Energy-Efficient Design

Why Aren’t There More Energy-Efficient Buildings?

CityLab, Oct. 22, 2015

For the fifth year running, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has crunched the numbers on its national sustainability challenge, the AIA 2030 Commitment. Architects who sign up pledge to strive to meet an ambitious energy-efficiency target in their designs—a 60 percent reduction in predicted energy-use intensity (pEUI, or the amount of energy they expect their buildings to use) from baseline levels. A report on the program issued Thursday shows mixed results.

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Un/Fair Use Review

The Unexpected History Behind “Un/Fair Use”

An exhibit at the Center for Architecture in New York explores the tricky question of copyright in architecture.

Architect, October 2015

Is the design of a finished building protected under copyright law? Before 1990, the answer was no. If you were an architect and someone copied your drawings, you could sue for copyright infringement, because the drawings were protected as your graphic works. But if someone built an exact replica of one of your buildings, too bad—three-dimensional works of architecture weren’t covered. You could only sigh and resign yourself to being ripped off.

This gap in the law was exposed to glaring effect in 1988, with a case in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, Demetriades v. Kaufmann. Cheryl and Nicholas Kaufmann, a couple in Scarsdale, N.Y., admired a large, many-gabled house being built in their neighborhood by Demetriades Developers. The Kaufmanns took photos of the house when it was under construction, were able to get copies of the plans, and asked their contractor to build them the same house. The court found that graphic copying had taken place (the Kaufmanns never denied their intent to replicate the Demetriades design), and ordered that the copied drawings be destroyed. But the house itself was untouchable. It didn’t infringe on any laws. The Kaufmanns had new plans drawn up and finished building it.

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Cities and Child Care

How Cities and Counties Are Taking the Lead on Child Care

CityLab, May 19, 2015

America is waking up to child care as a major political issue. Back in January, President Obama discussed it at length for the first time in his State of the Union address. “In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever,” the president said, as parents around the country cheered (or shouted “Finally!” in exasperation).

Our child-care problem is really a cluster of them. First, there is the cost. On average, according to a 2014 report by Child Care Aware, parents of an infant in Massachusetts spend a shocking $16,549 per year for child care—that’s 53 percent more than public-college tuition. And Massachusetts is not an outlier: In his speech, Obama talked about a Minnesota family who spend more on child care than on their mortgage, which is not that uncommon.

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Free-Range Kids & the Law

The Murky Law on Free-Range Kids

CityLab, April 17, 2015

On April 12, it happened again: Rafi and Dvora Meitiv, the “free-range kids” of Silver Spring, Maryland, were picked up and detained by police. The siblings, aged 10 and six, were playing unsupervised in their neighborhood when a man walking his dog spotted them and called the authorities.

Back in December, Rafi and Dvora made national headlines when police picked them up as they walked home from a local park. The children’s parents, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, subscribe to the philosophy of “free-range” parenting, which holds that children develop self-reliance by exploring their neighborhoods or riding public transportation on their own, if their parents judge them ready.

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Germany’s Car-Sharing Paradise

How Bremen, Germany, Became a Car-Sharing Paradise

CityLab, Dec. 11, 2014

Bremen, in Northwestern Germany, could not be described as car-dependent in the North American sense of the term. In this city of 550,000, most daily journeys happen on mass transit (14 percent of all trips), on foot (20 percent), or by bike (25 percent).

But that still leaves 40 percent or so of Bremenites’ mobility to driving, and officials believe the city simply has too many cars. Beyond concerns about emissions and air quality, there’s also the nuisance factor, explains Michael Glotz-Richter, the city’s senior project manager for sustainable mobility.

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Photograph by jorivso/