Variances, Local Woods, and Solar Energy

November 16th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

It’s been a busy couple of days for VIVUS Architecture and Design.


Monday afternoon I met with the Coulee Region Sustainable Wood Products Group at the Northfield Library. We’re a group comprised of foresters, land owners, lumberyard representative, contractors, DNR employees, craftspeople, and designers. Our mission is to create a network to promote management, certification, and use of sustainable wood products from the Coulee Region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois.

This was our second meeting, and it remains very interesting. There are many opportunities to improve just about every aspect of how local sustainable wood products move from forests to mills to lumberyards to contractors through specifications to finished products of all sorts. With representatives from each step of the way, we have engaged in some lively discussions and come up with some first steps. Stay tuned for more as we continue in our efforts.

Monday night I attended a Conditional Use Permit Hearing in Prior Lake. A client asked us to help with the Zoning Ordinance review, a Conditional Use Permit, and an Application for Zoning Variance. This is a service we provide of which people aren’t often aware. We were successful, and received unanimous approval. Next we will work together to improve the building for occupancy.

Tuesday morning I attended the Minnesota AIA Convention, which is always an enjoyable and educational experience. If you follow sustainability, I would recommend you check out the AIA’s website. The AIA, or American Institute of Architects (of which I am a member), has committed to a significant carbon reduction in buildings we design in the next 25 years.

I attended a class on residential solar energy systems, both photovoltaic and domestic hot water. It was an excellent overview of systems, local application guidelines, and sizing recommendations. One point that really struck home: Solar Energy is free. It is estimated that an efficient system can pay for itself in seven or eight years. After that, it can be considered a retirement account: free energy for the rest of your life (some maintenance required, just like your IRA).

I also learned about the acoustician’s role in designing concert halls, including the Disney Hall. Acoustics is an intriguing blend of history, computer modeling, mathematical modeling, and intuition. The complexity of the issue is mind boggling! Each orchestral instrument projects its sound in a different direction depending on the range in which the note is played, which obviously varies constantly. Each instrument’s location is unfixed from performance to performance, and optimal sound is usually desired for many hundreds of seats, which may or may not be occupied depending on box office sales. When the presenter said we simply don’t have the computing power to model all the variables, I was stunned, especially in this day and age. Acoustical design is truly and art, albeit highly informed by mathematics and science.

Posted in All Entries, Best Practices, Sustainability Comments Off on Variances, Local Woods, and Solar Energy

Sustainable Northfield Alert!

November 15th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

The American Institute of Architects wants to help communities become more sustainable, but there’s not much time!


November 30 is a deadline to submit Northfield’s application for a visit from the Sustainable Design Assessment Team. This is an exciting and forward thinking program! Read on to find out more.

What’s it worth?

$25,000 of consulting with industry-leading professionals

What does it cost?

$5,000 needs to be put forth by the City or an interested group of donors

What is it anyway?

“The SDAT program is an interdisciplinary community assistance program that focuses on principles of sustainability by bringing multidisciplinary teams of professionals to work with community decision-makers and stakeholders to help them develop a vision and framework for a sustainable future.”

What is it’s focus?

“The SDAT program focuses on the importance of developing sustainable communities through design. It is modeled on the AIA’s R/UDAT (Regional and Urban Design Assistance Team) program, one of the AIA’s longest-running success stories. While the R/UDAT program was developed to provide communities with specific design solutions, the SDAT program provides broad assessments to help frame future policies or design solutions in the context of sustainability and help communities plan the first steps of implementation.”

What will it do for Northfield?

The SDAT process will:

• inform the community of opportunities and encourage them to take action to protect local and regional resources

• help the community understand the structure of the place at various scales and contexts—from regional resources to the neighborhood scale

• explore and articulate the larger contexts and interactions of ecological, sociological, economic, and physical systems

• visualize potential futures

• recognize and describe the qualities of a place by preserving the best elements of the past, addressing the needs of the present, and planning for the needs of future generations;

• identify and describe choices and consequences

• connect plans and actions

• advance the principles of quality sustainable communities

• help the community define the roles of various stakeholders

• develop a road map for the implementation of more sustainable policies and practices.

What do we do next?

I am pulling together a group to formulate an application. If you can help, contact me at sustainablenorthfield –at–

More information (the source of these clips):

Still more information:

Posted in All Entries, Best Practices, Sustainability Comments Off on Sustainable Northfield Alert!

Daily Dose of Green and Celebrities

November 13th, 2006 by Mary Schmelzer

If you’re looking for up-to-date information on green building and green living check out the WorldChanging website. Click on the “Shelter” link and you will find what is new around the world with products and ideas for building. Click on “Green Goes Glam in London” to find out what your favorite British celebrities are doing to be sustainable. There’s new information on the site every day, so log on and get your daily fix!

Posted in All Entries, Sustainability Comments Off on Daily Dose of Green and Celebrities

It’s about more than space

November 8th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

Between Silence and the Light

It’s about light, views, visual textures and shadows, too.

They connect us to the cycle of the day

which connects us to the sun and the earth

and the solar system

and the galaxy

and the very beginning of the universe.

Posted in All Entries Comments Off on It’s about more than space

Large Format Plotter for Sale

November 6th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer


We have upgraded our plotter and would like to reclaim the space our HP DesignJet 350c is occupying!

To check it out, visit our ebay sale!

Posted in All Entries Comments Off on Large Format Plotter for Sale