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

Filtering by Category: Places

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!

Sky High... Prices?

Farah Ahmad

The Skyscraper's Museum exhibit SKY HIGH (& the logic of luxury) in New York City presents the recent proliferation of residential towers and their rise in Manhattan.

A Spring visit to Downtown New York's Skyscraper Museum left me with less hope for the city's chronic affordable housing dispute. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s future plan includes the preservation and construction of 200,000 affordable residential units, and an end to land distribution to ruthless developers who consume what little is left of New York City’s undeveloped space. SKY HIGH, the current exhibition running through mid-June, showcases the work of famed architects SHoP Architects, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Zaha Hadid Architects, Herzog and de Meuron, and Rafel Vinoly Architects amongst other esteemed companies.

How can we see the light of this vision through until the end of the tunnel, when gentrification rampantly roams our city streets? Gentrification has spurred a population migration, displacing those who can no longer afford already-high rents and implementing a wider social schism between the wealthy and poor. Moreover property values promote business competition and the ‘fame’ greedy developers and architects chase after, to build the city’s next admired marvel.

SKY HIGH is perhaps a prime example of the developers’ soaring ambitions to dominate the cityscape, a documentation of the recent propagation of super-slim towers. Featured in the exhibit are such projects as the Hudson Yards development, three of the 57th street towers- 432 Park Avenue, One57, and 111 West 57th Street- 56 Leonard tower of downtown Manhattan, and the Four Seasons at 30 Park Place. These modern super-slender structures seem to spiral seamlessly towards the sky, achieving 90+ stories of steel

            These towers may provide the glitz and glamour of luxurious living, undoubtedly with pretty panoramic views and a perch of privacy looking out to the glorious city. But with prices as high as $95 million for these ‘sky-rise penthouses’ wouldn’t you expect more than the issues that will undoubtedly rise for most of New York City’s denizens? Cost figures that we cannot attain in a lifetime of work… these resources are drained upon private spaces when nearly half of New York City’s populations spends over 30% of its income on its housing? What sort of lifestyle is New York City advocating by accepting such commissions on the territory of ‘opportunity for all’?

            The exhibit presents the most ‘famous’ of projects as revered objects of allure and appeal but fails to capture the history or preservation efforts of these sites. Indisputably tourists will appreciate the ‘ever-changing’ city with its attraction of the world’s most esteemed builders. What one may perceive SKY HIGH as the skillful engineering of such tall feats and the clever maneuvering around air-rights and other zoning regulations, I would call a deceitful manipulation of HUMAN rights and a game by real estate tycoons to scramble furiously to the ‘top’.

As a song lyric states, “You’ll never fly, if you’re too scared of the heights.”

Yes, I am afraid of the social consequences of New York City’s towering tremor. As a resident of New York City in this case, however, I would prefer to keep my feet firmly grounded to the real solutions of New York City’s housing crisis.

For more information on New York City, read the below sources:

Click image below to scroll through gallery, photo credit: Moammar Sanchez.