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Archive for August, 2010

Aug 31 2010

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Claymonde Tiles

Since I seem to be on the crest of a tile trend lately, I thought I would continue with a West Coast offering from Fireclay Tile in San Jose, CA.


Claymonde Series by Fireclay Tile

Claymonde Tiles are a new offering for Fireclay Tile and include their typical craftmanship and sustainable practices. I’m more familiar with their beautiful, traditional ceramics, so when I saw these, I knew I had to show you.

Instead of calling them tiles, Fireclay rightly calls them “sheets.” At 6 in. x 36 in. and 12 in. x 36 in., these large-format tiles are manufactured in 14 different colors, with additional sizes and custom colors available for an upcharge.


The sheets are made through a rolling process to ¼ in. thick and fired with non-leaded glossy glaze. Unlike traditional handmade ceramic tiles where one expects a certain amount of variation in evenness, these are relatively smooth. The variation in glazing and smoothness is typical for a mid-to-high-end glazed tile.


Claymonde “Golden Flan” 6 in. x 36 in.

In residential applications, you can consider these for kitchen walls (Fireclay recommends a penetrating sealer at cooktop and wet areas), showers, fireplaces or any vertical or ceiling application. This is also the type of application where any bulges or unevenness in the walls will have to be dealt with if you don’t want the teeter-totter effect or edges to pop.

Lead times are four weeks plus shipping for standard color, and eight weeks for custom colors. www.fireclaytile.com

Until next time,


Aug 30 2010

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Proposition 23 represents why we might be doomed


When I first began speaking publicly ten years ago, I eschewed anything to do with politics. The sustainability movement should be nonpartisan, nonpolitical in order to appeal to everyone, I thought. My talks and articles were designed to appeal to everyone, but in developing solutions for helping municipalities develop green buildings, I kept confronting the limitations of government and the game of politics that acts as a block to real progress.

This frustrated me to no end, and I found political opinion creeping back into my slides and writings. Some in the audience felt alienated, some even walked out, but most thoughtfully listened…and I got through.

This November, California voters will vote on a measure called Proposition 23. Prop 23 officially calls for a “suspension” of California’s landmark global warming law (called AB32) “until unemployment drops to 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters.” The proposal positions itself as a “jobs initiative” and tries to pass itself off as merely a temporary measure until the economy gets back on track.

Passed in 2006, Assembly Bill 32 (AB32) is referred to as the California Global Warming Solutions Act. It was the first legislation in the world to comprehensively regulate and reduce greenhouse gases. Under AB32, emissions from vehicles (oil) and energy generation (coal) are required to be cut about 15 percent by 2020 and an additional 20 percent by 2050. AB32 would push California to the forefront of the clean energy revolution, produce green jobs and stave off the threat of global warming.

Although this would only immediately affect California, it would, in reality, have an impact on the entire country. The eyes of the nation are watching California and our wonderfully progressive policies. When they succeed, other states will follow suit.

But here is why Prop 23’s call to suspend AB32 is so particularly sinister: It was placed on the ballot by Assembly Member Dan Logue, who calls it a “jobs initiative” to hide the real backers behind the bill. The bill is supported by two Texas oil companies, Valero and Tesoro and a coal company, Koch Industries. Valero alone has pumped over $4 million and counting into Prop 23. Valero and Tesoro are among the nation’s biggest polluters, and their California refineries are among the top 10 polluters in the state.

The proposed suspension may take a while. The state’s current unemployment is around 12.3 percent and hasn’t dropped to 5.5 percent for an entire year since 1976 (34 years ago). The cleverly crafted language was designed to ensure AB32 never sees the light of day.

You may be asking, “If AB32 was passed back in 2006, why the rush to stop it now?” Simple: The requirements set forth in AB32 are set to take effect this January. The November election gives the polluters just enough time to try and stop it.

This battle will play out as you’d expect: Conservatives will claim this will destroy jobs, raise taxes and increase your energy costs (using fear); while environmentalists will unsuccessfully provide the facts, only to be ignored by the middle class voters susceptible to the fear play.

Some in California worry that by regulating carbon emissions we’ll be putting our economy on the back burner. But nothing in our recent history has indicated that California must choose between economic stability and environmental responsibility.

Innovative energy policies established in the 1970s have saved California consumers $56 billion and created 1.5 million full-time jobs with a payroll of $45 billion. From 1995 to 2008, clean, safe energy-generation jobs grew by 85 percent with the highest concentration in solar and wind. In 2008, energy efficiency jobs grew by 91 percent, according to Next 10, a nonpartisan think tank.

If new, better-paying jobs, healthier air, driving money into the local economy and saving money are attractive, then AB32 is a breath of fresh clean air and worth keeping.


Huffington Post:

Stopping Prop 23:

Campaign to stop Proposition 23:

California Bright Spot:

California Air Resources Board AB 32 Information:

My editorial in Desert Sun:

—Eric Corey Freed is Principal of organicARCHITECT and author of four books, including “Green$ense for the Home: Rating the Real Payoff from 50 Green Home Projects.”

Aug 27 2010

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Modest materiality

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This recently completed residential care building for The New Camaldoli Hermitage (the coolest monks I have ever met) in Big Sur is a great example of the use of modest eco-materials used in elegant ways. The monks of The New Camalodoli Hermitage have made a life commitment to stay at the monastery and their cells and therefore require on-site health care as they age. Wanting the building to be simple and humble, yet functional, we chose materials that are earthy, long-lasting and clean. The exterior is cor-ten steel (that won’t have to be refinished or repainted or have maintenance) with elements of of ochre integral-colored cement board (and since the color is integral it also will not require maintenance, refinishing or repainting in the future). The interior is FSC-certified teak cabinets and the flooring is a strand-woven bamboo and slate. The walls are kept a simple white to allow paintings by the monks (a number of the monks are very talented artists). Solatubes are used to sculpt in natural light. The idea is that the peaceful beauty comes from the contemplation gardens, courtyards and the artwork to create a space for healing for decades to come.

The building is composed of four modules that were built in Oregon and shipped down to Big Sur, which was no easy feat.

I highly recommend a visit to the monastery. Overlooking the ocean, it is one of the most inspiring and deeply spiritual places.

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Project Team
Client: New Camaldoli Hermitage
Architect: Michelle Kaufmann Designs + Studio 101 Designs: Michelle Kaufmann, Scott Landry, Stephen Rice, James Kean
Contractor: Frank Pinney
Modular Factory: Blazer Construction
Structural Engineer: Marlou Rodriguez
Site Engineer: Fall Creek Engineering / Peter Haase
Landscape Design: Joni Janecki
Owner’s Consultant: Terry McHenry
Permitting Guru: Arden Handshy
Counsel: Frank Hughes
Medical Consultant: Dr. John Clark

Michelle Kaufmann

Aug 25 2010

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Where is the future?

I turned 40 last week. As friends were asking, “How does it feel?” I was reminded of a drawing I did when I was 10 years old. The year was 1980 and I was living in a dense urban block of Philadelphia. I had already been obsessed with Architecture since I was eight, but now at 10, I had asked my parents for some real drawing tools, and they obliged with a set of pens, pencils and paper. I spent hours dreaming up a future of curvy, organic buildings that defied gravity. Ink smudges covered my fingers from sketching visions of the future.


My mother was 40 when I was 10, and I clearly remember thinking how I would turn 40 in the oh-so-distant year 2010. What kind of buildings would we be building in 2010? Surely the world would be unrecognizable. The boxy, lifeless and grey blocks of my neighborhood would be replaced with things I couldn’t even imagine.

Little did I know that we would still be building with skinny sticks of wood, held together by nails and with punched openings for windows. My younger self never would believe how I now spend my time having to convince clients not to put toxic materials in their home or fighting to get a building inspector to approve the use of recycled water.

Would my 10-year-old self be disappointed in how ordinary and un-revolutionary the majority of todays’ buildings really are? Where is the future we expected?


In the 1985 hit film, Back to the Future, the character Marty McFly travels back in time 30 years to find striking differences in fashion, automobiles and music. The buildings, however, were relatively unchanged. If Marty were to go back in time today, he would return to 1980. He would be confused by our skinny ties, long cars and the sounds of Devo, but the buildings would go by unnoticed.


In the sequel, Marty travels ahead 30 years to 2015 to a world full of imagination. The future they present is exciting and very different from the present. But as intriguing as some of their predictions are, they clearly overestimated certain developments.


Is it safe to expect the next five years will bring us hoverboards, self-drying jackets or Mr. Fusion? Not likely. But you aren’t expecting those things. However, the buildings they showed (which don’t seem so far-fetched) are out of reach to us. What slows the innovation in our built environment?

In order to move forward, we must embrace our own long-term economic success. We need to rebuild our aging infrastructure, update those outdated systems and stop clinging to a romantic vision of old Architecture that embodies wasted resources, energy inefficiency and poor quality environments. Let’s rebuild our buildings and save ourselves in the process.


And this is the reason I am so excited about the upcoming West Coast Green Conference. Of the 40 or so conferences I attend each year, it is my favorite if only because of their focus on innovation. (Disclosure: I am on the Advisory Board). Hundreds of the top thinkers in architecture, planning and sustainability join together for three days to share ideas and develop solutions on how to design our future. You can hear more of my thoughts on this here.

Incidentally, the entire Back to the Future Trilogy is available in a special 25th Anniversary Edition on Blu-Ray on October 26th.

West Coast Green Conference
September 30 – October 1, 2010


Eric Corey Freed is an architect and author of four books, including Green$ense for the Home.