Architecture & A Green New Deal

“Yes: this will be expensive. Like a war. Or a tax cut for the rich. Or bailing out banks and automakers. Unlike those expenditures (which are never subject to the “but how will we pay for it?” smackdown) this plan will massively increase the tax base, create full employment for a generation, improve everyone’s quality of life, and save our collective skins. It’s tempting to believe this is what government is actually for.”  from: The Toronto Star

In Canada – if we were to adopt something similar to the Green New Deal (GND)proposed in the US Congress last week, how might this play out in the AEC sector? Below is a summary of current articles on the subject as well as the complete draft of the resolution.  As you can see below the adoption of a GND would permeate all aspects of the US and Canadian economies (even if we did not adopt a similar act) and would impact Architects directly, increasing opportunities and encouraging an expansion and increased diversity in the profession. Energy benchmarking and integrated planning initiatives would be prominent on all project scales. As summarized from this article below:

    1. First, activists are calling for the wholesale decarbonization of the U.S. economy. That means eliminating all carbon emissions across every industry in the country, including in vital sectors like energy production, building design, construction, and transportation.2
    2. Second: A job guarantee, which, generally speaking, would provide anyone who wanted work with some form of federal employment, would allow people currently working in carbon-intensive industries to leave their jobs for publicly-funded green-collar work.2
    3. Third, activists pushing the GND generally agree that the transition to a carbon-free economy must incorporate socially-just practices that rectify past practices that have exploited certain communities. Such reforms include finding ways to house people displaced by climate change, countering the long-term effects of redlining and the racial wealth gap, and making sure that unlike the original New Deal, the benefits and jobs created by any GND are enjoyed by people of color and other historically marginalized groups.2

Further to the first goal, the AIA has endorsed the Green New Deal and cites 2030 Challenge/Commitment as first step. The OAA has also endorsed this commitment as demonstrated through renewed funding of the Energy Compass program (note: there is no specific OAA page detailing this that is readily returned in search results except under News & Events: here ). A broadening of this program to the residential sector would be consistent with a any proposed variant of a Canadian GND.


Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New

Ms. OCASIO-CORTEZ submitted the following resolution; which was referred to
the Committee on ______
Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create
a Green New Deal.

Whereas the October 2018 report entitled ‘‘Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5oC’’ by the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the November 2018 Fourth National Climate Assessment report found that—

  1. human activity is the dominant cause of observed climate change over the past century;
  2. a changing climate is causing sea levels to rise and an increase in wildfires, severe storms, droughts, and other extreme weather events that threaten human life, healthy communities, and critical infrastructure
  3. global warming at or above 2 degrees Celsius beyond preindustrialized levels will cause—
    1. mass migration from the regions most affected by climate change;
    2. more than $500,000,000,000 in lost annual economic output in the United States by the year
    3. wildfires that, by 2050, will annually burn at least twice as much forest area in the western
      United States than was typically burned by wildfires in the years preceding 2019;
    4. a loss of more than 99 percent of all coral reefs on Earth;
    5. more than 350,000,000 more people to be exposed globally to deadly heat stress by 2050; and
    6. a risk of damage to $1,000,000,000,000 of public infrastructure and coastal real estate in the
      United States; and
  4. global temperatures must be kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrialized levels to avoid the most severe impacts of a changing climate, which will require—
    1. global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from human sources of 40 to 60 percent from
      2010 levels by 2030; and
    2. net-zero emissions by 2050;

Whereas, because the United States has historically been responsible for a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions, having emitted 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions through 2014, and has a high technological capacity, the United States must take a leading role in reducing emissions through economic transformation;

Whereas the United States is currently experiencing several related crises, with—

  1. life expectancy declining while basic needs, such as clean air, clean water, healthy food, and adequate health care, housing, transportation, and education, are inaccessible to a significant portion of the United States population;
  2. a 4-decade trend of economic stagnation, deindustrialization, and antilabor policies that has led

    1. hourly wages overall stagnating since the 1970s despite increased worker productivity;
    2. the third-worst level of socioeconomic mobility in the developed world before the Great Recession
    3. the erosion of the earning and bargaining power of workers in the United States; and
    4. inadequate resources for public sector workers to confront the challenges of climate change
      at local, State, and Federal levels; and
  3. the greatest income inequality since the 1920s, with—
    1. the top 1 percent of earners accruing 91percent of gains in the first few years of economic
      recovery after the Great Recession;
    2. a large racial wealth divide amounting to a difference of 20 times more wealth between the average White family and the average Black family; and
    3. a gender earnings gap that results in women earning approximately 80 percent as much
      as men, at the median;

Whereas climate change, pollution, and environmental destruction have exacerbated systemic racial, regional, social, environmental, and economic injustices (referred to in this preamble as ‘‘systemic injustices’’) by disproportionately affecting indigenous communities, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth (referred to in this preamble as ‘‘frontline and vulnerable communities’’);

Whereas, climate change constitutes a direct threat to the national security of the United States—

  1. by impacting the economic, environmental, and social stability of countries and communities around the world; and
  2. by acting as a threat multiplier;

Whereas the Federal Government-led mobilizations during World War II and the New Deal created the greatest middle class that the United States has ever seen, but many members of frontline and vulnerable communities were excluded from many of the economic and societal benefits of those mobilizations; and

Whereas the House of Representatives recognizes that a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal is a historic opportunity—

  1. to create millions of good, high-wage jobs in the United States;
  2. to provide unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States; and
  3. to counteract systemic injustices:

Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that—

  1. it is the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal—
    1. to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers;
    2. to create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States;
    3. to invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century;
    4. to secure for all people of the United States for generations to come—
      (i) clean air and water;
      (ii) climate and community resiliency;
      (iii) healthy food;
      (iv) access to nature; and
      (v) a sustainable environment; and
    5. to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous communities, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth (referred to in this resolution as ‘‘frontline and vulnerable communities’’);
  2. the goals described in subparagraphs of paragraph (1) above (referred to in this
    resolution as the ‘‘Green New Deal goals’’) should be accomplished through a 10-year national mobilization (referred to in this resolution as the ‘‘Green New Deal mobilization’’) that will require the following goals and projects—

    1. building resiliency against climate change-related disasters, such as extreme weather, including by leveraging funding and providing investments for community-defined projects and strategies;
    2. repairing and upgrading the infrastructure in the United States, including—
      (i) by eliminating pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as much as technologically feasible;
      (ii) by guaranteeing universal access to clean water;
      (iii) by reducing the risks posed by flooding and other climate impacts; and
      (iv) by ensuring that any infrastructure bill considered by Congress addresses climate change;
    3. meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources, including—
      (i) by dramatically expanding and upgrading existing renewable power sources;  and
      (ii) by deploying new capacity;
    4. building or upgrading to energy-efficient, distributed, and ‘‘smart’’ power grids, and working to ensure affordable access to electricity;
    5. upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification;
    6. spurring massive growth in clean manufacturing in the United States and removing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing and industry as much as is technologically feasible, including by expanding renewable energy manufacturing and investing in existing manufacturing and industry;
    7. working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible, including—
      (i) by supporting family farming;
      (ii) by investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health; and
      (iii) by building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food;
    8.  overhauling transportation systems in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible, including through investment in—
      (i) zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing;
      (ii) clean, affordable, and accessible public transportation; and
      (iii) high-speed rail;
    9. mitigating and managing the long-term adverse health, economic, and other effects of pollution and climate change, including by providing funding for community-defined projects and strategies;
    10. removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and reducing pollution, including by restoring natural ecosystems through proven low-tech solutions that increase soil carbon storage, such as preservation and afforestation;
    11. restoring and protecting threatened, endangered, and fragile ecosystems through locally appropriate and science-based projects that enhance biodiversity and support climate resiliency;
    12. cleaning up existing hazardous waste and abandoned sites to promote economic development and sustainability;
    13. identifying other emission and pollution sources and creating solutions to eliminate them; and
    14. promoting the international exchange of technology, expertise, products, funding, and services, with the aim of making the United States the international leader on climate action, and to help other countries achieve a Green New Deal;
  3. a Green New Deal must be developed through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses; and
  4. to achieve the Green New Deal goals and mobilization, a Green New Deal will require the following goals and projects—
    1. providing and leveraging, in a way that ensures that the public receives appropriate ownership stakes and returns on investment, adequate capital (including through community grants, public banks, and other public financing), technical expertise, supporting policies, and other forms of assistance to communities, organizations, Federal, State, and local government agencies, and businesses working on the Green New Deal mobilization;
    2. ensuring that the Federal Government takes into account the complete environmental and social costs and impacts of emissions through—
      (i) existing laws;
      (ii) new policies and programs; and
      (iii) ensuring that frontline and vulnerable communities shall not be adversely affected;
    3. providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States, with a focus on frontline and vulnerable communities, so those communities may be full and equal participants in the Green New Deal mobilization;
    4. making public investments in the research and development of new clean and renewable energy technologies and industries;
    5. directing investments to spur economic development, deepen and diversify industry in local and regional economies, and build wealth and community ownership, while prioritizing high-quality job creation and economic, social, and environmental benefits in frontline and vulnerable communities that may otherwise struggle with the transition away from greenhouse gas intensive industries;
    6. ensuring the use of democratic and participatory processes that are inclusive of and led by frontline and vulnerable communities and workers to plan, implement, and administer the Green New Deal mobilization at the local level;
    7. ensuring that the Green New Deal mobilization creates high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages, hires local workers, offers training and advancement opportunities, and guarantees wage and benefit parity for workers affected by the transition;
    8. guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States;
    9. strengthening and protecting the right of all workers to organize, unionize, and collectively bargain free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment;
    10. strengthening and enforcing labor, workplace health and safety, antidiscrimination, and wage and hour standards across all employers, industries, and sectors;
    11. enacting and enforcing trade rules, procurement standards, and border adjustments with strong labor and environmental protections—
      (i) to stop the transfer of jobs and pollution overseas; and
      (ii) to grow domestic manufacturing in the United States;
    12. ensuring that public lands, waters, and oceans are protected and that eminent domain is not abused;
    13. obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous people for all decisions that affect indigenous people and their traditional territories, honoring all treaties and agreements with indigenous people, and protecting and enforcing the sovereignty and land rights of indigenous people;
    14. ensuring a commercial environment where every businessperson is free from unfair competition and domination by domestic or international monopolies; and
    15. providing all people of the United States with—
      (i) high-quality health care;
      (ii) affordable, safe, and adequate housing;
      (iii) economic security; and
      (iv) access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and nature.


  4. FAQ

Robot Architect

If anyone had told me last year that starting in 2018 I would be using a robot to create measured plans of existing buildings, I would think that either a) they are whackos that over-estimate the capabilities of current technology or b) they must assume that I have unlimited funds to buy such equipment.  Neither statement is actually true however. Last September I purchased a robot vacuum – you know – like a Roomba. Only this one was just a little different, and was designed and manufactured by a company called Neato Robotics. The thing that appealed to me, was that it had a laser scanner mounted on top in what the company calls a ‘turret’. With this added feature, the robot scans the spaces it enters for obstacles and walls, and sets up a smart combing algorithm that traces the perimeter of each room, and then zig-zags the centres with a slight overlap, so that coverage is 100%, and unnecessary ‘crossings’ are eliminated. This means that the job is completed in much less time than any other vacuum, and wear and tear on the machine is reduced. Neato indeed.

Left: The Leica Disto D2 we use to measure spaces to millimetre tolerances, together with the Neato’s laser turret to right.

The Neato D5 Botvac. Controlled remotely via smartphone or tablet.

But that’s not all! The Neato Robot will even create a ‘coverage map’ of where it’s been, and what it has covered. While this is handy to know – let’s say a door was closed and so a room was missed, cool, you can see a dark region that shows where the bot didn’t go, but that wasn’t my primary interest. I wanted to see what kind of floor plan it made – and how accurate it was. Now as an architect – I create floor plans for a living. This usually means I show up on the site of an existing building, with a pad of graph paper and a measuring tape, and create a sketch of the space before arriving at the office afterwards to recreate this facsimile in the computer. Well, I used to work that way 20 years ago. Now of course I arrive with a laptop and a laser measuring tool, and I create a digital floor plan right on site, saving a step and improving accuracy as I can gather all of the information while I am in the actual space!

Now typically, I charge around $1/sf of space for this service – and this is just for 2D information, aka. ‘plan’ information. So, a 6,000sf house – to measure, can cost upwards of $6k.


Any technology that saves me time on site, or that accelerates the capture of this information has my full attention, provided it is reasonably priced. Less of my time on site saves my clients money.

However, a full Leica point cloud laser scanning station, even the base models, are well over $40k – and the conversion to simplified architectural plans and sections and elevations is still cumbersome and complicated at best. Now there are less expensive options, like Occiptal’s Canvas application that leverages Apple’s VRKit, and allows the user to ‘sweep’ a modified iPad or iPhone camera around a space and capture a digital facsimile – however – one then has to pay a third party (Occiptal) to turn these 3D scans into useable architectural models – and the process goes room-by room. This work incidentally, is not mastered by an AI agent, but is done by an actual human being at a computer workstation somewhere, and so comes in at a cost of approx. $300 per typical room. I have tested the workflow and the quality of this process and service and I can only say it was not as helpful as one might imagine, and certainly far from affordable. Dollar for Dollar the Canvas approach is no better than my old laser workflow, and at least I draw things the way I need them represented. What I really need is the ‘big picture’ – a simple, accurate sketch locating all walls within the floor plate – so that I can quickly add relevant information on top of this ‘base’.

Here is the plan my Neato Robot made for me today, in the space of 1 hour, and at a cost of $0 in terms of my time:

As you can see, I get the overall perimeter captured and I can ignore what I know to be furniture and cabinets. The dark area to the left is the stairwell – nope – ‘Rosie’ can’t navigate stairs yet. The orange block is where the robot is docked to recharge. The dimensions I added in my CAD software, and are verified using a Leica D2 laser. The white dots of the Neato Coverage Map, can be resolved to a single pixel, and the accuracy of the Coverage Map vs. the laser measured points has a tolerance of +/- 30mm. Now given that the Robot is measuring baseboard dimensions and not to the surface of walls, this tolerance may be even closer to 10mm, as the baseboards at my house are approximately 15mm thick (15mm + 15mm = 30mm).

Does this level of tolerance matter? Typically, I work to around 5mm tolerance for new design, but 30mm is acceptable on an existing building, and I would only use the coverage map as a kind of ‘sketch’ anyways, to accelerate floor plan drafting, and then I will shoot a few ‘calibrating’ laser lines for the record, and the usual photographs of the space, just to be sure it all checks out and is to scale.

In conclusion – is current Robot technology useful to help generate architecturally accurate floor plans of existing buildings in a way that allows my firm a competitive advantage? The answer is a resounding yes – it will become a PART of our workflow, where we will ‘pre-measure’ with the Neato, and return to calibrate the Neato’s coverage map with a few real laser dimensions. This will help us get in and out of a typical house in under 4 hours. And as an added bonus, we’ll even vacuum your space for free!




















Electric Motorcycles

Transportation architecture is a thing. Vehicle designer is a thing. Vehicle Architect? Nope. But here I will try. My hobbies have always involved going fast on/in a vehicle of some sort. In winter this has been snowboards, skis, even kayaks downhill! On water, windsurfing. On asphalt, bikes, skateboards and electric cars. And soon … eBikes. But why are current eBikes so lame? Because they are not motorcycles. And why are electric motorcycles so massive and clunky? Because the forces involved are massive and require clunky (clunky = STRONG) to not fly apart.

A really powerful athlete can put about 400 Watts into a bike.  A motor can ADD another 400Watts, or 800W, or 2500W – the limit is only a function of the motor’s ability to survive the heat spilled when passing that many electrons through it! Adding 5x the power to a system (bicycle) designed for only 500Watts means a lot of busted chains, spokes, bent frames and worse. So what I have learned from these two articles:

  1. – is that motors go from weak to strong and
  2. – if ebikes are generally lame, what does awesome look like?

Here is a Pinterest board whereby I dream of a mashup between an eBike and a Motorcycle – taking cues from stylish bikes of yore, as well as cafe racers and board track racers – all new terms to me:


Follow Me on Pinterest

These are baby steps. Any eBike or Electric Motorcycle should strive for the goal of finding a balance between power, comfort, safety, good looks and fun. To date – ALL of the major manufacturers have teased us with amazing looking concept bikes but NONE of them (pathetically so) has put anything into production! Shame! The only serious contenders are niche companies selling bikes in the $40k+ range, or Zero Motorcycles that offer a solid, capable – if somewhat bland design in the $20k range.

Oh – and did I mention sustainability? All of the latter attributes already exist in fossil powered toys – but I’m looking to the future! Join me if you like! For the money – and the power and range, this bike tops my list:

image credits are found in the full pinterest gallery – watch this space!!