Tag Archives: architecture

What makes McMansions bad? The opposite of what makes other houses appealing

This piece, Worst of McMansions — McMansions 101: What Makes a McMansion Bad…, not only clearly explains why McMansions are so ugly, but it shows why other houses are appealing. A good primer for anyone interested in buildings and architecture, especially for someone looking to build a new home. I


Is facadism/urban taxidermy bad?

In this piece, Are we killing Yonge Street? from NOW Toronto Magazine, there is a good discussion on what is happening to development on Yonge Street in Toronto. NOW reports that for a lot of development happening on Yonge Street, the facades of the existing building are kept and much of the development is happening behind it. The article argues that this is a bad thing, and they raise some good points.

What I think they don’t touch on are some of the alternatives. Toronto is fortunate in that there is development ongoing. For poor cities, the alternative is boarded up or demolished buildings and vacant neighborhoods.  Instead, we have neighborhoods and buildings being improved. That’s good.

Another alternative is the old buildings being torn down and replaced with new storefronts and new buidlings. I think some of that is good, but I also think preservation of old buildings is also good.

When it comes to preservation and improvements of old buildings, I also think that some of them should be preserved outright. However, Toronto is a growing city, and in some cases, we need larger buildings. In that case, facadism is a good compromise.

Now whether or not facadism is effective or not depends on at least two things. The first is how well the new architecture uses the existing architecture. Done well, the marriage of the old and new building results in something that enhances the area and preserves the city while allowing it to grow.  The second thing that determines if facadism is effective is how the new building affects the neighborhood. Here, I think, is the root of the problem. It’s not so much facadism as it is gentrification. Old buildings get preserved, but old stores do not. New developments can cause rents to rise, driving out the stores and organizations that made the neighborhood great. You get bank branches and big chain stores replacing old bookshops and cafes.

I hope the next phase of development tries to understand how to preserve not just the existing architecture, but the neighborhood as well. I realize that is a difficult task, but it is one worth trying to accomplish.

Library porn: Prague’s Klementinum library

My Modern Met has some fantastic images of the Klementinum library for anyone (like myself) that gets excited about such things. Here’s a sample:

If you haven’t heard of it, here’s what that site has to say about this fantastic place:

Prague’s Klementinum library was opened in 1722 and has easily become one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Aside from housing over 20,000 novels for your reading pleasure, this location showcases absolutely stunning Baroque architecture. As you’re perusing various timeworn bookshelves, you can take a moment to look up and see Jan Hiebl’s heavenly, Renaissance-style ceiling paintings. Amongst his work, there are symbolic designs that represent the importance of education, along with fantastic portraits of Jesuit saints. Hiebl’s paintings actually pay homage to the fact that the library was originally a Jesuit university. Many of the school’s rare, 17th-century books are still amongst its collection today. That would explain why Emperor Joseph II’s portrait is displayed at the head of the hall, since he was the one who arranged for abolished monastic libraries to send their books to Klementinum.

Something beautiful: an Infinite Bridge in Denmark

This is a really beautiful bridge. It is relaxing to look at…it’s likely more so to walk upon.

For more images of it, see Infinite Bridge in Denmark – Fubiz Media

On the unnecessary preciousness of architecture

From this, New TD Centre signage reflects a time when brands trump architectural vision – The Globe and Mail, comes this:

Up against that, TD Centre still retains the purity of a temple. And you don’t put billboards on a temple, unless you want to anger the gods.

It’s worth reading that article to get a viewpoint of someone who thinks of architecture as something pure and museum-like.

To me, the owners of the TD buildings are doing reasonable things with a building that functions as a work environment. You can make the argument that the building should never vary from the original intent of the architect. You can also make a good if not better counter argument that the building should be able to adapt to changes over time, and that the building should allow for the people in it to make adaptions to suit them.

The author seems to be arguing that building should remain fixed and never change, never learn. If that seems like an odd idea — that building should learn — I recommend this book: How Buildings Learn, by Stewart Brand. You can get it here. Also, if you search for it on Google, you will see alot of material derived from it.


My assessment of the assessments of Healthcare.gov

From Paul Krugman (Obamacare Success – NYTimes.com) to Ezra Klein (Ezra Klein: Thus Far, Obamacare a ‘Big Failure’ | National Review Online) to the NYtimes (From the Start, Signs of Trouble at Health Portal – NYTimes.com) to Alex Howard at BuzzFeed (How The First Internet President Produced The Government’s Biggest, Highest-Stakes Internet Failure) there has been more and more assessments coming in for healthcare.gov, and most of them have been negative. How good are these assessments?

I would argue that at this point, the assessments of healthcare.gov are of limited value. For example, the NYTimes.com article has a good run down on the background of the project and the politics involved, but the analysis of the system is mostly based on insider and second hand information. The Buzzfeed article has a great analysis of the challenges of IT procurement in the U.S. government, but again, it doesn’t deal directly with the system itself in question. That doesn’t mean those stories are bad, for there is alot of interesting background information in them. But it doesn’t tell you much about the actual system that makes up healthcare.gov.

There have been some good attempts at an assessment from an IT perspective from the CTO of Huffington Post (Why The Experts Are Probably Wrong About The Healthcare.gov Crack-Up | John Pavley), Paul Smith over at TPM (A Programmer’s Perspective On Healthcare.gov And ACA Marketplaces), as well as from individual bloggers with IT knowledge (e.g., Too Big To Succeed and Is There A Problem Here?). Someone wanting a better idea of the technology and the design of the system would be better off reading those.

In all cases, the individuals doing these assessments have very little to work with. A proper assessment of an IT system can take a team weeks if not months with full access to the system and all the artifacts and deliverables that went into making the system. Most of the assessments I have read so far have been based on having little if any data and few if any artifacts. This isn’t a criticism of the assessors: it’s all they have to work with. (The only fault I see is with some assessors displaying slight arrogance in thinking they have nailed it in their assessment as to what is wrong with the system.)

Given the little to go with, the people who are assessing the system a success or a failure are basing it on a number of assumptions that they have which may or may not be true. I don’t see much value in those assumptions. For example, most of the assessments I have read so far seem to assume the system should be up and running with few problems, given the importance of this site and the money invested in it. (Klein in particular seems to be certain of how an IT project should go, which I find remarkable in someone with an non-IT background like his.) There is nothing wrong with that assumption, but that’s all it is. You may think it is a valid assumption, but that is besides the point.

At this point in time, the only ones that can assess if the project is a success or a failure are the key stakeholders for the project. If you are someone who could never get healthcare because of preexisting conditions and now, even with difficulty, you are able register for a get healthcare, you likely consider the site a success. Conversely, if you are an insurer who expected to get alot of applicants from the site and are getting none, you may consider the site a failure. Right now it is too early to weigh any of that: it will take time and further analysis.

The government seems to have a longer term view of the site than most of the analysts that I have seen so far.  As the NYTimes.com story says, “Administration officials have said there is plenty of time to resolve the problems before the mid-December deadline to sign up for coverage that begins Jan. 1 and the March 31 deadline for coverage that starts later”. There is actually some benefit in launching the site now, well in advance of the December deadline. Sites with deadlines often experience the most traffic around the time of the deadline, and I expect healthcare.gov will be no exception. They have two months to resolve performance issues, better model usage patterns, fix critical bugs in the software, enhance the infrastructure, and improve the integration with other systems. Two months is a short timeframe, but it is feasible that they can resolve many of the obvious problems that the site is suffering now. As well, the proponents of the site should have enough data and analysis of the data to argue the success of the site.

Regardless of how the site is perceived then, anyone doing these assessments should have alot more to work with. In the future, if you are reading future assessments of the sites, things to consider are:

  • how much information about the site is the writer using in the assessment? More is better. Skip the ones based solely on anecdotes, or that ignores key stakeholders.
  • what is the criteria the writer is using for determine whether or not the site is successful? Is that criteria a valid one? Comparing it to other government or large scale commercial IT project is a good criteria. Comparing it to the roll-out of the latest iPhone is a poor one.
  • is the writer assessing the IT aspects of the site? How much IT experience does the writer have? You don’t have to be an IT expert to write about IT, but if you are talking about IT, you should have a basis for why your analysis is valid. If you are saying the architecture is faulty, you should be able to represent the architecture diagrammatically and say the architecture is faulty at points A, B, and C and here are the reasons why.

I am excited to see people discussing IT architecture with general audiences. I have been building and assessing IT architectures for decades, and it is a topic dear to me. I also know it is hard to assess the validity of what people are saying about it. That’s why I decided to write this. I appreciate any constructive feedback, and I will try and answer any that I receive.

(The above Flow Chart: How Health Insurance Exchanges Work is a representation of a health insurance exchange. I’ve included it to represent the complexity of any IT system that has to provide this type of capability.)

The beauty of the (new) solar energy

When I think of solar energy, I don’t think of beauty. But seeing these  Solé Power Tiles, I am having second thoughts:

The blue tile makes me think of places like Santorini in Greece. A great improvement on the older black solar panels.

(Found via Inhabitat.)