing gates rose, the train was pulling out of the station.
Oh well, at least I'd have plenty of time to find parking. As it turns out, the adjacent streets offer a fair amount of free parking. Perhaps these spaces will fill up in time, but for now, it looks like only a few people had the same idea. I pulled behind two cars already parked at the curb.
I walked over to the platform, crossing the tracks as I did so. The signage was pretty clear, I could see the 7:44 to Downtown was on time. I picked up a flyer with information on the trains, and a printed schedule. I looked for the ticket machine, but only saw one for validating tickets. I don't know why you can't buy a ticket on the platform. I finally located the machines back at the street. So I re-crossed the rail tracks to get my ticket.
The ticket machine looked daunting, with lots of options on display. But the screen said "Press any button to get started." By following the prompts on the screen, the transaction was actually pretty simple. All I needed was to insert my dollar and I had a ticket with a note that it was already validated.
The entire time I rode the train, I never saw anyone ask for or check for tickets. I guess someone could jump on without a ticket and no one would ever know.
I still had ten minutes more to wait. The platform was empty, but well-lit. I sat on a comfortable chair and in no time, four or five more riders appeared on the platform, including a young man wheeling his bike. A recorded voice announced the arrival of the downtown train and chiming bells warned us as the vehicle pulled up to the platform.
The MetroRail cars are impressive. The interiors are clean, bright and inviting. There were seats available, though several riders were standing, including several with bikes. I settled into a very comfortable seat and enjoyed picture-window views of some very nice streetscapes of new buildings and older neighborhoods.
The downtown rail stop is adjacent to the Convention Center. We arrived on time and I had plenty of time to get settled into my first session of the day.
The ride home was even more impressive. The ticket machines downtown are closer to the platform. The train arrived early so everyone on the platform took their seats in the comfortable cars while waiting for the 5:26 departure.
My best memory of the day was the view out the window within a minute of departure. I was leaving downtown Austin during rush hour on a Friday afternoon. As we crossed I-35, I could see complete gridlock. All the cars in both directions on the highway were barely moving. Looking towards 7th street, I could see that all the side streets were packed. No one was leaving downtown quickly -- except us. The train gained speed and whisked past the gridlocked cars. The MetroRail, on Friday afternoon at least, trumped all other modes of transportation.
Many of our clients are interested in green building but still are not sure if it is worth it. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about green building:
What is green building? Can it be practical?
Green building, or sustainable design, refers to a growing concern with maximizing efficiency and reducing waste and energy consumption. While many ideas are still in the experimental stages, there are many green building techniques that have already become established and can be considered best practices in the general building industry.
The recently completed Purple Heron Residence in Austin, Texas was awared the highest 5-star rating from Austin's Green Building Program.
The focus on green design and construction seems like a recent phenomenon, but has deep historic roots. Pioneers in places like Texas built efficiently with local materials to maximize comfort without electricity or air conditioning, and with limited heating. While innovators continue to develop a dizzying array of new products and technologies, some of the best residential green building ideas are time-honored and practical solutions. These have worked for hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years.
Do Green Buildings have to look "high tech?"
No! Green building does not have a style. Green building is the concept of building environmentally sensitive buildings that use less energy, provide more comfortable living spaces, and use less (and less toxic) materials. This begins by designing your building to take advantage of and work in tune with your natural surroundings—solar, wind, trees, and topography. It may be a coincidence that a lot of the younger designers promoting green building have produced very contemporary homes. These designs can be quite beautiful, but when green features are promoted, many people get the false impression that green design must also be contemporary.
Looking at historic or traditional houses in your area will often show you what works. For example, in hot central Texas, we see porches that offer spaces for outdoor living while shading walls and windows. Many homes have high ceilings with ceiling fans, and large double-hung windows to coax in the breezes.
In northern climates, w
here cold is an issue, steep roofs help keep snow from piling up, and smaller windows help limit drafts. Basements extend foundations below the frost line. Fireplaces (usually placed on interior walls) also help keep houses warm. Instead of screened porches, exterior rooms are often enclosed with glass to form 'sunrooms' for cold winter days.
A good architect can work with green building concepts and come up with just about any style you desire. A glass box in the Alaskan tundra may not be the best concept, but most styles can be developed and built to work efficiently and comfortably in your climate. This farmhouse has a rainwater tank that has been in use for over four decades. Can't wait for all our Green Building FAQ's? We've assembled responses to the most frequently asked questions about Residential Green Buidling. Download your answers here.