All posts by Claire Cummins

Orlando City Soccer Club

Last Sunday, the Orlando City Soccer Club played their first home open against the New York City Football Club. The 60,000+ fans who attended the game watched these two teams battle for the win, yet neither was victorious thanks to a goal scored late in the game by Orlando City’s Ricardo Kaka, making the final score 1-1.

Orlando fans are also getting excited about their team’s new stadium, located in downtown Orlando- two blocks from the Amway Center and the downtown bar district. As fans approach the stadium, they can see in through the open plaza down to the field, which is 10 feet below ground level. Before the start of the game, a giant lion sculpture located at the stadium’s entrance will turn 180° to “watch” the game with fans.

The stadium, which broke ground earlier this year, is expected to be completed in time for the 2016 season. According to Orlando City’s website, “the stadium has been designed with the intention of creating the loudest and most intimidating atmosphere in Major League Soccer, with North American’s only safe-standing supporter section and a low slanted roof line to amplify crowd noise.”  The roof line also provides fans with shelter from rain and sunshine.

Additionally, the new stadium will feature a 360 lower bowl, all natural grass playing surface, single deck safe-standing supporter section and a 360’ scoreboard balcony bar (for a full list of the stadium’s design features, click here). Underground structures were also included in the design to allow for future expansion.

STEM Education: Today’s Classrooms for Tomorrow’s Leaders

The building design and construction industry has recently seen a rise the demand for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classrooms. The purpose of these classrooms, which are typically found in secondary education facilities, are to get kids interested in these subjects with the hopes that they will develop a passion for STEM and pursue a career in this field.

A recent report from Burning Glass found that the demand for students to fill STEM positions is much higher than previously thought. The report found that:

  • In 2013 there were 5.7 million job postings in STEM fields. Of those, 76% require at least a bachelor’s degree.
  • 48% of all entry-level jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher are in STEM fields, while only 29% of bachelor’s degree graduates earn a STEM degree.
  • STEM graduates have access to 2x as many entry-level jobs as non-STEM graduates.

The results of this study aren’t very surprising because although it’s not always obvious, the products from STEM professions surround us in our everyday lives. Whether it’s the buildings we live and work in, the roads and bridges we drive on, the tablets and smart phones we use to stay connected, or any of the millions of other modern day conveniences, we all rely on STEM professionals to imagine and create the infrastructure that supports our daily lives.

As demand for these professions increases, secondary education facilities are investing in new, state-of-the-art STEM classrooms. These spaces are designed to support integrated science, technology, engineering and math education by presenting students with real life challenges related to two or more of these fields. When designing STEM spaces, architects and engineers are not just providing schools with more classroom space, but rather a collaborative learning environment that gives tomorrow’s leaders real-world experience with solving some of today’s toughest challenges.

Although STEM classrooms aren’t all the same, they usually share similar design characteristics. For example, they are typically more open than their traditional counterparts, with flexible spaces that can be used to explore multiple subjects at once. STEM classrooms and teaching spaces also come fully equipped with the latest technology to give students full access to any information they may need with the click of a button.

So what does the future hold for STEM education? Due to the system’s current success, maybe someday every school will be required to have a designated STEM learning space. Some schools are have already taken STEM one step further and are now pushing for STEAM classrooms, which includes an “A” for art and design.

And while it’s great for architects and engineers to continue to improve their designs, I personally can’t wait to see what the next generations of STEM students are able to come up with next.


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A Response to LEED Critics

Over the past few decades, the LEED rating system has been revolutionizing the construction industry. The creators of LEED, Rick Fedrizzi, David Gottfried and Mike Italiano, wanted to design a rating system that would promote sustainability in the building and construction industry. However, the recent focus towards promoting environmental sustainability has opened the door to some critics who claim the rating system is not working as intended.

Sustainability is defined as “the ability to be sustained supported, upheld, or confirmed.” Today, the term is mostly associated with the ecological benefits of responsibly balancing and managing our energy and resource consumption. While environmental sustainability is a major part of what it means to be “sustainable”, ignoring the other aspects of the term detracts from LEED’s triple bottom line mission. When building owners purchase a LEED building design, they are making a long-term investment in a higher quality indoor environment for building occupants, increasing profits for building owners and creating a healthier planet.

Buildings that are seeking LEED certification can earn points from eight different categories- location and transportation, materials and resources, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, sustainable sites, indoor environmental quality, innovation and regional priority credits. Critics note that points from some of these categories actually increase the building’s energy consumption; however, there is usually a good reason behind these decisions. For example, in order to increase indoor environmental quality, the building engineer might use an airflow system that uses more energy to improve air quality. From an environmental standpoint, sacrificing energy consumption for better indoor air is not a responsible decision. However, when you consider that on average people spend 90% of their day inside, it then becomes a design factor worth including.

Although LEED building do not all performs the same, collectively they out-perform standard buildings. In a study conducted by the GSA Public Buildings Service, LEED buildings use 25% less energy and report 19% lower aggregate operational costs, 27% higher occupant satisfaction and 36% fewer carbon dioxide emissions. This well rounded analysis highlights the overall success of the LEED rating system in creating buildings that are better for people, profits and the planet.

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Investing in Solar

When you pay your electricity, bill, you’re not just paying for the electricity. In fact, about two thirds of your bill is covering the cost of the infrastructure needed to run the electricity from the power plant to your home.

Electricity is first generated at the power plant.  Here in the northeast, most of our energy is supplied from burning fossil fuels. However, once an electron is created and sent to the grid, it is impossible to tell if the electron was generated from burning fossil fuels or if it came from a renewable energy source.

After the electricity is generated, the voltage is increased so it can travel more efficiently though transmission lines to the substations. From there the voltage is decreased and the electricity is sent to homes and businesses at a low level that is safe for consumption.

As you can see, there is a massive amount of infrastructure that goes into delivering electricity to your home or office building, which why your electricity bill is roughly three times the price of what is actually costs the power plant to generate an electron. On the other hand, solar panels require none of this infrastructure. The power that is generated on-site supplies energy directly to the building where it’s located, off-setting the need to use dirty, expensive power plant energy coming from the grid.

Although a lot of people are deterred from the high initial cost of installing solar panels, there are now many alternative funding options to help finance solar instillation, such as tax rebates or leasing your panels. Furthermore, as the price of grid electricity continues to increase, the energy you generate from your solar panels will still continue to be free, giving you a higher return on your investment.

As solar system technologies continue to improve and the cost of utilities remain on the rise, solar is becoming a more attractive investment for both individuals and businesses. When we also consider the negative environmental impacts from dirty power plants, solar becomes a smart investment for both ourselves and the future of our planet.


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2014 Was the Hottest Year on Record

At the beginning of each year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) publishes an annual report that summarizes the state of the earth’s climate vs the previous year. In their most recent analysis, NOAA reports that 2014 was the warmest year on record by 0.07°F. To most New Yorkers who survived the Polar Vortexes of last year, an increase of 0.07°F doesn’t even begin to make a dent in what we would consider to be “warming” and yet scientists are warning us that this warming trend will have serious social, political, and economic consequences.

The average annual global temperature is a combination of land and ocean surface temperatures that are recorded by weather stations around the world. Land temperatures for 2014 were actually only the 4th highest value ever recorded. However, 2014 was a record breaking year for oceanic temperatures, including three months of new monthly high sea surface temperature records being set in June, August and September.

It’s not surprising that as humans continue to ramp up the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, new global temperature highs are being recorded. However, what is surprising is that 2014 was the first time in the last 25 years that the global temperature record was broken without El Niño conditions being present. This then begs the question, as the concentration of GHGs remains above 400 ppm, what’s going to happen when El Niño conditions return? Many scientists believe that the next El Niño year will bring even higher record breaking temperatures.

Once we begin to understand what’s happening to our planet, the question then becomes why do we care? In New York City, it’s sometimes easy to remove ourselves from becoming part of the solution to climate change because the consequences are not always causing noticeable stress in our region. However, while we are fortunate to live in an area that has remained relatively sheltered from climate change compared to other places around the world, we are still not immune.

For example, as the earth’s temperature continues to rise, farmers are experiencing droughts, flooding and temperature variations that kill crops and decrease food production. The decreased supply of crops is driving up the price of food, which is then passed along to the consumer through higher food prices at the supermarket. This issue is also accelerated by increased energy prices and exponential population growth, which is driving up the demand for crops and increasing food prices even further.

As issues like higher food prices slowly begin to infiltrate places like New York City, we can also expect to see more devastating consequences of climate change that are more difficult to absorb. In October of 2012, Hurricane Sandy ravaged the east coast, killing 149 people and costing the area billions of dollars in property damage and lost business. A storm of this magnitude statistically only comes around once every 100 years. However, in 2005 the south was hit by Hurricane Katrina and in 2011 the northern coast was hit by Hurricane Irene, two other 100 year storms. The probability of three 100 year storms randomly occurring over the course of eight years seems much less likely than the alternative conclusion that human behavior is increasing storm frequency and intensity.

As we look back at the temperature records over the past 135 years and reflect on the correlation between global warming and the social and economic impacts of a warmer planet, it is clear that we must act now by living more sustainably. Scientists have warned us about the consequences of global warming, and it is now up to us to find and implement a solution.