30 May 2014

Radical Punk Architect Strikes Fear in Heart of Peaceful Raleigh

At least that's what seemed to be going on at first glance, when I learned about an architect's design for his own residence in this lovely city.

Then I came across this piece by Paul Goldberger.

Mr. Goldberger, Pulitzer-price winner and noted architectural critic – ex-NYT, among other publications, now Vanity Fair – offers a cool-headed view of the debate: about an unassuming ground-up construction by respected modernist architect Louis Cherry, far from being radical or even polarising, but obviously still pissing off a neighbour (and fellow real estate agent; how embarrassing).

The plat de résistance:

Photo ©Louis Cherry

And – did you drop your ipad in the loo because of this flag-burning acid punk outcast design?

I didn't think so. Me neither.

Looks rather civil, or to quote Goldberger "modernism on its best behavior". (Judging from his published portfolio, I'd be elated to own a Cherry one day).

But it is obviously still radical enough to have neighbor Gail Wiesner object to the house after the design was approved by the Raleigh Historic Development Commission and the building permit was issued.

After the permit was issued and construction began, not before.

Luckily, so far Mrs. Wiesner did not succeed in getting the house razed. Though at some point she was able to temporarily stop all construction, while piling up substantial legal fees for the owners who have to defend a permit they legally obtained. Where are we here?

Shame on the city for even contemplating to retract an existing permit for a conforming construction well under way, but even more shame on Gail Wiesner and her petty little ways.

So let's hope the Cherrys will be able to finish and enjoy their home.

As for Mrs. Wiesner – with such an eyesore opposite her house, perhaps she feels like moving far away? Probably an ideal solution.

A detailed time-line of events can be found on the website of NC Modernist Houses, as well as a link to the Legal Defense Fund for the Cherrys, if you are inclined to help.  – Hat-tip to Leilani for the story.

16 May 2014

(OT) Consumers' Duty to Choose

Information and Choice are at the core of my post today:

Three disputable cases of corporate decision-making were the catalyst to make me reflect about my position in a modern consumer world, and how far my convictions may propel me.

Case 1: LG’s and Samsung’s new US headquarters

Both Korean electronics firms are currently planning new US headquarters, LG in Englewood, NJ, Samsung in San Jose, CA. In a recent piece “An Energizer Versus an Eyesore”, NYT’s architectural writer Michael Kimmelman examines both projects and minces no words: “Samsung comes across as a good citizen here; LG as a lousy neighbor.”

Kimmelman explains how LG pulled various strings and the “new jobs”-card to override local zoning laws and protective ordinances to build 110 feet higher (!) than allowed next to the protected Pacific Palisades in Englewood, NJ, a designated National Natural Landmark. Protests from every corner didn’t faze LG, which refused to build lower and wider.

Kimmelman: “The project in San Jose is thoughtful. LG’s is a public shame.”

Case 2: General Motors and that Pesky Ignition Switch

If you have looking at a newspaper – any newspaper – since January, you may have read that GM, being aware of installing faulty and dangerous ignition switches in over 2.6 million vehicles since 2001, has reluctantly acknowledged that there is a tiny lil' problem with them pesky switches.

As in: they may completely shut the vehicle off while driving, including airbags. Or they may keep the engine running after you turned it off. Or possibly anything in between.

GM’s approach to the problem was classic Customer Service 101: Don’t talk about it, maybe it’ll go away. Or script #2: It wasn’t us.

After hesitantly recognising at least 13 deaths caused by those darn switches without being able to blame the drivers – who are not supposed to have anything but a single car key on the key ring, lest they assume responsibility for wrapping themselves around the next lamp post – GM under its new chief Mary Barra came up with a brilliant thought:

Let’s just state our dogs ate all of our homework. If that fails, let’s claim we’re immune from any lawsuits for the years we were under the bankruptcy umbrella. That may get us out of the pickle. - Or similar. But you get the idea. – More here

Case 3: Publix Supermarkets and the Tomato Pickers

Florida supplies almost all of the nation’s winter tomatoes. The pickers’ conditions have been anything but comfy, from carrying buckets holding 32 pounds of fruit to lack of shade on the fields to failure to pay for all work time.

But a group of intrepid tomato pickers, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, has successfully enlisted major tomato buyers, which in turn pressured growers responsible for 90 percent of Florida’s tomatoes to increase wages for their 30,000 workers and follow strict standards that mandate rest breaks and forbid sexual harassment and verbal abuse.

The participants in the “Fair Food Program” — including Burger King, Chipotle, Subway, Taco Bell and its parent Yum Brands, Trader Joe’s, Walmart and Whole Foods — have pledged to buy only from growers who follow the new standards, and to pay an extra penny a pound which goes to the pickers. The companies also pledged to drop any suppliers that violate the standards.

But the supporters don't include the giant Publix chain of supermarkets. The company refused to join the Fair Food Program despite its weighty position as the eighth-largest food retailer, stating it already buys only from responsible growers. – More here.

What to do?

Three cases of (for me) objectionable corporate policy, three questions of consumer choices.

If I disagree with one or all of the corporate decisions above, will that influence my consumer behaviour?

And if so, how much will I let inconvenience get in the way of my righteousness? Do I avoid shopping at Publix, sell my LG phone and eliminate GM cars from my short-list?

As a single consumer, I have no voice in the decision or conduct of corporate giants. By the same logic, my single vote won’t make or break an election either. And yet I vote.

So my conclusion is that I will do as much as I can:

Share my questions and opinion with as many friends and readers as possible, delete GM vehicles from my list, replace my LG phone, and avoid Publix – especially their tomatoes – whenever possible.

What about you? How far would you go to exercise your right of choice?


Update 3 July 14: sold my LG phone and bought a Sony. No GM in the garage, and Winn-Dixie tomatoes have a really nice flavour to them.

02 May 2014

Construction Adventures

This series – written in retrospect, not in real time – follows the ground-up construction of a 4,000+ sf modern waterfront home.

A short time ago, new clients - husband and wife – contacted me to find a modern home for them. The criteria were: minimum three bedrooms, two baths, between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, deepwater (local speak for "ocean access without fixed bridges"), pool and garden for two large dogs, all under $2.5m.

The buyers would be in town in a few days – could we please meet? Which of course we did.

The couple had very clear and concise ideas about the property and the style they were looking for: ideal from a real estate agent's perspective. Within seven days of our initial contact, we conducted the first six viewings.

But it quickly became clear that we would have to also consider ground-up construction. The clients being on travel again, I took video clips of areas I recommended to include in our search for vacant lots and tear-downs.

One of the waterfront lots the clients were considering

Upon their return, I also introduced them to several long-term rentals where they could stay during the construction period, which I anticipated to be at least 14 to 18 months from programming – the architect’s brief on the builders' criteria – to move-in.

Five weeks after our first contact, I met with the clients again. We looked at several larger rentals and as well as waterfront lots – including the rental they were going to live for next two or three years, and also the very lot they would have under contract only five days later.

To be continued.