Preview by Thumbnail Screenshots by Thumbshots

Old & New: Can Contemporary and Historical Architecture Exist?

by Yodai Yasunaga, Innovation Studio Intern

In 2007, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Ontario reopened with The Crystal – Daniel Libeskind’s controversial 100,000 square feet extension to the original structure of the museum. The structure is composed of five interlocking prismatic structures made of glass and aluminum on steel frame, and it functions as the new main entrance to the museum. Although the structure does not touch the original Neo-Romanesque architecture built in 1914 except for the connecting bridge, it greatly alters the aesthetics and experience of the museum. The Crystal has been highly controversial, with some praising it as a contemporary monument, while critics have attacked its aesthetic, function, and purpose. For example, The Crystal makes it hard to display exhibits, because all of the interior walls are slanted. Overall, the design controversy surrounding the addition has taken away much of the attention from the actual contents of the Royal Ontario Museum. [Further discussion on it can be found here:]

Can contemporary and historical architecture coexist?

From Studio Daniel Libeskind

From Studio Daniel Libeskind

As architecture technologies and styles evolve, there has always been tension between cotemporary and historical buildings, and the people that advocate for them. Conservationists believe that it is important to prolong the lives of old buildings through carefully planned preservation practices to preserve history that the buildings represent. On the other hand, contemporary architects and their supporters are in favor of technological and architectural change and progress that become to represent the present. In midst of this over-arching debate exists the topic of “architecture of additions” where contemporary structures are built in conjunction to existing buildings (Byard, 1998). The interplay between the old and the new often sparks controversy. Some cases are seen in a positive light, where the old architecture is given new life without destroying its spirit and history. On the other hand, other cases such as The Crystal, receive criticism for overpowering the original architecture. 

The Louvre

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Louvre Pyramid in Paris by I.M. Pei is an iconic example of controversial “architecture of additions”. According to Susan Stamberg, critics described tampering with the historical building of the Louvre “sacrilegious”, but after over two decades, it has been accepted by the public, with many praising it as a masterpiece that made an old museum more relevant in the contemporary world. One key of this success may be that the contemporary addition does not interfere with the interior exhibits of the historical artworks but provides a new sense of balance to the overall structure. 

Tate Modern

The Tate Modern, on London’s West Bank. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The exploration of “architecture of additions” continues to grow in the 21st century, and when done well, it may be the perfect balance between contemporary and historical architecture. It is crucial to evaluate what separates successful examples from the rest, and explore the potentials of this artwork of balancing the old and the new. Precedent works hint that there must be large considerations for the context of the work, including the building’s history, significance to society, location, and the purpose of the additions. Do the old and the new have to be in visual harmony, conceptual harmony, or both? How does the addition contribute to the value of the original? Is the addition really necessary? In any case, there must be a dialogue between the old and the new that foster their coexistence.


The side of the building facing the street maintains the form of the original building to align with the cityscape of Louisville, KY. The contemporary interventions are introduced on the side facing the George Garvin Brown Garden.

#1 George Garvin Brown Garden, MKThink’s current project in Louisville, Kentucky, is a demonstration of architecture that incorporates the old and the new. Working with the currently vacant, historic building of the Business Women’s Club (1911), the project’s concept is to create a center that will be a catalyst for healthy and thriving urban revitalization. The proposed design seeks to preserve and pay respect to the original building while giving it a new life through contemporary interventions that are visually different yet harmonious to the concept of the whole building. #1 George Garvin Brown Garden is a project that builds on Louisville’s history with the technology of the present, to take a stride towards the future.


Other Links: (“New Exterior Additions to Historic Buildings: Preservation Concerns) (examples) (examples)


Byard, Paul Spencer. The architecture of additions: design and regulation. WW Norton & Company, 1998.

Stamberg, Susan. “Landmark At The Louvre: The Pyramid Turns 20.” NPR. NPR, 7 Dec. 2009. Web. 31 July 2014. <>.

“Studio Daniel Libeskind.” Images. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 July 2014. <>.

Sensors in the City: Finding New Applications for Data Collection

By Will Godfrey, Strategic Analyst

Here’s the scenario: Your city determines to improve or change some aspect of one of its neighborhoods and after months of outreach, planning, and building, Street X has, say, wider sidewalks, speed bumps and some benches and trees. The budget’s been used up, the community is generally pleased with the improvements, and the planning department re-assigns the project team to new tasks. If the project’s goals were to improve walkability and calm traffic, it might be difficult to tell how much of an impact was actually made without an in-depth assessment phase. But even if the goals of the project have clearly been realized to everyone’s satisfaction, there’s still value in taking a closer look – maybe if you studied 20 similar projects you’d learn that one of these improvements actually contributes most to the positive outcome, or that two of these improvements work better in concert than they do individually, or that there’s a set of pre-existing conditions that need to be present for a site to see benefits from one intervention or another.

Nine foot tall listening dishes adorn Market Street at the Living Innovation Zone in partnership with the Exploratorium as part of Innovation Month in San Francisco on Yerba Buena Lane at Market Street between 3rd & 4th Streets

Nine foot tall listening dishes adorn Market Street at the Living Innovation Zone in partnership with the Exploratorium as part of Innovation Month in San Francisco on Yerba Buena Lane at Market Street between 3rd & 4th Streets

The difficulty that planning agencies run into is that a thorough investigation using traditional research methods requires boots on the ground counting pedestrians, taking notes on clipboards, etc. This demands staff that aren’t always available, and the results might be skewed by any number of chance factors in play during the observation periods – If the weather is unusually nice, or if the use profile is very different on weekends than on weekdays (when most of the observations are made), or if the World Cup is on TV and everyone’s inside glued to their couch, then the hours of observations can still really only paint a partial picture of the new space’s performance. To fill in all the gaps and complete the picture would require staffing the site 24/7 so that observations can be made continuously.

Outside of the City Planning sector, the need for more efficient monitoring and data-collection has led to a greater dependence on sensor technologies. Smart meters that communicate directly with energy providers are supplanting human meter readers; the Golden Gate Bridge no longer staffs its tollbooths now that everyone has a FasTrak device. These and other more-efficient systems streamline what used to be resource- and time-intensive processes, and can also establish a constant stream of data for those organizations to learn from and respond to. In the context of planning or evaluating a public-domain project, I don’t think that sensors could ever fully replace the role of an experienced researcher who can notice subtle behaviors and reactions to the city-scape, but what sensors are really good at, and what they could help with are all of the necessarily time-consuming and repetitive (but in the end very valuable!) tasks like counting and taking measurements. Your one researcher standing on a corner can log this type of data for a few hours at that location and maybe come back and do the same thing a few more times over the following weeks. A sensor can monitor the same factors continuously over months, freeing up the staffed researcher to move through the space, ask questions, take notes, photo-document their time on-site, etc. That’s what humans are really good at, so using people and technology together seems like a perfect match for the evaluation process of public projects. The test is whether a sensor (or sensors) can accurately capture the key performance data points that tell the story of how a space is being used when a researcher isn’t present.

Narratives running through the Living Innovation Zone on a given day.

Narratives running through the Living Innovation Zone on a given day.

To explore that question and get involved with a very neat local project, MKThink partnered with the Exploratorium and the SF Planning Department on the former’s first ‘Living Innovation Zone’ (LIZ) at Yerba Buena Lane. If you’ve walked down Market Street lately you’ve probably seen it – it’s a circle of benches backed with slatted windbreaks, and there are interactive exhibits to try out as you sit and eat/talk/relax. People speed-walking down the sidewalk can weave through or around it, but the idea is to slow them down or tempt them to pause and “spend time observing their urban environment —and each other— more closely.” (

MKThink’s role in the partnership was to monitor the installation and consider ways to share that information back to pedestrians as an exhibit in a future LIZ. We conducted some of that old-fashioned in-person observation, but we were most interested in testing out a network of sensors that counts up how many wi-fi devices (as a proxy for foot traffic) pass through the study area and measures how long they tend to stay in the space.

Sample data collection of WIFI devices passing through the site.

Sample data collection of WIFI devices passing through the site.

This was conceived as a test of the technology, and there were some challenges with getting access to power and network (but thanks to nearby building owners we were eventually able to!), so we didn’t establish a baseline of data from before the LIZ was constructed. This limited our findings somewhat, but our monitoring system was in-place for 4 months and we have readings that describe the fluctuations in foot traffic and length of stay – our performance criteria – over that entire time. We can tell that the LIZ experienced its heaviest use on Monday, November 18th, and that visitors on Sundays stay significantly longer in the adjacent plaza than those on Saturdays, and a dozen other anomalies and patterns that lend context to the observations we were making throughout the study. The challenge at this point is that even with our mountain of data, it’s difficult to tell which among all of the factors that make up a complex system like Market Street contribute to the spikes and trends in our data. To understand what happens in and around the LIZ on that level we’d need to take into account a whole range of other factors that influence public space, and probably rely more heavily on human-led research than sensors.

So what is a focused application for sensors in city planning and urban design today? Fitting them into a routine evaluation process for public projects is one possibility. The Exploratorium’s idea to make data visible and interactive to get people engaging with their surroundings is a completely different angle. A counterpoint? The city of Chicago has a new program they call the Array of Things, which just started collecting a whole bunch of city data, and at the moment is simply storing it all for ongoing study. (

What’s next?

Inspiring Entrepreneurism in The Built Environment at RoundhouseOne

RoundhouseOne and MKThink are delighted to welcome Kayla, Marley and Sam, three talented interns who are joining us this summer in participation with Haverford College’s prestigious Whitehead Internship Program.

Haverford College

Haverford College in Pennsylvania. Image courtesy of Wikipedia (

The Whitehead Internship Program, sponsored by Haverford alumni and honoring John C. Whitehead ’43, fosters hands-on education and experience that supports students’ interests in entrepreneurism. Haverford alum and MKThink founder Mark Miller inspires and lives the entrepreneurial spirit. Having founded three companies, he brings innovation and entrepreneurism into the traditional practice of architecture. Mark says, “The undergraduates at Haverford College are well known for their ability to successfully participate with and achieve results as researchers at a level commensurate with graduate students.  We are grateful that the Whitehead program provides the opportunity for these talented students to extend their efforts to the professional domain – in our case, to explore practical applications through hands on experience with applied technologies in the built environment that will reduce energy and other natural resource demands while improving health.”

Marley Using a Rangefinder

Using a range finder, Marley verifies classroom measurements for the classroom inventory dataset.

Sam, Kayla and Marley will be living the startup life as part of RoundhouseOne’s data analytics team this summer. The interns are spearheading an Integrated Assessment Study for the Haverford campus. The Integrated Assessment is an evaluation of data from an organization’s architectural, environmental, and cultural dimensions to identify efficiency and performance improvement opportunities. The team will be conducting a utilization and occupancy study with a focus on instructional spaces, a Cultural Cartography evaluation, and environmental data collection.

Splitting time between doing field collection in Haverford and data analytics in our San Francisco office, the interns will gain valuable hands-on professional experience as well insights into how data can improve campus life for students and faculty in their own school.

RH1's Haverford Interns 2014

From left to right: Sam, Marley, and Kayla, the 2014 Haverford College Whitehead Interns.

Meet the Interns:

A spark of interest was ignited in History major Sam Callon during a class called Cultural Landscapes of American Empire. It was during that class that Sam became interested in space and architecture and decided that he would like to work for a company focused on the built environment. Sam has been busy collecting data for the asset inventory database and says, “I have liked working with AutoCAD, going around campus with the rangefinder to get room measurements, and meeting with staff about the project.”

Marley Randazzo, a Growth and Structure of Cities major, is interested in the design of place and ways in which space can be more efficient and effective for users. “So far my favorite part of the project has been speaking with members of the Haverford College community concerning what changes they would make or like to see on Haverford’s campus.  For some, a change as simple as the incorporation of natural light into their workspace would be a huge improvement.” Marley is stimulated by the idea that the built environment can be designed to enhance our daily lives.

Fiction writer and English major Kayla Franceschi has always been interested in the intersection between building design and use and the environment surrounding it. “I grew up in East Harlem and am currently seeing a lot of the buildings near me being repurposed in an effort to attract a different crowd. The neighborhood will certainly undergo changes to match its surroundings, but that has only further cemented the idea that what we build molds a community.” Kayla has found the data collection process interesting and believes it has been a great way to begin interdepartmental conversation about the campus moving forward.

For more information, contact Rachel Posman at

RH-LOGO-wht-bg sig

RoundhouseOne’s Ashley Camps Invited to Speak on Panel at Agrion Disrupt 100

AGRION Disrupt 100 Panel: Using Data Transparency to Optimize Opportunity and ROI

 By Ashley Camps, Lead Marketing Strategist at RoundhouseOne 

 Agrion Disrupt 100

Last week I was selected to participate on a panel titled, “Evaluating Energy Efficiency Investments: Connecting Energy Performance to Valuation in Commercial and High End Residential Buildings- Using Data Transparency to Optimize Opportunity and ROI.” I made my way to the Metropolitan Pavilion at 125 W 18th Street to soak in the expertise provided by my peers and share my own insights from the West Coast.

The Agrion Disrupt 100 Conference was a gathering of over 100 innovators and 600 managers of energy companies from around the world. Following a day of sessions and introductions, Mike Rovito (ERS) gave a captivating presentation on “Net Zero and Positive Energy Buildings: A Cost Effective Framework,” which highlighted the value of implementing operational changes to support the physical and financial investments.

These are some of the questions that I discussed with my fellow panelists:

How does the marketplace view sustainability/efficiency investments?

Energy efficiency and sustainability in buildings today is highly valued. It’s not only trendy and creates the perception of being high value and upscale, it can also result in customer retention and generation. Ultimately, though, the primary reason why an organization will work towards energy efficiency is because it saves money.

If it’s about saving money, it’s about saving energy. How do we measure that?

RoundhouseOne was started and incubated architects, strategists and planners who didn’t want to build just for the sake of building, who knew that the best solution for their client’s needs wasn’t always the addition of a new facility to their portfolio. Often, learning to solve for a client’s asset, energy, or operational inefficiency by considering the relationships between the three legs of the stool that Mike had mentioned is the best approach. For example, an organization might try to save money by closing all of the windows in a room to get the highest efficiency from their cooling units.  As a result, they succeed in using less energy to power the cooling unit, but the lack of ventilation results in lower air quality and staff performance suffers.  Does revenue suffer as a result?  This is why it’s important to use a multidimensional approach to analytics when evaluating energy efficient investments.

RoundhouseOne (RH1) is the data-driven technology company that delivers insight to improve an organization’s performance by relating human factors, environmental conditions and physical structures.  Our technology and technologists collect, qualify, correlate, analyze, and communicate data so that our clients can see the full picture and reduce their TCO, avoid capital expenditures, and optimize revenue.

BK CO2 Analysis

C02 concentration vs. occupancy. The grey portion is the level that is known to cause severe impairment to decision-making.


Investments aren’t always fixed. How can we leverage data to identify commissioning opportunities?

RoundhouseOne uses client data, sensor data, and public indices to correlate key metrics against baselines, benchmarks, and help our clients find their KPIs for their organization’s mission, competitor or industry-driven success goals.

How much energy does your organization require to run at your target performance level? Where are the opportunities to save or generate energy? For example, we can look at plug loads, equipment and thermal comfort systems against occupancy and utilization to evaluate opportunities to save. We can look at solar radiation, wind speeds, weather patterns, air temperature and rainfall to evaluate generation opportunities. This only scratches the surface.

Explain the difference between using data to reduce risk in Statistics vs. Engineering. 

The collection and analysis of data removes emotions and assumptions from decision-making. Our clients use RH1 insights to support planning and capital expenditures: From discovery, assessment and strategy to post occupancy study; from city planning departments to school districts to universities, our clients can use RH1 insights for micro planning to creating building sustainability, air quality and energy efficiency baselines and corporate responsibility standards.

Not only do our clients use RH1 Insights to Optimize Opportunity and ROI and to support business cases, but our proven process and patented technology platform validates, standardizes and hosts cross departmental data and powerful insights to provide Data Transparency.

Explain your Methods and Approach.

It’s important to explain that RH1 does not provide the solutions or strategies to solve for these Energy Efficiency or Environmental Resource problems, but that our technology and insight packages are used to diagnose the key metrics defining these needs. This data then can be used to test scenarios before decision-making and support the business case after implementation.

Agrion Disrupt 100 Main Conference Room Agrion Disrupt 100 Main Conference Room

All in all, it was a unique learning experience. I want to extend a thank you to my fellow panelists for a great discussion:

  • Michael Rovito, ERS
  • Timothy Lezgus, Con Edison
  • Dave Jaros, Noesis Energy
  • Andy Frank, Sealed Homes

I look forward to working with more like-minded individuals and partnerships to create a more sustainable, more energy efficient market for generations to come!


Ashley Camps

For more information, contact Ashley at

RH-LOGO-wht-bg sig

The Diffuse Pollution Reality: Owning Air Pollution

By  Christopher Damien

Cultural Systems Analyst

In the last half of June, smoke and haze from 265 fires in Indonesia blanketed Sumatra, Singapore, Malaysia, and neighboring nations and communities causing air pollution to rise to its worst level in 16 years. The Pollution Standards Index, an air quality monitoring system used by Singapore, hit just over 400 in late June, which is classed as possibly “life threatening to ill and elderly people.” Malaysia temporarily closed around 200 schools as a result.

To make a bad situation worse, authorities have been unable to identify exactly who is responsible for the fires. Knowing that they have been caused by illegal slash and burn land clearance methods on Sumatra, to the west of Singapore and Malaysia, the investigation has been narrowed to 14 farmers and 14 companies engaged in agricultural production of lumber and palm oil. However the diffusion of smoke from so many blazes makes it extremely difficult to focus blame on any one suspect, especially if it is found that they have all been known to utilize these dangerous land clearance methods.

The way in which air pollution can travel hundreds of miles from its source is technically referred to as air transport and is hardly exclusive to this pollution type. The same issue of diffusion occurs with water pollution, pesticide use, and, most popularly, with carbon emissions. However, the extent and seriousness of air pollution problems in developing nations, of which the Sumatran fires are merely a small portion, are of particular concern. The problem is that many quickly developing nations are also pollution hotspots (e.g. China and India). It seems that environmental health concerns pale in comparison to the pressures plaguing economies attempting to grow…like wildfire.

Our work at MKThink seeks to understand the interactions among the environment, people (culture), and buildings/technology in a way that leads to optimization of the interrelated system they comprise. To start with, we use a variety of monitoring technologies to establish the on-site resource quality of air, energy, water, and materials related to site location and cultural context. It’s not just a matter of knowing how much of a resource is being provided. Rather we see the need to go beyond quantity to an understanding of quality of resource related to context.  The challenge posed by diffuse pollution is that such quality measurements are not isolated to property lines or project boundaries. Contaminants can cross boundaries at any time.

One potential solution is to make cooperation a priority. To address similar issues, Japan and South Korea have been conducting plodding talks with China concerning actions to decrease Chinese air pollution transporting to their shores. In this particular case, a significant amount of the transported air pollution is a result of environmental challenges both new and old. History has recorded the occurrence of large-scale sandstorms blowing sands from China’s Gobi Desert to Japan, South Korea, and Eastern Russia for millennia. However, with starkly increasing air pollution and the related desertification plaguing North China as a result of heavy agriculture, the Gobi sandstorms have become a more substantial threat to human health. That is, they have increased in volume, duration, and toxicity. In addition to implementing air quality early warning systems that alert citizens of high pollution levels, South Korea has contributed to preventative measures such as supplementing widespread efforts to plant trees in China’s north. For example, Shanghai Roots & Shoots: The Million Tree Project, a largely volunteer-run effort, endeavors to plant one million trees in inner Mongolia by 2014.

Perhaps gone are the days when neighborly resource disputes ignited over untrimmed hedges trespassing property lines. With data to prove it, now such disputes will include the diffusion of pollutants throughout ecosystems. Of course, the caricature of the discourteous neighbor also fails to account for how much more is at stake in the diffuse pollution reality of today. A report recently published by MIT Department of Economics finds that in recent decades Southern Chinese on average have lived at least five years longer than their northern counterparts because of the destructive health effects of pollution from the widespread use of coal in the north. The study calculates that the 500 million Chinese who live north of the Huai River will lose 2.5 billion years of life expectancy because of outdoor air pollution. Such diffuse pollution, often harming those that had little to nothing to do with its production, is not just a monitoring challenge, but a large-scale threat to human health. That’s to say, we’re no longer dealing with neighbors estranged from their hedge trimmers, but complex negotiations between legislators and commercial interests positioning economic development in opposition to the health of the greater biosphere and the human community inextricably embedded within it. As data relating to health and resource quality continue to challenge the supremacy of economic measures of development in a new ecosystem of knowledge, it remains to be seen how these negotiations will adapt, if at all.