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New York, New York
United States of America

Sustainability, Green Ideas, Environment, Networking, Architecture, Engineering, Building Systems, Farah Ahmad, Farah Naz Ahmad

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Blog

My personal journal: architecture, travel, current events, New York City, & more.

Sights of the South

Farah Ahmad

I spent hours photographing South Carolina and Georgia during a vacation to the South, in Fall 2016. I'm pleased to finally share my adventures within the sister cities of Charleston and Savannah (and Tybee Island!), cities that hold two of America's largest historic preservation districts. The cities are flooded with American history and Architecture. Please scroll through the left and right handles below in the individual galleries.

SAVANNAH

Savannah Film Festival, Savannah Food Festival (Daffin Park), Chippewa Square (Forrest Gump), River Street, Savannah Waterfront, Jepsen Center for the Arts, Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, Girl Scout First Headquarters, Forsyth Park, Savannah Historic District, Owens-Thomas House, Mercer House, Davenport House, Bonaventure Cemetery, Oglethorpe Square, City Market, Tybee Island + more

CHARLESTON

The Battery, Calhoun Mansion, Charleston waterfront, Charleston City Market, Nathaniel Russell House, Charleston Historic District, Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, Fort Sumter, Rainbow Row + more

Charleston: Preservation of Plantations

Farah Ahmad

Photographs will capture much of the historical radiance through which Charleston shines- I know I cannot possibly cover every detail, but I will try and recount my personal experiences of these preserved plantations. During my stay in Charleston, I visited four plantations which have driven the economics of this city. I wanted to share the many layers of American history buried behind the gorgeous gardens and luscious landscaping, which to date, have become the backdrop to modern day weddings and extravagant social affairs. Behind the glitz and glam of the plantations, there is the history of the slaves who labored long hours in the highly fruitful crop production of Charleston. Ultimately, the enslaved Africans led to Charleston's prosperity. Charleston became the largest port of entry in North America for enslaved Africans, and undoubtedly, they became the reason these plantations thrived. 

Boone Hall

Nothing could prepare me for the Avenue of the Oaks while I gazed out from my Uber ride at the overhanging oak trees. The trees draped with moss, lined so neatly, embraced each other at the center, as if to form an entry canopy. I had only seen glimpses of Boone Hall through the film The Notebook, but you must visit in person to experience the tranquility of time. The grounds, the air I was breathing, the static structures, poised with calm composure- it was as if they had not aged, and held in stories of their own to tell.

Boone Hall dates back to 1681, when the plantation was first founded. The plantation has transferred ownership several times throughout the decades and the present day main home was not constructed until the 1900s.

A handful of the slave cabins still stand today. These single-story solid masonry structures can be toured by the public, and serve as little museum hubs. They are boldly positioned in front of the main home on the plantation, oriented towards visitors arriving from the Avenue of Oaks.

Photography was not allowed inside the main home of the plantation. Inside, wealthy displays of furniture and finishes from the landowners who resided within the Colonial Revival style mansion. Every detail- from the flooring to the crown molding- was seemingly maintained in excellent condition. A piano, the dining table, bookshelves integrated into the walls.. these provide some glimpses of family life in the 1950s. Click the left and right handles below to scroll.

Today, the plantation is still active, growing crops in Spring, Summer, Fall, and is the host of many seasonal events. While on site, I learned about the Gullah culture through a live performance with singing and storytelling. The Gullah are African Americans residing in South Carolina and Georgia, whose ancestry trace back to the roots of slavery, and who have preserved their culture to this day. The ancient craft of Gullah basket weaving is a common sight along the streets of Charleston. I also experienced a guided tour in a trolley, throughout the many acres of the plantation! 

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Magnolia was founded in 1676 by the Drayton family (Drayton Hall is located nearby), and is certainly one of the most beautiful gardens in America. Magnolia' roots stem from its rice fields.

The scene captured below at Magnolia is the single most picturesque scene I have ever, ever, ever wandered upon. There is a very profound silence and stillness throughout the garden. I do not believe any visit to Charleston is complete until you have seen this garden with your own eyes, because it is truly mesmerizing. The numerous plantings and lakes are, simply put, pristine. 

Walk through Magnolia by clicking the left and right handles below.

Today, the plantation hosts several recreational activities on site, including a petting zoo, trails, pedestrian bridges, and gardens... click through the photos below.

Drayton Hall

Similar to the previous plantation, Drayton Hall is located along the Ashley River. The home is an icon of the grounds. 600+ acres of indigo and rice fields are visible as you walk through and along the periphery of the site, where it meets adjoining waters. The Palladian style mansion from the 1740s is set so crisply- its portico and stories so sharply defined.  

Middleton Place

Middleton Place's sharply defined axis and symmetry were well appreciated as I traversed the site. The gardens have cleverly integrated man-made features into what will feel like a very natural, yet intentional experience. One will also notice the rice fields that are evident along the Ashley River. Interesting tidbit: Arthur Middleton, a signer of the Declaration of the Independence, lived on this site!

The reflecting pool, independent structures strategically dispersed throughout the site, incredibly friendly herds of animals down South, blacksmith, crafts of centuries past, and similarly rare traditions are displayed in my gallery below. Please utilize the left and right handles to walk through Middleton...

#SouthernTrippin16: Visiting 'The Notebook'

Farah Ahmad

Charleston, South Carolina- Oh, I have so much to say about you! ('ll author an additional entry on the aura of Charleson later!)... what a city of charm that captured my heart! And, on that note, I thought I would commence with a classic American love story.... The Notebook! Let's face it, what journey to Charleston would be complete without submerging oneself in Nicholas Sparks' 1940s romance?

Site # 1: The American Theater, 446 King StreetCharlestonSouth Carolina: The site of Noah and Allie's first date. Art Deco architecture complete with vintage exterior marquee!


Site # 2: Boone Hall Plantation: Mt Pleasant, South Carolina- Allie's parents' summer home. In the film, Noah is seen driving up the Avenue of Oaks (pictured far below), before walking up towards its front gates (immediately below). Boone Hall Plantation is something special- founded in 1681, it is one of America's oldest working plantations. The home originates from the early 19th century and nine of the original slave cabins still exist- it was amazing to walk 'into' history! But more on the history in a later post... 

Noah drove up Avenue of Oaks, shown here, before approaching the Boone Hall Plantation residence.

Noah drove up Avenue of Oaks, shown here, before approaching the Boone Hall Plantation residence.


Site # 3: The Traffic Light scene! #Nowordsneeded

FYI- there is no overhanging traffic light as depicted in the film. And do NOT try lying down on the street in the middle of the day- it's a pretty busy intersection! As you can see, there has been a fair amount of new construction & we utilized some architecture contextual clues from film clips to figure out the exact corner.

FYI- there is no overhanging traffic light as depicted in the film. And do NOT try lying down on the street in the middle of the day- it's a pretty busy intersection! As you can see, there has been a fair amount of new construction & we utilized some architecture contextual clues from film clips to figure out the exact corner.


Site # 4: Calhoun Mansion: We toured the interiors of this amazing Gilded Age home. With its Italianate architectural style, you WILL feel like royalty the moment you step in behind closed doors. With its 35 rooms and 24,000 sq ft interior, it's no wonder Calhoun Mansion is the largest private residence in all of Charleston. The interiors of this home were utilized for the film. We weren't allowed to shoot any interior photography, but viewed several rooms (including the dining room shown below) and walked up the very stairway where Allie was seen (shown below). The encompassing gardens are stunning, but the interiors are breathtaking. I've never seen so many imported international luxury furniture & finishes within one space! The beauty is in the detail- look closely and you'll see custom (and labor intensive!) wood, beautifully finished plaster, and etched crown molding.


Site # 5: High Cotton at 199 East Bay Street. This restaurant is home of the scene in which Noah looks through a restaurant window and finds Allie dining inside with her fiance Lon.

First LEED-Certified McDonald's in the USA!

Farah Ahmad

While visiting the Architectural delights of Savannah this October, I was thrilled to learn from our tour guide that Savannah is home to the country's first LEED Certified McDonald's! This fast food haven also happens to be located in the first LEED Certified Shopping Center! Ironically (or maybe fatefully so), the location was only a mile away from our hotel. #ThanksUber. This particular building was constructed in 2005 and received its LEED-CS (Core and Shell) Gold certification in 2006. We inquired within and, while we did receive more than our share of stares for photographing a local fast food spot, (I probably would have judged myself too) to my satisfaction, the employee knew of the LEED certification. However, she did not know it was the first of its kind in the country. The friendly employee also walked us around to the rear of the McDonald's to point out the hybrid vehicle parking spots (remotely located). While exploring the retail development, we questioned an employee of an adjacent retail store about the shopping center's LEED certification. He was clueless about the prestige this particular certification holds in the green building industry! 

Want to learn about the project's features? Curious to see whether it lives up its actual certification? Check out my video below as I praise and critique its sustainable design features! For a more thorough project profile, click here

Special credit to Jocelyne Jeannot for shooting & editing this on the go!

That facade has SO MUCH daylighting potential!

That facade has SO MUCH daylighting potential!

LEED Plaque proudly mounted on McDonald's' facade behind me!

LEED Plaque proudly mounted on McDonald's' facade behind me!

LEED rewards applicants for installing a bike rack on the property to encourage sustainable transportation alternatives.

LEED rewards applicants for installing a bike rack on the property to encourage sustainable transportation alternatives.

White 'cool' roof- proud to say we found this design feature implemented throughout the entire Abercorn Common Retail Development- white roofing everywhere!

White 'cool' roof- proud to say we found this design feature implemented throughout the entire Abercorn Common Retail Development- white roofing everywhere!

Interior Daylighting- but why are those recessed light fixtures on? =(

Interior Daylighting- but why are those recessed light fixtures on? =(

For the win!

For the win!

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. So feel free to leave a comment below!

 

Renewables on the West Coast!

Farah Ahmad

It is difficult to capture the sense of peace that washes over me while in the West Coast. I cannot attribute my immeasurable joy to one facet. Is it the climate? The slower pace of life? The topography? The friendly locals?

What stands out when I close my eyes are the stretches of dry heat at temperatures. They are bearable at a much higher threshold than their East Coast counterparts. I remember standing outside in 110 degrees heat. Somewhere in Buckeye, Arizona- I let my eyes soak in the scene beyond the paving of the rest stop I was standing in: blurred boundaries of horizon, mountain, and desert. Bright, yet warm hues of brown, yellow, orange...

Long ranges of mountainous topography serve as stationary reference guides no matter how many miles of road your tires hit. They follow you no matter where you go. Phoenix is a flat city, encompassed by mountains all around. Throughout the Mojave Desert, and in Kingsman, AZ, the mountain ranges echo your lineal travel. In California, the mountain ranges appear diverse at shorter distances- sometimes hidden, and sometimes emerging from behind well known landmarks. Regardless of where you travel in these three states, the mountains are always close by. 

While I have much to say about the many beautiful towns and enclaves of the West Coast, I thought I would highlight some truly amazing renewable energy projects that are picking up momentum in power generation throughout the years. So check out my photography below, read about my personal experiences, and send me your comments!


ARIZONA'S TALIESIN WEST

80% of Taliesin West is powered by solar! A television display in the gift shop on site indicates the amount of power generated. It is amazing to see a National Historic Landmark embrace renewables! Solar panels are not visible on the structure itself and do not detract from the beautifully preserved estate. As you drive up the long winding dirt paths toward the Wright site, the solar array will emerge to your left. They are set back from the main road, hidden behind diverse desert landscaping.

Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd- Scottsdale, Arizona

Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd- Scottsdale, Arizona


NEVADA'S HOOVER DAM

A 1930s construction and engineering feat, the Hoover Dam is one of the largest generators of hydroelectricity in the country! Three cheers for renewable energy! Sited upon the Colorado River, the Hoover Dam provides power to three states: Nevada, Arizona, California. That's approx. 4 BILLION kWh each year! Interestingly enough, around the time I visited, Lake Mead (which connects directly to the Colorado River) hit a historic low point (which would cause the Colorado River to shrink).

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CALIFORNIA'S IVANPAH SOLAR POWER FACILITY 

Driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, a shiny speck lingered on the horizon from a far-off distance. Driving closer, the small spectacle grew into a bright light. When I finally drove alongside the farm, I realized I was passing by a concentrated solar thermal plant! While I didn't spot any clear signs designating the facility alongside Interstate 15 (Hey federal government, can we please place big signs for the energy nerds out there, and for general education to the public?), a quick GPS search told me I was mesmerized by an array of heliostats and mirrors, comprising a solar thermal plant. Heliostats are devices equipped with mirrors that track the sun. The sunlight is concentrated on the receivers of three solar power towers, producing steam to generate electricity.

What you see pictured below is one of the solar thermal plants on site- there are 173,500 mirrors in California's Mojave Desert! The plant opened in 2014, and to this date, has generated over 400,000 MW-h.


CALIFORNIA'S SAN GORGONIO PASS WIND FARM

I drove through the nation's largest wind farm, while leaving Southern California and driving towards Phoenix. Located in Riverside County, California (just east of Palm Springs), around 4,000 wind turbines are sited to power Palm Springs and Coachella Valley! I can't seem to find an exact number on the number of wind turbines, and this may be due to the fact that some of the turbines are not operating. In fact, I would estimate 1/3 of the ones I saw were completely static! A wind power industry expert recently advised me that some of these turbines may actually be outdated models that just have not been replaced (cost & maintenance are huge issues with wind turbines!) Whatever the story is on these (there's no exact reading either on power generation!- only a single outdated statistic which tells me an annual generation of approx. 900 GWh of electricity), wind speeds do reach 15-20 mph. A mix of desert and coastal air make this the perfect site to harness the energy of the wind. This is definitely worth the drive-through as the turbines are quite the sight due to number and height! If you ever do pass through, step out of your car for a minute and feel the strong winds of the deep mountain pass.


GREENING THE GRAND CANYON

While I didn't spot any renewable energy systems throughout the Grand Canyon West Rim, I do want to share the National Park Service's green measures- if one of the country's largest tourist attractions can set an example for the millions of tourists it receives each year, then let's showcase it! Click here to learn about the Canyon's green measures. 

Snapped this one of the Colorado River after a helicopter descent to the base!

Snapped this one of the Colorado River after a helicopter descent to the base!

Energypath 2016

Farah Ahmad

Thank you Energypath 2016 for a wonderful week at Pennsylvania State University!

I wanted to share some glimpses from an unforgettable conference. I reconnected with industry friends and met new inspirational leaders in the sustainability movement across the United States. I always feel at home when I'm connecting with like-minded individuals striving to fight for the environment and against climate change. I spent an entire week engaging in an energy camp- submerging myself in the fascinating technical building science of Passive House Design. I also attended industry seminars on wind energy, building envelope design, solar implementation & more.

Visited Penn State's MorningStar Solar Decathlon entry! It now proudly sits on campus. Check out more on their project here: http://sustainability.psu.edu/morningstar-solar-home.

Visited Penn State's MorningStar Solar Decathlon entry! It now proudly sits on campus. Check out more on their project here: http://sustainability.psu.edu/morningstar-solar-home.

Penn State has a number of LEED certified buildings on campus, including this one featured at LEED Gold-certified learning center: Millennium Science Complex, by Rafael Viñoly Architects

Penn State has a number of LEED certified buildings on campus, including this one featured at LEED Gold-certified learning center: Millennium Science Complex, by Rafael Viñoly Architects

One of several sustainable transportation alternatives around campus!

One of several sustainable transportation alternatives around campus!

Interesting seminar on wind turbines & energy!

Interesting seminar on wind turbines & energy!

Millennium Science Complex, Penn State University, University Park Campus- by Rafael Viñoly Architects

Millennium Science Complex, Penn State University, University Park Campus- by Rafael Viñoly Architects

I know this photo is blurry! However, the keynote, futurist Jack Uldrich, was incredibly memorable! Uldrich lectured on global trends & argued that technology can pave the way for sustainability- and in fact, is already happening! Technology provides solutions that can eliminate future construction applications.

I know this photo is blurry! However, the keynote, futurist Jack Uldrich, was incredibly memorable! Uldrich lectured on global trends & argued that technology can pave the way for sustainability- and in fact, is already happening! Technology provides solutions that can eliminate future construction applications.

Katrin Klingenberg, Executive Director, PHIUS- Katrin is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the Passive House movement. Seeing her dedication to her science & work on the Passive House movement reminds me why I love my field.  

Katrin Klingenberg, Executive Director, PHIUS- Katrin is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the Passive House movement. Seeing her dedication to her science & work on the Passive House movement reminds me why I love my field.

 

LIVE FROM THE UN: CLIMATE CHANGE AGREEMENT

Farah Ahmad

Check out my videos below.

Leonardo DiCaprio addresses the General Assembly on Earth Day at the United Nations Headquarters, in New York City.

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York City on April 22, 2016, Earth Day:

Pakistan signs the Paris Climate Change Agreement:

Earth Day 2016

Farah Ahmad

SIGNATURE CEREMONY

NEW YORK CITY I  APRIL 22, 2016

The historic debut and display of democracy inside the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City was a captivating ceremony that drew the eyes of the world. I sat with other members of Civil Society (non-governmental) in the balcony of the General Assembly Hall, the area allocated for non-member states. Each of us was incredibly excited for what was to follow, as we knew we were about to witness history. Only weeks prior I had filled out the application to attend, expressing my personal commitment and professional experiences in climate change action. I was truly thrilled I would be experiencing these moments with my own eyes!

As a sustainability professional in Architecture based in New York City, I am adamant that my profession has a huge burden to dispel many of the adversary effects of climate change. Here in the United States, buildings represent nearly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions! Seven years ago, I vowed that energy efficiency and the environment would become both my social cause and career platform, within the track of Architecture. I've since embarked upon a number of projects and engaged with dozens of professionals, in order to expand my knowledge base and serve my community! 

The balcony of the General Assembly Hall slowly started to fill at 8 AM, a vibrant buzz in the air filling any remaining voids of the space. To my amazement, I happened to be seated directly behind Zhang Yue, Chairman and CEO of Broad Group. Only months earlier, I had been watching a BBC Documentary on 'Sky City', which if built as planned, would be the world's tallest skyscraper. Additionally, its one-of-a-kind method of prefabrication and assembly would be conducted in a record breaking amount of time. The Broad Group conceived an assembly time of only 90 days for a 202 story tower. The project has not yet been built as it has undergone miles of red tape. I remembered watching Zhang Yue on television as he spoke of dedication and discipline in working towards achieving his dream of a constructed reality. In person, he was incredibly humble and shared pamphlets with me on the project's concept. If this was how the day was beginning, I knew I was in for a treat.

At 8:30 AM sharp, the Signature Ceremony commenced, hosted by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The international delegates who had flown in were thanked for their leadership. "Climate action is essential," Ban Ki-moon adamantly stated. 

The necessity of the future generation to get involved was recognized several times throughout the ceremony. Dozens of children lined the aisles of the ground floor of the General Assembly, while a video montage displayed snippets of international alliance and action urgency. "We need to listen to young people," Ban Ki-moon reiterated. 

The Signature Ceremony marked the next step for countries to cement the commitment that was declared forth in Paris in late 2015, at the United Nation's Conference on Climate Change, at the 21st annual COP (Conference of the Parties). Here, discussions revolved around the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, an international treaty marking global cooperation on climate change, set in 1992.

The next level, which took place in New York City on Earth Day 2016, involves signing the COP21 Climate Change agreement. On Earth Day 2016, 175 countries officially signed the agreement. 15 countries went one step further and submitted their instruments of ratification, or action plans for climate change. Additionally, some nations have already ratified the agreement in their home countries while at least 10 other countries, including major powers United States and China, have promised to ratify it at some point this year.

Joining the UN Secretary-General on stage was French President Francois Hollande. France was the first country to sign the agreement at the ceremony. Also present was COP 21 President and France's Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, Ségolène Royal.

Ban Ki-moon also invited several speakers to relay the message of climate change action. Several leaders spoke expressing their country's commitment, speaking for 3-10 minutes. Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received a warm applause as he stated, "We are all equal to that challenge [of climate change]." India's Anand Mahindra, representing the business world, advocated a "transition leading to 100% renewable energy in the future." Indigenous rights activist Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim delivered a fresh perspective, highlighting destitution on this international platform. Climate change, she says, is "adding poverty to poverty everyday."

United States Secretary of State John Kerry was greeted with much praise as he was present to sign the Climate Change Agreement for America. "The power of this agreement is the message that it sends to the marketplace," citing the allocation of capital and entrepreneurship. "The United States looks forward to joining this agreement." He brought his granddaughter with him, as he signed the agreement, underscoring the role of the younger generation.

Rounding out the speakers was actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio who made quite the impression. DiCaprio declared climate change is the result of human action, contrary to the small percentage of critics who have chosen to ignore the roots of this impending disaster. He stated fossil fuels should stay in the ground and denounced the role of corporations who mine these resources for profit, to which the audience applauded loudly. DiCaprio has traveled the world widely and described the devastating effects of climate change he was witnessed around the world. DiCaprio urged each delegate to go back to their country and implement change, or else the agreement would mean "nothing."

After the speakers commemorated the cause, each country was called up one by one to sign the agreement. It's hard to explain how moved I was to see the delegates of each country- Heads of States and Governments, Vice Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers of Finance, and Ministers of various departments pertaining to energy and the environment- walk up to the stage and officially pen their commitment! 

I'm sharing some of my personal photos and videos from the event in order to try and capture the grandiose moments. In the meantime, check out the list of countries who were present and see if YOUR country has stepped up its commitment! Follow their progress and spread the message! We can all support our nations and play a role.

Want to start taking quick steps in the battle against global warming? Check out 'The Lazy Person's Guide to Saving the World.' 

One more thing.. leave your feedback below! I would love to hear your thoughts.

Click the arrows below to view some captured moments. You can view my videos here.

 

 

Two Green Thumbs Up for Massachusetts

Farah Ahmad

INTRODUCTION

Look up Massachusetts in an old history textbook and you'll probably see America's Founding Fathers. Look up Massachusetts in a contemporary Encyclopedia and you'll probably see a splattering of GREEN. Two words spring to my mind: Sustainable Living. I may have left a piece of my heart out there- yup, it's laying in acres of grass next to one of the dozens of solar arrays. 

I knew I was in for a treat when I signed up for a weekend in Western Massachusetts. Scenic mountains span the horizons of the region: this New Yorker who spends her week commuting and caught up in the fast pace of the city life will never take nature for granted. What I did not know is how green the state is! Massachusetts is one of the top states for solar. Its government is active in policy: incentives, rebates, and a quick return on investment are all bonuses. It's no wonder solar applications are common. The entire state is immersed in renewable energy programs and I'd love to share some glimpses because it is truly a lesson we can all learn from.

HYDROELECTRICITY IN HOLYOKE

Holyoke is a tight-knit community under its industrial layer, nestled on the western edge of the Connecticut River. The birthplace of Volleyball, "Paper City" holds a deeply-rooted history in paper-making-- sited by the water are paper mills. They ran on the dams nearby. While today many of these mills have been converted into alternate uses, faded painted signs of mills are indicative of these structures' former history. However, these mills weren't the only consumers of the dam's rich source of energy. Today, about 2/3 of Holyoke's annual electricity comes from a clean and renewable energy source: hydroelectricity! Read more about Holyoke's green initiatives here.

Pictured Below: Holyoke Dam

Holyoke Dam: Owned by HG&E (utility company)

Holyoke Dam: Owned by HG&E (utility company)

OFF THE GRID IN NORTHAMPTON

We spent the weekend living off the grid at this solar lodging in Western Massachusetts. 

Ground mounted and roof mounted arrays comprise the entry elevation as you drive up. Personally speaking, the setting was reminiscent of factory production, with its bold panels facing the sun and visitors. The 'visibility' of the energy pumping into the home was almost equivalent to the enthusiasm of the homeowners. Their magnificent 'project' has evolved over the last decade. It was such a warm feeling to speak with locals who truly believe in harmonizing with nature: the owners- a designer builder and an artist- shared their sentiments on stewardship for the environment. 

The home is truly off the grid: battery storage and generator for back-up power, and the water supply is connected to a local well.

The 'greenhouse' effect traps heat for the glass-enclosed space on the southern facade of the home. When the sliding glass doors open, the adjacent living spaces of the open floor plan can be warmed up.

Skylights reduce the dependency on artificial light and highlight beautiful architectural detailing and woodwork craft.

AMHERST

Businesses support local farming: everything is freshly grown in the area and distributed- how much more transparent can you get? Side note: Yum! 

Solar array at Atkins Farms Country Market. Just one of many...!

As a resident from New York City, most of the installations I see are on private, expensive homes or city-owned buildings.. Seeing large applications of solar utilized for local uses was rejuvenating. It reminds us that every member of society- homeowners and businesses alike- should remain conscious of their impact on their immediate environment. These folks are a shining example of harnessing the power of the sun through good old-fashioned hard work.

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VEGAN LIFESTYLE IN NORTHAMPTON

Traveling with a Vegan, I indulged in locally-sourced cuisine all weekend. Alright, I may have cheated a few times, but I had my share of Vegan food! Cafe Evolution, Bela Restaurant, Haymarket Cafe and Dobra Tea are just a handful of Vegan and Vegetarian eateries that line the vibrant life of Northampton. 

So the Vegan lifestyle isn't for me, but it was a unique experience. I enjoyed browsing locally grown produce and talking to local businesses, who are conscious of what they eat and sell.

BOSTON

So we ventured outside of Western Massachusetts for a day and headed over to Boston.  I discovered an electric charging station in the parking garage, and one street-side. I can't recall the last time I've seen one in New York City. No, this was not going to escape my attention, and yes, I was stoked. This was shortly after we scoped out the interiors of a Tesla at a local mall: electric cars for the win!

CONCLUSION

Western Massachusetts gives me hope. Self-sustaining communities are bringing down the country's greenhouse gas emissions by adopting sustainable practices: residents, businesses, utility companies, and government all actively partake in this lifestyle. I was incredibly motivated after my trip to Western Massachusetts because the locals are just AMAZING. They express an understanding of and love for the environment. Moreover THEY WALK THE WALK. By sharing some of my experiences, I hope I've convinced some of you to go visit the region. It's a simple life with centered around a solid value: take care of your environment, and it will take care of you.

Scranton

Farah Ahmad

One week in Scranton's beautifully preserved history proved memorable. I wasn't expecting to see the work of some of America's well-known architects dispersed throughout, softly integrated into the quiet community. They weren't screaming for attention. Rather, these structures quietly upheld their elegance. I had been to Scranton as a young child, exploring Lackawanna's coal mine with much delight. After returning more than a decade later, I was able to rediscover Scranton's magic through different forms.

I was delighted to discover how many jewels were embedded within this Pennsylvania city's fabric of folklore and built framework. Scranton, home of the country's first streetcars, supplier of New York's coal, and even the fictional setting for NBC's The Office, was full of surprises!

The diversity of architectural styles and the settling calm encompassing its streets create an amazing local and low-key ambiance by foot. Alas, enough typing. I'll let my photographs tell Scranton's stories. Click the left/right arrows or thumbnails, to view some of my favorite shots. And if you have ever been to Scranton, or can offer more insight on the city, let me know, I'd love to hear about it!

Lackawanna Historical Society

Lackawanna Historical Society

Municipal Building

Municipal Building

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University of Scranton: has a few LEED certified buildings on campus already built and also under construction

University of Scranton: has a few LEED certified buildings on campus already built and also under construction

Energypath 2015

Farah Ahmad

What do you get when you place hundreds of students, educators, and professionals from all over the country on one campus? Energypath 2015! The week-long camps and conference, held from July 19-24th, were filled with attendees from all ages and backgrounds, creating a diversely creative environment of skills and ideas. 

Pre-conference camps focus on Sustainable Energy, including Passive House, Biomass, Micro-Hydro, Solar Power PV, and Wind Power. The camps culminate in a two-day conference with dozens of sessions on renewable energy. Industry professionals lectured on numerous topics, including energy policy, energy storage and financing, power sources, and more. Many lectures were supplemented with real case studies, launched by the presenters themselves, providing comparative and critical analysis.

Energypath 2015 at the University of Scranton was overflowing with enthusiasm for energy! I chose to participate in the Solar Camp. For the first three days of the conference, fellow campers would gather and we received a lecture on solar energy (diving into technical installation as well as political, cultural, and social implications!). Instructors Vera Cole and Bill Hennessy, both sustainability and solar professionals based in Pennsylvania, and whose work in the field is incredibly extensive, shared their passion.

At the end of three days, we had the structural racking set up, solar panel assembly complete, and the grounding/wiring finished. We tested our panels' output! Here's a snap of the completed array: twenty-four modules facing South, on the sprawling University of Scranton campus.

We split into twelve teams, measuring voltage output, current, ambient and module surface temperature, array angle, and more, while working on the assembly.  

Keynote speakers framed the context in which building industry professionals actively engage in. 

John Hanger, Pennsylvania Secretary of Planning and Policy, kicked off the conference by outlining the goals of Pennsylvania state. "Our goal is to be a top five clean energy state," Hanger said proudly. "Active citizens," he emphasized, could help bring this change, speaking directly to the audience. Hanger also stressed the need for bigger support in policy-making, better data, good science, and good analysis, citing environmental examples. While improvement is needed in these areas, Hanger pointed out that natural resources that are abundant in Pennsylvania- its gas, nuclear, and natural gas production are among the top in the country.

"Without the sun, we do not exist." The next Keynote's attention to the natural environment was clear from the start. Bill Maclay, Principal at Maclay Architects, and author of The New Net-Zero, brought many years of design experience to the table, as he listed numerous projects his firm has actively worked on. His support for renewable energy, and the role business plays within sustainability, was evident, claiming that net-zero buildings are now cheaper than "fossil-fuel buildings": "You make money the first day you shift to renewable energy," Bill exclaimed boldly. 

Click the left and right arrows below to check out some of the seminar and keynote highlights.

One of the conference highlights was meeting Keynote Speaker Sam Rashkin, Chief Architect (Building Technologies Office) of the U.S. Department of Energy! Rashkin stressed the basics of design, taking human comfort into play, and explained how we could achieve these tactics. He focused on zero-energy buildings, highlighting Risk Management (including an optimized comfort system, water protection, indoor air quality) and Differentiation (utilizing advanced technology, having health protection, and following building code). Regarding the energy industry, Sam's wise words rang loudly in my ears: "If you chase this field or it chases you, you will likely feel both the fast and slow pace." As a government professional in energy, and having worked in three city agencies in New York now, I can attest to this statement!

Sam Rashkin, Chief Architect, U.S. Department of Energy

Sam Rashkin, Chief Architect, U.S. Department of Energy

I also test drove the Nissan Leaf... loved the experience! The brake and accelerator were very sensitive, so it took me a few blocks to get used to.. but other than that, it is a very quiet vehicle and the ride was incredibly smooth. Its operation was also simple, as shifting into gears is simple and user-friendly. Verdict? I would love to own an electric vehicle. New York City, we need more charging stations!

Instructors Vera and Bill demonstrated the power of solar through fun micro-applications: the manual Solar Pathfinder to calculate cast shade on the site and determine PV placement, cooking popcorn with solar, and a solar cooker for bread! Scroll through with the left and right arrows below.

More conference snapshots! Scroll through with the left/right arrows below.

In addition to the conference, we had the opportunity to take part in two tours: one emphasizing the sustainability of the University of Scranton campus, and the other was a beautiful architectural/historical tour of Scranton! I'll blog on these next!



2015 New York Solar Summit

Farah Ahmad

The annual New York Solar Summit took place this year at CUNY's John Jay College. Announced was the soon-to-be released CUNY's New York Solar Map and Portal. Homeowners and business owners now have increased access to knowledge of solar capabilities, including the ability to determine whether their roofs have solar potential and what solar opportunities may be available in their region.

The summit included a series of moderated talks about solar technologies, including smart inverters, storage, and forecasting the future of the grid for solar. New York City Department of Buildings (NYC DOB) Commissioner Rick Chandler provided a powerful keynote on NYC DOB's role in facilitating the anticipation of solar, providing a streamlined process for its customers, its integrated role with the city, and its sustainability initiatives.

I particularly enjoyed the 'Utility Conversation' with representatives from ConEdison, PSEG-LI, Central Hudson, and National Grid. They spoke of the future of solar and the roles utility companies can play to alleviate the stress off the power grid. They agreed that they need to "engage technology partners and embrace stakeholders" in order to light the way for solar's integration. Utility companies need to play a cooperative role by leveraging technology and developing a stronger relationship with their customers. They also agreed that solar will play a huge role in transmission and distribution.

Organizations present at the event included: Sustainable CUNY, New York Power Authority, Solaire, Grid Alternatives, SolarCity, and more.

In the meantime.. For those living in New York City, check out the city's solar map here to see your roof's potential!


Building Energy Exchange

Farah Ahmad

Building Energy Exchange (BEEx) is indeed an open forum of exchange for intellectual chatter, critique, and conference on energy efficiency! Nestled in the beautiful Surrogate's Courthouse Building in lower Manhattan, the organization opens its doors to the public for visits on weekdays and is regularly a host to industry events and exhibitions. 

The industry has provided a positive, engaging response to the educational and interdisciplinary hub. Ellen Abramowitz, Project Associate at BEEx, explains, "Since we work with manufacturers, energy service providers, public utilities, the State and the City, as well as real estate organizations," BEEx has become a "place where members of many different industries can connect and exchange ideas."

BEEx has over 2,000 square feet of exhibition space. The entryway and adjacent classroom greet the visitor with informative lighting displays, complementing the efficient lighting fixtures hanging up above and illuminating the work and public areas. The fixtures are a part of their ongoing Lights, Center, Action! exhibit and save BEEx 4,000 kWh each year! Read more and check out their models, as you'll be sure to learn some valuable statistics and visually understand how day-lighting and occupant controls can save you both energy and money.

June will be an actively busy month for BEEx, which you can be a part of! For more details, visit their events here.

  • This upcoming week, BEEx will host events on Passive House and the impacts of light on health.
  • On June 18th, BEEx launches their newest study, Retrofitting Affordability, which, as Ellen describes, "uses newly available city data to determine low-cost, high-impact energy efficiency retrofit opportunities for large multifamily buildings."
  • June 19th is Daylight Hour, BEEx's global social media campaign that highlights the availability of daylight in commercial spaces (Over 80 organizations, including the Mayor's Office and NYSERDA will participate!). Your company can register for free, within a few clicks, to engage in a one hour energy conservation measure.

BEEx is growing! It will expand in the future as an energy efficiency resource center, to include a larger classroom space and additional exhibition and demonstration areas. "We will also be working closely with the City's new Retrofit Accelerator initiative, which seeks to scale up energy efficiency retrofits," Ellen explains. "BEEx will provide a neutral space for customers to learn about energy efficiency opportunities for their buildings through timely events, exhibits and trainings." 

BEEx's educational platform is visible in other ways. It has conducted energy projects, researched case studies, and produced reports on its results. These are available for the public to explore among other resources.

Scroll through the photo gallery below to get a virtual tour of what you'll find at BEEx and plan your visit soon!



LIGHTFAIR International 2015

Farah Ahmad

Lightfair International, at the New York City Javits Center, was equipped with high-tech gear all around! Wirelessly connected lighting systems, energy analysis software, and LEDs stole the show. With two wide floors and over 500 exhibitors, one could easily spend hours in a labyrinth of lighting and design technologies. The convention included a learning center with seminars and six pavilions including: Building Integration, Daylighting, Design, Exterior & Roadway Lighting, Global Light + Design, and New Exhibitor. Integrated Design, the thread of the conference, linked together methodology, applications research, technology & tools, and inspiration.

Having worked on lighting myself, of course my fascination gravitated towards the various fixture designs. I saw a range of lighting controls- including dimming options and user-friendly interfaces to tune light intensity, color, etc. Pendant and sleek metallic stems seemed to be a popular fixture choice along the convention floor, suited for both residential and commercial applications. I could not help but notice that LEDs had taken over, by far, this year. Even wall washes (such as those from Amerlux) were LED! Industrial lighting also reclaimed aesthetic features- no longer the 'ugly' metallic eye-sores you normally see on city streets, but rather, tastefully designed components. I was also relieved to see that high bay lighting has been 'granted' aesthetic appeal- YES to slimmer profiles, please!

While there are too many manufacturers for me to cite, I will give you a few of my personal favorites below and within the photo gallery. Browse through, and feel free to shoot a comment below if you need more information on anything pictured.

OCL Architectural Lighting provides beautiful, sleek solutions. 'Dash' is an aluminum strip that can be hung or wall mounted (acting as either a pendant or sconce). 'Glowstick' is a similar aluminum fixture which comes in a cluster of light strips, or can be mounted as a single light source. Both are space efficient, have a high lighting efficacy (with Dash delivering upto 100 lumens/watt), and have a modern aesthetic versatility- it would look amazing in any space in the office or home. Bristolite's Daylighting Systems harness sunlight to flood in natural lighting. Their Energy Star skylights possess a simple design and their structural polycarbonate panels allow for high light transmission. Their products come in a variety of shapes and glazings, in order to suit your needs.

Are you a lighting enthusiast? Does your company engage in lighting design, specification, installation, etc? Catch Lightfair International on the West Coast next year, if you want to stay on top of the newest prototypes. Check out more information here.

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Scoring Greener Goals

Farah Ahmad

Hands down: the NYC FC vs. Seattle Sounders FC game, on Sunday, May 3rd at Yankee Stadium, was one of the top games of the season. Star studded sporting event! Several soccer celebrities, two amazing teams, and one iconic venue!

First, we have the newly debuted New York City Football Club (NYC FC) featuring Spain's highest goalscorer, the world renowned David Villa and United States Men's National Teams' (USMNT) Mix Diskerud. Competing against NYCFC were the 2014 Open Cup champions and arguably the best club of the MLS, Seattle Sounders Football Club (Sounders FC), the 2014, featuring a dynamic duo: Clint Dempsey, captain of the USMNT, and Obafemi Martins, a Nigerian footballer who has played for several international teams.

So I could probably write an entire essay about the game- scoring logistics, teamwork, well- coordinated plays, some terribly missed chances, etc etc etc. I'll dive into some stats soon. First, let me tell you about a couple of signs that flashed across the large screens in the stadium which REALLY caught my eye.

Well, it's certainly pleasing to see that 'green' really IS everywhere! Upon further research, I found out that Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States is taking strides to advocate for the environment. By launching it's educational campaign and encouraging sustianable behaviorial practies, MLS encourages it's fans to get involved. MLS partners with the Green Sports Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council. These organizations help instill greener stadium/office operations and greener sporting events.

Conclusion? It is wonderful to see a huge franchise like MLS, which makes millions of dollars, invest in a social cause that is beneficial for the public community as a whole. So while you're waiting for those passes to turn into a goal assist, take a look at the flashing screen and maybe you'll learn a thing or two.

A bit more about the game itself! NYC FC dominated the first half of the game, holding majority possession and staying on the offensive. However, Martins with his fast paced aggression and ability to take advantage of every opportunity, eluded NYC FC and managed to score one goal in the middle of the first half. Mehdi Ballouchy was voted as Man of the Match at the end of the game, scoring NYC FC's only goal, and tying the game during the second half. NYC FC's intensity did not carry through to the second round, as both Dempsey and Martins each managed a goal. Final score? 3-1, Sounders FC. I'm still cringing as NYC FC missed some fantastic opportunities to score in the second half. Villa nearly scored a goal, too. I don't know whether to attribute it to terrible luck or poor coordination.

I finally broke out my newest toy, the Canon EOS Rebel T5, and managed to capture some interesting shots from front row field seats! Here are a few of my personal favorite action shots.. click the photo below to see the entire gallery.


For more on soccer + sustainability, you can click here to check out my previous article, at Proud Green Home!

Earth Week 2015!

Farah Ahmad

Nothing quite like Earth Day to bring me back to my college days... back in 2012 when I helped organize the campus-wide Earth Day at The City College of New York on the upper west side, as a student leader for CCNY Green! 

I believe it was around this time I contrived the true meaning of Earth Day, at least for a personal point of view. There is a social and moral responsibility we all must share to take care of our planet! Earth Day: characterized by waves of activism- the time of year which recognizes the individual's actions in a chaotic global climate crisis. 

This year, I chose to commemorate Earth Day by attending the New York City Green Festival and visiting the Empire State Building. In the hopes of educating myself on my built environment, I set out to two sites. 

The New York City Green Festival was held at the LEED Certified Javits Center. It clearly pulls in different interests. I was definitely pleased to see a handful of renewable energy vendors, hear talks on climate change, and read about local projects implementing environmental initiatives. However, the festival gravitated more towards 'green living.' A variety of organic food products (gluten-free, all natural) were available to the delight of many tastebuds. 

I wanted to highlight several organizations who are doing amazing work for the environment! Click on their titles to learn more.

-Earth Day Initiative-  Earth Day New York is an education awareness, event planning, and advocacy collaboration with community groups, businesses, and government groups. Year-round programming stir up the "wake-up call" for environmental advocates.

-Cafeteria Culture- Zero-waste New York City cafeterias are the mission of this waste-reducing group that partners with NYC Department of Education! Say goodbye to polystyrene (plastic foam) waste.

-Hell's Kitchen Farm Project- What could be cooler than an urban rooftop farm that produces 400 pounds of food annually, donates it to a local food pantry, and promotes composting? You're going to have to visit the rooftop site to learn more! Volunteer and become a part of the movement!

-Sustainable Fashion!: Mujus is environmentally conscious of it's materials and fashions beautiful jewelry and accessories from organic, raw materials: mujus, or 'seeds'. EcoPlum selects sustainable products- organic, recycled, fair-trade, vegan, low-toxicity, you name it!- and rewards it's shoppers for supporting the environment. 

The Empire State Building (ESB) is one of the tallest LEED Certified skyscrapers in the world, and I felt it appropriate to finally pay a visit and cross it off my New York City bucket list. What better week to go than during that of Earth Day? I urge you to climb up, and check out their sustainability exhibit on the 2nd floor to learn about it's recent energy retrofit. Near the top, you'll come across an architectural and engineering exhibit too with accompanying historical timeline and photographs. Replacing windows, adding insulation, updating HVAC, creating better controls, and adding sensors... these are a few of the many upgrades the ESB has seen in recent years! The result? A whopping 38% in energy savings and over $4 million annual cost savings. Learn more here. In addition, I'll share a research presentation I've worked on regarding ESB Sustainability soon!