Reflections for Future Hales Fund Trips

August 26th, 2009

Reflections for subsequent Hales Fund trips: what was good, what could be better

1) Group size: For a self-directed group, six people should be the maximum. It allowed us to have real conversations with our contacts rather than meetings, and also meant that we could all travel in one minivan. Groups around this size also allowed for diversity of opinions, disciplinary approaches and areas of interest and expertise. (Note from China group: 3 was not too few.)

2) Scheduling: Unstructured time is good for processing what the group is learning. Travel can also be physically exhausting, so don’t overschedule. For example: We arrived in Reykjavik at 6:30 am on Tuesday, dropped our luggage at the guesthouse, located breakfast, visited the national museum, met up with Wooster folks, took a dip in one of the geothermal pools, and then had a lengthy and intense dinner conversation with one of our contacts (who delayed going on vacation to meet with us) – then finally went to sleep and awoke for an 8:00 am breakfast meeting with our next contact. From that meeting – for which, to our regret, we allotted too little time – we went on to tour a geothermal plant, go on a three-hour hike, and drive several hundred kilometers to our next destination. We crammed a lot in because of our limited time in Iceland, but we do not recommend setting this pace for very long! (Note from China group: our experience was similar, but overscheduling may be inevitable if you’re trying to maximize your time!)

3) Plans: Be flexible and have some ideas for backup plans. One of our Iceland contacts canceled on us, but we were able to put the day to even better use. (Note from China group: This can be hard to achieve, but being prepared to cope with schedule changes is an important mental characteristic.)

4) Group process: Everyone contributed to the planning by pursuing their individual interests in finding background reading, contacts, and suggesting sites to visit. Then by sharing that information in regular meetings, we were able to refine our plans by consensus. This process continued as members took it upon themselves to become resources for the group. For example, members worked on diverse areas of interest such as Danish or Icelandic language, the Icelandic and Danish culture, the Icelandic sagas, environmental science, and travel logistics. Owing to the environmental impact of hydroelectric and geothermal power, it would have been helpful to have a greater background in the flora, fauna and geology of Iceland. (From China group: yes, each person should find a way to utilize their own interests and connections. This makes for a better trip that is more than a tourist experience, and makes it more likely that the trip can have lasting impact.)

5) Focus: Try to focus your interests as early as possible during the year, preferably before booking air travel. We thought that our focus in Iceland would be deforestation, the issue discussed by Jared Diamond. However, after booking the trip we learned that there is now tremendous controversy in Iceland over the construction of huge hydroelectric plants that have destroyed or will destroy precious natural areas. The more we learned about this, the more we wanted to spend time there to investigate further, but our travel arrangements couldn’t be changed.

5) Blogging: We had some problems due to lack of Internet access, and to how complicated we found it to blog from multiple computers and to use Flickr and YouTube. (We are wondering whether it wouldn’t be just as simple to post everything on Woodle.) But if the blog continues to be the communication mode of choice, we have a few suggestions:

* Perhaps IT could investigate what is the best technology to use. We had talked about a satellite link, but there wasn’t enough lead time to arrange it. Other alternatives are updating the blog from a BlackBerry or iPhone. (Bill’s wife was following another blog updated with those, and says that they were frequently and easily updated.)

* The group as a whole should get more comprehensive instruction in creating and using the blog.

* Everyone in the group should have a laptop and be registered as an administrator for the blog.

* IT should do a dry run with the group to make sure all plug-ins work the way they are supposed to.

Follow-up suggestion: investigate alternatives to blogging, such as twitter. It would also be useful to have some guidance about the content for a good blog entry.

6) Equipment: We did not use the video flip cams. We were able to take brief videos with our own digital cameras and that was sufficient. If producing a video is part the intended focus of the group, then the proper equipment, instruction in its use and in editing should be done well in advance. Producing even a short video will significantly alter the group’s activities and will be time intensive.

7) Handling money:

* Have the group’s “treasurer” get a CapitolOne credit card – the only card that doesn’t charge up to a 3% foreign transaction fee. Otherwise you risk attack from a large band of Vikings. (“What’s in your wallet?”)

* Have a backup credit card just in case.

* Everyone should inform their credit card companies in advance of their travel destinations, to avoid blocks on their accounts.

* Set up a PIN for any credit card you intend to use. This was generally required at self-service machines (gas pumps, train tickets, grocers, etc.). Some locations required a special security chip which our US cards apparently do not have.

* The group should also have at least two ATM cards to be sure that cash is accessible if the credit cards don’t work. Check carefully – some of these have foreign transaction fees as well.

(Note from China group: money issues will differ in different parts of the world. If you anticipate using ATMs, make sure you know your PIN number and not just by the spatial arrangement of the numbers, which may change! We like the idea of having one person be primarily responsible for the financial arrangements, if someone is willing to take that on, to make the procedure for reimbursements work more clearly.)

Iceland, Denmark, and… Akron!

August 16th, 2009

Joan:  After visiting European sites using sustainable energy, we were eager to see an example of something in the US, so we took a local excursion and had a guided tour of the new Summit County Metro Transit Center in Akron. The center opened this past January and uses both solar and geothermal energy. It’s a very impressive structure that is expected to receive LEED Gold certification.Dale.Akron1

The roof holds 435 photovoltaic solar cells, which generate nearly 40% of the building’s energy needs.Dale.Akron4

Twenty-five wells drilled to a depth of just over 300 feet bring up ground water, heated naturally to a temperature of 62 degrees, into a heat exchanger that heats air which is then pumped through the building. Thus during cold weather only a small amount of additional heating is needed; during hot weather, no additional cooling is needed. Sensors in the building optimize the system’s energy use. The initial construction was somewhat more expensive than an old-style bus station, but they will recoup the costs in about 10 years because operating costs are significantly lower.

Metro planners thought carefully about conserving resources and protecting the environment:

· They used recycled concrete for the building’s base.

· They recycled about 75% of their construction waste.

· The roof captures rainwater, which is then used for watering the landscaping and flushing toilets.Dale.Akron3 Dale.Akron2

· They installed waterless urinals, saving 40,000 gallons/year.

· In a few locations they installed test slabs of permeable concrete, which allows water to filter through into the ground. Permeable concrete prevents runoffs which overload drains and send untreated water into sensitive waterways (in Akron, the still-recovering Cuyahoga River); it also prevents depletion of aquifers. However, Metro planners need to be know how it behaves under winter conditions before using it on a large scale.

The Transit Center currently serves both the county bus system and Greyhound, and was located by the old rail line to allow for integrated mass transportation. We learned, however, that if Ohio gets its proposed Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati rail link, it will most likely run through Mansfield rather than Akron, because the track is in better shape on that route.

Land based wind turbines on Samso

August 4th, 2009


Dale and I rode our bikes around the largest land-based wind turbine installation early one morning.  It was quite windy, and the noise of the turbines was difficult to distinguish from the wind itself.  One of the aesthetic problems associated with the land-based turbines is the strobe-like shadow they cast.  In the following video, Dale pans from a pig-raising facility, which was abandoned after the closing of the island’s slaughterhouse, to the nearby turbine installation.  In the video, you can see the shadow of the turbines on the trees.  Turbines are placed to avoid casting such shadows on residential buildings.  Each of the turbines in this video is located on a separate farm, and is owned by an individual farmer.  Other turbines are owned by groups of individuals.

Dale’s reflections on light and space in Iceland

July 21st, 2009

Reflections on space and light in Iceland:

Iceland’s landscape strikes me as a kind of inspiration for organic minimalism. The space where the land meets the sea, and sea meets the sky forms a double horizon line. The textures of the lava fields, volcanic rocks, and glacial gravel do not create the kind of places you’d want to spread out your blanket for a picnic.

The houses squat low on the landscape, hunkering down in the thin veneer of volcanic soil, much like the early Viking long houses. These old shelters were almost, subterranean, built of turf because construction materials were scarce and winters were fierce. Many of the today’s farms are white, contrasting with the green valleys and dark basaltic cliffs.  In the cities, buildings are often painted bright yellows, oranges and blues, as if in defiance of the short sunless days of winter but also in celebration of the long days of the artic summer.

Galvanized steel forms a corrugated exoskeleton on many of the buildings.

The light of summer is long and clean.  What’s most striking is the twilight that extends well past midnight, in a slow pastel waltz from orange, to pink, to purple.

Iceland’s sparseness fills the eye.

Bill’s biking reflections

July 21st, 2009

Biking in Iceland & Denmark

* While bicycle riders were relatively common in Reykjavik, I was surprised by their relatively free style. Riders generally seemed to prefer riding on the sidewalk, but then would jump out onto the street when pedestrians blocked their way. It made for an interesting (and slightly dangerous) mix as bikers weaved their way through foot and auto traffic (all without helmets).

* Outside of the capital city of Iceland, the casual bike rider of the city was replaced by more serious road bike warriors. Piled high with camping gear and supplies, teams of these two wheel Winnebagos were interspersed along the vast stretches of the Ring Road (Route 1), the mostly two lane highway that circumscribes the country. In the parking lots of state parks and roadside shops, we had a chance to marvel at the ingenuity and care in packing ones belongings for the week.

* Copenhagen certainly lived up to its reputation as one of the friendliest bike cities in Europe. The main boulevards were lined with bike lanes that had their own special traffic lights! At most times, the number of people on bike equaled or exceeded those in cars. IMG_0269 Bikes at station Bikes at station

Interestingly, the same maladaptive behaviors encountered with car drivers were observed by bicycle riders. This included riders merrily chatting on their cell phone or listening to their iPod nano, which they held in one hand, while steering with the other (again all without helmets).

* In the leisurely resort towns of Samso, bikes again abounded on the small, two-lane country roads that winded between towns. Here we were finally able to rent our own bikes to explore the country side and small towns of the island. DSC00632 DSC00640 2009-07-23 040 2009-07-23 032 2009-07-23 030 IMG_0318 100_1151

Coffee with Søren Hermansen 7.20.09

July 21st, 2009


Why are green projects more successful in some areas and not in others?

One of the highlights of our visit to Samsø was a half-hour conversation with the passionate and captivating leader Søren Hermansen and his equally passionate partner, photographer Meline Lundén.  Energy meeting They pointed out that on Samsø they took a holistic approach that he described as an “energy democracy.” Firstly, Denmark is not a producer of fossil fuel based energy (like the U.S. and GB), which means that no-one is lobbying the government and they did not have to overcome inertia created by existing energy interests. As far back as the 1970s, the Danish government has been supporting alternative energy by supporting research in sustainable energy use. They, like many other Northern European countries, are also used to high taxes on gasoline to discourage overconsumption. By energy democracy he meant the participation of all constituents in shaping a shared vision of an economically and environmentally sustainable society. In this way, citizens have a moral and economic stake in the project and take ownership of the island. The Samsø project had an effective leadership team consisting of the charismatic, warm, dynamic Søren Hermanson and the technical brain Age … Søren and Meline … described their way of relating to the citizens as “embracing our community,” with which they emphasized the importance of knowing their neighbors and building on their strengths. Søren characterized the U.S. as a nation with a great sense of humor, but as way behind the curve in renewable energy research and production despite its leadership. For example, the carpenter Michael, who often upgrades homes to make them more energy efficient, talked about how inefficient he found American building methods on a recent visit to Akron, and this despite all the available know-how and the wealth of materials. (And the American carpenters knew that it was inefficient, which is even sadder.) When Søren visited Greensburg, KS, the town that got nearly destroyed in a tornado and decided to rebuild as a green community, he suggested to them that they build a communal district heating and cooling plant. He ran into huge resistance and found the citizens horrified of such a “socialist” (our phrase) endeavor. This is interesting considering that in America, there are many existing forms of cooperative arrangements, e.g. in the agricultural sector, but Americans seem to have an almost instinctive resistance/fear of the IDEA of cooperative activities. This is a good example of a point Jan made during his lecture about the importance of the deep local knowledge of the culture where projects are initiated – and of Søren’s point about “embracing the community.”

Visit to Samso Energy Academy 7.20.09

July 21st, 2009

Tom (7.20.09)


After a very hearty breakfast at the Sommer Pension, we rode our bikes a short distance to the Energiakademi of Samso, where we met Jan Jantzen, the Education Director of the academy.  academy sign Jan woo shirt [Jan with Wooster swag] Jan greeted us outside, and explained that the Academy’s main building was designed on the model of a Viking long hall – i.e., one long, open room.  energy academy exterior DSC00648 The south-facing roof of the building is clad in photovoltaic solar panels, which provide much of the electricity used by the 6 full-time employees of the Academy.  A short, but safe, distance from the main building is a hydrogen plant, which separates water into oxygen and hydrogen molecules, which are stored in hydrogen fuel cells.  he Academy plans on building 4 additional “guest houses” that will allow the many visitors to the Academy to stay on the grounds.

Once inside, Jan explained the background behind Samso’s attempt to become a “carbon neutral” island.  In the late 1990s the Danish government sponsored a contest, in which islands could submit plans for becoming self-sufficient in regard to energy consumption.  A local farmer brought this contest to the attention of the citizens of Samso, and the effort was spearheaded by two individuals – Soren Hermanson and Age Johnsen .   Through a series of public meetings, and the help of a consulting firm Plant Energy, the 4000+ citizens of Samso developed a 10-year plan to produce 100% of the island’s energy from renewable sources – wind, solar, and biomass power.   Samso won the contest, began implementing the project in 1997, and by 2005 had reached its goal of energy self-sufficiency.  Currently the island uses renewable sources to produce 140% of the energy used.   According to Danish law, any surplus energy produced by alternative energy sources must be purchased by the national energy company at the current rate charged to consumers, making this experiment in energy self-sufficiency a highly profitable endeavor.

The most noticeable feature of Samso’s energy system is the 11 wind turbines that are spread across the island in groups of 5, 3, and 3. IMG_0282 Land turbines.Samso Each of these massive, slow-spinning turbines produces 1 megawatt of electricity.  Less noticeable than the wind turbines are the 4 district heat plants that are scattered over the island. DSC00645 IMG_0294 DSC00626 These heat plants use either straw or wood chips to heat water that is distributed to large groups of households, providing both heat and hot water.  Some of the heat plants are supplemented by arrays of solar panels that heat water during the summer months, IMG_0295 and each of the plants is backed up by an oil furnace in case the combination of biomass and solar power is insufficient during particular periods.

While the Samso energy experiment has been successful, the one “sore thumb” in the process was the failure to get the citizens of Samso to switch from traditional automobiles to electric cars.  Once it became apparent that the project’s plan to transform the transportation sector was a failure, the citizens decided to build 10 offshore wind turbines off the southwest side of the island.    Each of these turbines produces 2.3 megawatts of electricity, which more than compensates for the non-renewable energy consumed by the gasoline and diesel engines of the many cars and trucks on the island.    This offshore “wind farm” is the first thing one sees from the ferry from Kalundborg, on the mainland, to the island’s ferry port at Kolby Kas. Off-shore turbines. Samso

In his morning presentation, Jan took great pains to dispel the media image of the Sams energy project as an idealistic, almost religious, movement.  He emphasized that the overwhelming support of the citizens of Samso was based on a combination of environmental and economic motivations.  Just prior to the Danish energy contest, Samso lost one of its primary employers, a slaughterhouse that employed over 100 people.  The designers of the energy project presented it to the citizens as a form of economic development that could help keep residents of Samso on the island.   The project designers worked hard to get local trades people involved in the project, training them to install highly efficient windows and doors in the older houses of the island, as well as geo-thermal heat pumps and solar panels on houses that were not part of the heating districts.

Jan also emphasized that the success of the project was largely attributable to the flexible approach taken in regard to funding the various forms of renewable energy production.  Some of the land-based turbines are owned by individuals, while others are owned by private investors and investment groups.  One of the land turbines is owned by the 1000+ individuals who bought stock in the turbine.  The offshore turbines are also owned by an array of investors.  The municipality of Samso invested in 5 of these offshore turbines, which now generate not just electricity, but a source of income that can be used for the benefit of all the island’s inhabitants.

Our visit to Samso is a particularly appropriate bookend to our field trip.  The bottom-up approach to energy development taken on Samso stands in stark contrast to the experience of Iceland, where the top-down approach to hydroelectric plans has generated an organized environmental resistance movement.

Joan’s synagogue visit — Copenhagen

July 20th, 2009

Joan:  I left the group on Saturday morning and went to the city’s only synagogue, built in 1833.  As in most European synagogues these days, there was a security guard at the street entrance who questioned me politely but insistently and also searched my bag, to make sure that I was really there to attend the service and not blow it up.  I generally avoid Orthodox synagogues because of the separate seating for women, but this was a rare and very moving opportunity to worship with one of the few Jewish communities on the continent whose liturgical traditions now are the same as they were before the Holocaust.  Although there are a lot of newcomers to the community from eastern Europe and Israel, there are still substantial numbers whose families lived in Denmark before the war, since almost all of the 6500 Danish Jews were saved by the Danish underground and the population as a whole.  The Danes were tipped off by someone within the Nazi hierarchy that a mass deportation was planned for early October 1943.  In the space of a few nights the Jews were secretly transported to coastal villages and smuggled across to Sweden in fishing boats.  The Danes also preserved the synagogue from destruction and kept all of its Torah scrolls and ritual objects safe.

Green Architecture Exhibit 7.18.09

July 20th, 2009

Green Architecture for the Future: Melissa

Upon recommendation from Martha Lewis, the gang headed north to see a special exhibit on “green architecture” at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.  It was fortuitous for us that this exhibit was on display when we were visiting!  Unlike many of the world’s renowned art museums, Louisiana is not located in an urban setting, but in a quaint town (Humlebaek) 35 km north of Copenhagen.  We even stopped to pick some wild red raspberries on the walk from the train station to the museum.Berry picking Berries in hand DS

The green architecture exhibit was divided into three themes: “the city”, “climate/energy”, and “metabolism”.  In “the city” section, the idea of compact, dense city centers was emphasized as the most sustainable way for cities to grow.  Interestingly, this was the layout of many medieval towns.  Projects proposed included CO2 and garbage-free cities.  The only U.S. city profiled in this section was Philadelphia where urban voids are being filled with ecological corridors to provide residents with greener ways to come together.

Comfort is a main concern when utilizing sustainable architecture.  Thus, the “climate/energy” portion emphasized the green architects’ uses of cues from the human senses to create the perfect balance of comfort with efficient energy conditions.  In addition, special climate and energy conditions inspire architects to design site-specific buildings that adapt to the actual surroundings.  Incidentally, the RiverPark Development in Pittsburgh was the (only) U.S. example of a site-specific climatic design.   This design featured buildings staggered in a manner that will incorporate buffers from blustery winds, while allowing ample sunlight to penetrate at ground level.
The final section, “metabolism,” described the use of material and new design parameters in sustainable architecture.  “Cradle-to-Cradle” is a philosophy that mimics nature in which the concept of waste does not exist. Similarly, designers are working to create products in which nothing goes to waste. In the same vein, architects are starting to question whether when designing a structure, does it have to last forever?  Or “should the building only stand for 25 years and then automatically be broken down into fish feed, or should the building be programmed to change its function for the generations of the future?” (R&Sie laboratory architects)  The museum featured a prototype of such a limited time-span, biodegradable structure that was constructed of a biopolymer (no petrochemicals).  The biopolymer will degrade over time with addition of water to become fish food.  In six months, half of the prototype will be degraded.


Dale’s comment on the Green Architecture for the Future Exhibit 7/18:  The exhibit sits at an interesting spatial intersection. Its not located in a large city or housed in a museum of science or industry. The exhibit, is however, is in a small town, on the coast, in a park, facing the sea, where wind, sun, sky, land and water meet. The exhibits of contemporary artists within the museum are opposite floor-to-ceiling glass walls, which also face out into the park.  One is aware of both artistic inspiration and natural harmony

Additionally, only the environmentally sensitive art exhibits are air-conditioned. As a result, outside air drifts through the galleries.

The Green Architecture exhibit itself merges with the galleries, further blurring the boundaries between art, science, architecture and environmentalism.   It is a subtle but effective way for us to think, not in terms of compartmentalizing these perspectives, but intuitively understanding them through their spatial relationships, and as multiple, interrelated ways we might relate to our world.

Copenhagen, Day 1 – meeting with Martha Lewis 7.17.09

July 18th, 2009

(Joan):  Believe it or not, we are once again having internet connection problems.  The internet connection in our apartment is broken, so we´re sitting in a public internet linkup in the main railroad station, and the guy right next to me is smoking like a chimney, so I may have to cut this short.  We arrived in Copenhagen, where there are already a noticeable number of advertisements in the airport for products and services claiming to be eco-friendly, all linking thmselves to the upcoming climate summit here.  There is certainly a great deal more environmental consciousness here than in Iceland.  The tourist guides prominently feature organic restaurants, eco-friendly shopping, and more.

Our first meeting on arrival was with Martha Lewis, whose father Arn is an emeritus Wooster faculty member in art history.  Martha is an architect and works for a firm here that specializes in environmentally sensitive architecture.  We met her at her office, where she had prepared for us a detailed presentation about a huge project the firm is working on in Hamburg.  DSC00590 DSC00589 We learned a tremendous amount in a very short time about the kinds of considerations that go into designing and building this sort of structure.  Among other things, Martha had reservations about US LEED certification, which is granted to a building based on adherence to a checklist of criteria in construction, but which does not require any sort of assessment to see if the completed structure meets its planned specifications.  The German standard is far stricter; a building receives provisional certification as environmentally friendly on the basis of its design, but then there has to be an inspection after a certain period to make sure that it is actually as energy-friendly as claimed.  [Addendum 24.7.09:  Amyaz Moledina from Economics just sent us a link to a press release from the US Green Building Council, saying that LEED certification will now include post-construction evaluation. Thanks, Amyaz!]

She also explained to us that the certification process involves five separate categories, of which energy efficiency is only one.  The others are:  type of materials used; human health and comfort; low maintenance and operation costs; and public access to the facility.  A project can choose to go for certification in some or all of the categories.  She also told us that in the architectural world there has been a revolution in thinking just within the last two years with regard to environmentally sensitive building.  Firms and clients are taking it much more seriously, and there have been numerous advances in concepts and designs.  She recommended that we see a special exhibit at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art on eco-friendly architecture; we’ll report on that in our next post.

We were exhausted after our strenuous hiking, long drive back from Skaftafells, and only three hours of sleep before getting up to catch our flight, so after our wonderful meeting with Martha we had a relaxed evening walking around Copenhagen.   Melissa would like to say that while Reykjavik is a cat city, Copenhagen appears to be a dog city.  Dogs are even allowed on trains.  And I would like to note my particular delight at finding that the Pilsner Urquell served here is the real Czech beer, not the watered-down swill they export to the US.

Mareike 7.17.09
Mareike (7.19.2009)
It was a perfect confluence of personal and professional interests for our group to meet Martha Lewis, architect with Henning Larsen firm in Copenhagen, and daughter of professors emeritus, Arn and Beth Irwin Lewis. Martha explained that about 30-35% of total global emissions come from buildings (from heating, cooling, and lighting), which makes the design and the building of green buildings highly relevant to attaining the goal of a sustainable environment. One of her office’s contracts has been to design the new Spiegel headquarters in Hamburg, Germany. It was fascinating to hear her talk about how the client was swayed to aim for the highest certification level (on a 5-star system) they could afford.
I am interested in what makes a company like the Spiegel want to go for green when they commission a new building. Many of the ideas that were eventually realized came from the architecture firm’s proposals. In this particular case, the city of Hamburg also set certain standards or goals for the development of the entire area (Hafen City) – without imposing the particular ratings. The client is always moved by financial concerns, by peer/social pressures, and by ideological and perhaps even ethical concerns. The social pressures here are interesting: the star system rewards sustainable building and it becomes almost like a competition for prestigious institutions like this news magazine for highly educated readers to go for 5, whenever they can. And since Spiegel prides itself on a high degree of social awareness and is closely allied with Germany’s media capital of Hamburg, which is located on the Elbe river, one of Germany’s largest rivers, it makes sense that the publisher would attempt to merge social with natural spaces in a sustainable way.

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