K+BB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Archive for September, 2011

Sep 30 2011

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Are You Connected?

Let me start off by introducing myself, since this is my first blog post. I’m the editor of K+BB’s Industry Watch newsletter, I have a background in interior design and recently had the opportunity to attend Moen’s Inspire 2011 conference. The event not only gave me my first introduction to New Mexico (A state I absolutely can’t wait to revisit), but also made me stop and think about work, but more importantly, how we work.

Now, the conference certainly had a series of sessions that showcased both kitchen and bath products and design, but I also found one of the speakers who addressed what she called the “work/life balance” fascinating. The ideas brought up in the session resonated with me, so I thought I’d share.

The session speaker pointed out that we are currently living in a world with very little predictability or stability. Almost anyone who has been working in the design field can probably relate…and then some. So what do you do when life becomes unpredictable? Do you overcompensate and work even harder, hoping everything will fall into place? Or do you shut down and go into survival mode, just trying to get by. Presumably everyone reacts in their own unique way.

So there’s a lot that’s beyond our control, but how do we find balance in our work and lives? This session pointed out that as much as we push ourselves and think “you can do it,” ultimately, you can’t keep up. You will never get it all done, there’s too much to do and not enough time. Now that much we know.

Well, this workshop suggested that in life, real balance comes from “connection.” Or in other words, connection creates balance. It’s the relationships that you have in your life that bring meaning and a sense of being grounded. These can be connections with friends and family or co-workers and clients.

In the workshop, we were asked to turn to those sitting next to us and share a ritual in our lives, and it didn’t have to something deeply profound, it could be as simple as walking your dog every morning. But, sharing even this small piece of information with a complete stranger led to a familiarity that was totally unexpected. And, no, I don’t think the point was to spout your deepest thoughts to people randomly sitting next to you. I do think, however, that often we get so caught up in the day-to-day with the “to do” lists running through our heads, that we forget to reach out and make that connection. To stop and listen or ask a question.

There will always be reasons why you don’t reach out to connect. We’re all busy. But it was interesting in the midst of a conference looking at design and inspiration, to take a few minutes to think about how we connect with others. And perhaps that may be the key to a more rounded and successful career and personal life.

-Nichole Schulze, K+BB Industry Watch editor

Sep 26 2011

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The trouble with new

I’m working with clients right now with whom we had taken a lot of time to select the tile backsplash for the new kitchen. It’s a brand new tile board, and we can’t wait to see it. We’re halfway through the project now when we get a phone call: “The tile will not go into production for another six weeks. Do you want to pick another tile?”

Casual—just like we hadn’t spent four trips, several go-rounds, much anxiety and indecision on behalf of the client, a counter that was chosen simply because it went with the tile and now a delay on a kitchen that should have been done by Thanksgiving.

To add insult to injury, we ordered the tile over three weeks ago. Yes, you read that right—the manufacturer waited three entire weeks to tell us that they weren’t even planning to manufacture the tile yet.

I can accept timing delays; Things happen. What I can’t accept is the manufacturer taking three entire weeks without informing anyone that they weren’t even producing the tile when they released the boards.  And when a client blames me for “not doing due diligence” when there was no warning from the manufacturer in the first place, well…there are no words (that should be said out loud).

By the way, this is not the first manufacturer to do this, nor will I suspect it’s the last. One of our cabinet manufacturers came out with new brochures, but the door samples took a long while to show up. A quartz manufacturer had their new colors up online, but we couldn’t get the samples for over a month. There is a large disconnect in our field between the manufacturer’s sales departments releasing items too soon when production is not ready.

I’m not saying their names yet, because we will be calling the factory for answers.

My question is: Do we accept this as a norm? Or do we start ignoring our suppliers and checking in with the manufacturers?  Do we speak up and let the manufacturers know that we’re not going to take it any more? Or do we quietly refuse to specify their products?

Until next time, Kelly

Sep 21 2011

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The University as the True Hub of Green Innovation?

Stanford University has long held a tradition of innovation. The legendary tech startups, such as Yahoo and Google, that were founded by Stanford students in its hallowed halls is now the stuff of legend in SIlicon Valley. (In fact, Sun Microsystems got its original name as an acronym for Stanford University Network.) Billions of dollars have literally walked off campus, yet this atmosphere of innovation continues today. Other universities share in this tradition. At MIT, for example, alumni have founded 25,800 companies, which generate revenues of about $1.9 trillion a year.

While you could argue that if Stanford had an agreement that gave them even one-tenth of one percent of anything created by its students—it would have an endless endowment worth billions. But perhaps this would scare off the future tech billionaires from ever matriculating in the first place. Instead, what if a university could utilize its students as an in-house R&D (research and development) laboratory? Students would still be free to profit from their inventions, but the institution could benefit from the ideas in some way.

At a symposium for The Earth Institute at Columbia University, I met Sam Harrington, marketing director for Ecovative Design. It turns out that a similar innovation is currently happening at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in upstate New York. Instead of tech companies, it’s developing a new wave of innovative materials. Ecovative was started by RPI students who developed an innovative foam material derived from mycelium (a.k.a. mushroom fungi) called EcoCradle. In its current state, EcoCradle is a surprisingly affordable and effective alternative to oil-based Styrofoam. This “mushroom foam” could have thousands of potential uses.

Sam and I discussed the possibilities of eventually utilizing the foam as a natural, non-toxic and biodegradable alternative for building insulation. It could replace traditional, formaldehyde-based fiberglass. Imagine improving the indoor air and eliminating a known carcinogen from our buildings. Such bio-based materials will (eventually) radically improve the health and impact of our buildings. The challenge for Sam and small companies like his is finding real-world projects in which to test their creations.

Another type of innovation is happening at the Engineering department of Arizona State University (ASU) through a program called EPICS (Engineering Projects in Community Service). Begun in 1995, the EPICS program takes engineering students into real communities to design and build solutions.

Led by Richard Filley, EPICS has mentored hundreds of students over the past 16 years to develop sustainable projects in over a dozen countries. EPICS reminds me of a student version of Architecture for Humanity, one of my favorite nonprofits, which provides design services to people in need around the world. In its 12-year history, AfH has constructed hundreds of projects in 25 countries, from Haiti to New Orleans. Such models of community design are helping to redefine the modern architectural practice.

Now imagine a hybrid of all of these ideas: students applying an innovative approach to developing new materials to tackle our biggest sustainability challenges and applying them to real projects.

Engineering students develop new insulation or finish materials that Architecture students design into a real on-campus project. Business students crunch the pro forma financials to test out new types of financing for sustainable buildings. Policy students could explore new avenues in Public/Private partnerships for the projects. Construction Management students could assist with the construction, after which marketing students could conduct post-occupancy analysis of the finished project. Not only would the students earn a beautiful image for their portfolios and get to work in a truly interdisciplinary environment, but invaluable practical experience as well.

All of this was swimming around my head when I met with Doug Garofolo recently. Doug is part of the Facilities and Real Estate Services group at the University of Pennsylvania. Penn currently has several projects under development, from a new nanotechnology center designed by Weiss/Manfredi Architects to a new Law Building by KVA Architects. At any time, a couple of dozen other, small improvement projects are also underway, many done without the need of a permit. To me, all of these projects could serve as a testing and proving ground for the students. Who else but the University could absorb minor added risk and write it off as college credit? Students could take a class in this type of independent study, helping to offset any delays to the project spent on stopping to teach the students.

Virtually every large university has a department like Doug’s at Penn. They act as the liaison between the University and their architect (or as the architect themselves for smaller projects.) This idea would be a formalized internship. As it turns out, a University may be the only place left for students to get such experience.

Traditionally, a University is a great neighbor. It creates jobs, spurs development and attracts talent and a young workforce. It is invaluable to a city and should be part of any long-term redevelopment plans a city hopes to achieve. A building developed by (and for) a University is much better than anything even the greenest developer could create. Think about it: Universities are long-term tenants, have a great interest in the energy performance of their buildings, understand the value of design to attract students and maintain their facilities to last for generations. In addition, the modern-day University is the last group that is still as concerned with the exterior spaces around their buildings as they are in the buildings themselves.

Universities are the only clients in the development industry that still create anything resembling a “piazza” (public plaza) or address true walkability and livability around their projects. Traditional developers do the bare minimum to meet code and minimize costs. A University understands the long-term benefits of a well-designed campus.

So perhaps the University of the 21st Century can continue the tradition of innovation through bold. New projects that connect their greatest asset, their students, to the realities they address each day.

Eric Corey Freed

Sep 15 2011

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Red, white and blue is the new black

There was a time when people just assumed their cabinetry and appliances would be built in the U.S.A. Now, given the current economic strains and the foreign options in cabinetry, appliances and accessories that are invading the U.S. market, I wonder if the American kitchen industry will go the way of American steel, autos and home electronics—to some third-world country—taking American jobs as well as the American Dream with it?

We, the American people, have been sold a “bill of goods,” which is the idea we can somehow maintain our standard of living by purchasing cheaper and good, not great, products that were once produced here in the U.S.—such as cars, clothes, TVs, phones, even food—from some other country and that our lives will be better. I say, look around you and wake up!

We have lost great companies and millions of jobs to other countries that will never come back, and the current economic situation and growing jobless rate are just tips of the iceberg. There was a time when American steel, cars, TVs were the cornerstone of modern technology and the envy of the world. And now we are willing to buy cheap imitations without once thinking about the ramifications of those actions.

The new Jobs Bill proposed by the Obama administration means nothing and will do nothing to stem the tide of joblessness unless there is a job connected to it. We need to bring manufacturing back to America and need to buy American products. It’s patriotic…it’s the American thing to do.

My question is this: Does your client care if it is made in America? Do you care? Does it make a difference? Does “Made in America” still stand for quality, technology, craftsmanship, security and trust? I say: “Yes, it does,” and we need to educate the consumer on the options they have to choose from and how their decision can and will affect the world around them.

With U.S. unemployment at its highest in decades and in light of the ongoing uncertainty about the future of our economy, I believe that we are ready for a consumer revolution to halt the tide of foreign imports and encourage consumers to buy American-made products to stimulate economic growth and put people back to work.

For way too long, the American consumer has ignored where products are made and simply sought out products they perceived to be cheaper without understanding or realizing their decision to buy a cheaper foreign product may have caused an American factory to close and the dollars that would have gone to an American worker instead went to pay a worker in China or India at a fraction of what an American worker would have earned. Most people would say, “I bought a good product for the best price, and someone made a profit”B ut here lies the rub: The worker in China did not pay taxes on his earnings to the U.S., nor did his employer, so nothing was paid into the system, which affects everyone here.

I say “enough!” and I draw a line in the sand and issue this challenge to both consumers and manufacturers to “Buy American.” Buying something made in the U.S. is something to be proud of, it will make you feel good and you are helping out the economy by keeping the money at home and protecting jobs here.

Will if cost more to buy an American product than a cheaper foreign item? Most likely the answer will be yes, but you need to think of those few dollars more as an investment in America, as well as an investment in our future—our children’s future.

I believe in the power of the individual and that the choices we make can change the world. The revolution begins with you and the choices you make. I say choose wisely…choose American.

Kevin M. Henry