Vinyl Preservation

14 Feb 2011

I took the following photo Saturday afternoon at the Home and Garden Show:

Do they not recognize the conflict here?Do they not recognize the conflict here?

Whatever replacement vinyl siding and windows are, they are most definitely not "preservation". I guess if you say something enough, people will begin to believe it is true. Well, I suppose vinyl qualifies as preservation from one point of view: the vinyl will stick around in our landfills long after the window has fallen apart and been replaced...

It is important to note that “Maintenance Free” free products still need to be maintained – it just means that when they eventually break they can’t be repaired. They need to be replaced.

Indeed, the residential double-hung window is a great example. We have gone from building simple windows that with proper maintenance can last hundreds of years to extraordinarily complex windows that last 10 years. I wouldn't put money on any window manufacturer still manufacturing the same proprietary tilt-in sash clip for a spring-loaded counterbalance in 20 years.

On the flip side, a standard historic double-hung window sash can be retrofit with readily available replaceable gaskets and weatherstripping to become much more energy efficient. Rope and chain have been made for hundreds of years and will likely continue to be made in one form or another for hundreds more.

Continue reading...
Tags: | Add a Comment

Everything old is new again.

I watched "Milk" last night and find it disconcerting that thirty years later, many people still exhibit the same prejudices backed up by the same tired arguments. I'm looking at you, Iowa House of Representatives.

Today, the Iowa House Judiciary Committee is expected to forward on HR6 to the full chamber for a vote. HR6 seeks to amend the Iowa constitution to add the following:

Marriage between one man and one woman shall be the only legal union valid or recognized in this state.

Continue reading...

Last week, I took the following photo at the northwest exit of the downtown branch of the public library!

In Case of Emergency, Break Glass?In Case of Emergency, Break Glass?

So, you know that while I think the design concept behind the downtown library is somewhat intriguing, I am not a big fan of it as a public building. I believe that just like you and me, municipal architecture has a responsibility to be a good public citizen.

To residents, this means things not littering, stopping at red lights, and ending your 4th of July celebrations by midnight.

Public buildings have different responsibilities:

  • Respecting the street edge
  • Presenting a gracious and understandable entry
  • And perhaps most important, not trapping their occupants inside in case of an emergency

Though the entire facade (including the exit door) is made of glass, it is unlikely that occupants could break it in an emergency - it is three layers thick, plus a layer of copper mesh.

I hope there is a good reason for blockading this exit with a 2x4 from the outside but I can't think of one. While it is unlikely that there would be an emergency necessitating use of this exit, emergencies are by definition unplanned and emergency exits are not allowed to be blocked.

Continue reading...

Property of  "Your Gay" State of IowaProperty of "Your Gay" State of IowaThis sign doesn't make a whole lot of sense to begin with. It was posted right next to a public sidewalk under Highway 61 in downtown Dubuque. I guess it is directing people to stay on the sidewalk - perhaps it should read "Property of the State of Iowa"? I would have preferred a more genial "Please Stay on the Sidewalk".

While I assume the graffiti was written in response to the recent court decision striking down Iowa's Defense of Marriage act, I can't quite figure out whether it expresses gay pride or the (irrational) belief that Iowa has somehow been made gay.

If one is in the mood to deface public property (which I of course discourage), one should consider both the visibility of the location and the effectiveness of the message. It might be more effective and humorous to slap "Gay Marriage" under a Stop sign (anti-) or "to Gay Marriage" under a Yield sign (pro-).

Either way, given the sign's location I don't imagine a whole lot of people even notice this obscure political statement.

Continue reading...

Dubuque Skywalk: Skywalk between the Grand River Center and the adjacent hotel in Dubuque, Iowa.Dubuque Skywalk: Skywalk between the Grand River Center and the adjacent hotel in Dubuque, Iowa.It might appear at first glance that I am anti-skywalk. And you would be right in most cases. I just found another egregious example in Dubuque, Iowa, of all places.

More about this later. First a little background. I am in Dubuque for a lead paint "visual risk assessor/sampling technician" training. After class today, I decided to take advantage of the beautiful spring weather and go for a self-guided tour of the downtown area. Downtown Dubuque is bordered on the west by the Mississippi River bluffs and on the east by Highway 61, which cuts between downtown and the industrial/recreational areas adjacent to the Mississippi River.

The historic downtown is fabulous, and quite a bit larger than I anticipated. In general, the streets are quite pedestrian-friendly, with trees, wide sidewalks, and relatively dense development. Despite the obligatory gas station and drug store teardowns, much of the historic building fabric remains, running the full range from row houses to 6-story mixed-use walk-ups. Most of the storefronts appear to be occupied, though by the time I got there I was relegated to peering in windows.

Continue reading...

I'm not a fan of the Des Moines skywalk system, but someone please forward this memo to the "At Least Des Moines Didn't Screw Up This Bad" department.

I am in Atlanta for a conference, and have spent a couple afternoons (yes, after classes let out) exploring downtown Atlanta on foot. There is a clear line of demarcation between the older portion where the streets were built to accommodate pedestrians comfortably, and the "urban renewal" portion where the historic buildings have been systematically replaced with brutal high rises and the streets can best be described as pedestrian hell.

The post 60's section has an extensive skywalk system, perhaps constructed as a response to the horrible street level pedestrian experience, perhaps a culprit.

The most egregious example I found is pictured below.

Peachtree Center SkywalkPeachtree Center Skywalk

What you see here is a two city block long, six story high, six foot wide intestine that collects nutritious pedestrians from nearby hotels and parking garages, digests them, and then poops them out into the Mall at Peachtree Center.

Continue reading...

I found myself at the Southridge Mall Target over a lunch break a few days ago. On the way out of the (horribly designed and poorly maintained) parking lot, I witnessed an accessibility failure of monumental proportions. I had to take a picture.

What you see here in the middle of the photo is not a scooter, motorcycle, or other street-legal vehicle. It is a person in a motorized wheelchair forced to use a busy street because there are no sidewalks available. This situation represents a failure of the developers, designers, and local government code officials to adequately plan for pedestrian access to the site.

According to the Assessor's web site, the structures were originally built in 1975, well prior to passage of the Americans with Disability Act. A lot has changed in regards to Americans' understanding of accessibility since 1975, but what hasn't changed is our focus on automobile-oriented development patterns.

The buildings have seen significant and relatively recent remodeling/tenant alterations. In fact, the parking lot was paved in 2001 - a great time for everyone involved to think about pedestrian accessibility. It's never too late to do the right thing...

Continue reading...

Yeesterday morning, the Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Varnum vs. Brien regarding the constitutionality of Iowa's so-called "Defense of Marriage Act". Passed in 1998, the act defines "marriage" as a union between a man and a woman. The Iowa Supreme Court may uphold the lower court's ruling declaring the act unconstitutional under Iowa's equal protection and due process laws.

Continue reading...

My job takes me downtown every so often for a variety of reasons. I don't typically like to park in garages, but sometimes circumstances warrant it.

Inaccessible Curb at Elevator - 7th & Grand Parking GarageInaccessible Curb at Elevator - 7th & Grand Parking GarageIn this picture, the elevator is accessed through a short walkway (note the sign hanging from the ceiling. From a pedestrian perspective, there are two major problems with the design of the pedestrian route from the elevator to the street:

  • The elevator walkway dumps pedestrians out into the automobile drive aisle instead of onto a sidewalk. The photo below shows how in order to exit the parking garage, a pedestrian is directed out into the path automobiles use to enter the garage.
  • There is a six inch drop, with no curb cut anywhere along the path of travel. Since this isn't the only elevator, perhaps it is not a technical violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but it is at a very minimum a poor design solution.

Now, to be fair, the other elevator appeared to have a usable path from the designated accessible parking spaces to the public sidewalk. However, since the actual accessible route isn't marked, it is entirely conceivable that one could assume all elevators are connected to accessible routes. Someone with a mobility impairment could end up having to make a difficult choice between attempting to navigate the treacherous curb/auto obstacle course or trekking all the way back up and around to the accessible route. Since we know how to make an accessible path, why not just do it?

Continue reading...

Urban Schmurban

19 Sep 2008

According to the Des Moines Register, Hubbell Realty has purchased the mixed-use Fox Prairie development out of foreclosure for just over $10 million. Because Hubbell purchased the project at a discounted rate, they believe they will be able to offer the residential condo units at a competitive price. It is certainly not odd or surprising that suburban commercial and residential developments are feeling the pinch now, particularly with the tightening of the financial markets.

But that's not what I want to talk about here. The real shocker in the article was a quote by Rick Tollakson, Hubbell's chief executive:

"It's very convenient to everything," said Tollakson, who described the lofts as urban living in a suburban setting.

It is impossible to have urban living in a suburban setting.

Continue reading...