Following the details of Renzo Piano’s first New York City assignment The Morgan Museum and library. In my column and in YouTube style videos, I followed the project from creative vision through construction.
The Journey So Far:
I am a 66 year-old paraplegic who is a research assistant at Penn State’s Department of Architectural Engineering. I am also a columnist for e-architect-uk. My field of interest is housing for elderly baby boomers who may or may not be disabled and using virtual reality and BIM technology to reduce costs.
As a columnist for e-architect, I receive nearly one million hits a day. As opposed to my academic position, I am writing for an international audience focusing primarily on U.S. architecture for readers who do not understand the U.S.
When I worked at the California Silicon Valley as a technical writer many of my bosses were Indian. The subcontinent has provided the U.S. with a remarkable and badly-needed source of talent. Understanding how that talent was created and what can be done to make it easier for the U.S. to benefit from India-generated talent is a constant source of fascination. I much appreciate the work Silicon India is doing,
The Decisions That Matter
The most important decision is learning to trust my experience as a paraplegic who has not been able to walk for the past 20 years. Related to this is the recognition that computer technology in many forms including the intelligence for mobility devices does make it possible to lead a productive life with a disability.
Currently I am using globally famous architects such as Zaha Hadid, Renzo Piano, and as a way of attracting my readers. Once attracted, I focus on the implications of the major demographic phenomenon involved when the largest population in history retires and requires housing.
I would become an architect.
Advice For New Professionals:
Relax. Take the time for a large view. The focus today on details, data, and tools sometimes makes it difficult to understand how to use details, data, and tools. Read outside your field. Immerse yourself in educational experiences that are NOT digital. That way, the power of digital technology can then be applied with a more precise focus.
The ability to write clearly, to describe complicated technology, and to provide readers with the nuances of life in the U.S. from the prospective of a native-born citizen who has visited 47 U.S. states and lived for at least a year in 7 of them.
Working Life Management:
I do not manage my work-life balance. To the degree possible, I try to follow, on a day to day basis, what interests me in the hope that in doing so I will accomplish my long-term goals naturally and effortlessly. I am not always successful at the act of balancing.
My mother was a Hebrew school teacher. My father was an attorney. My father was 27 years older than my mother. The marriage was doomed from the beginning and divorce happened when I was three.
Contribution to the field
I have published three books–one on agriculture policy, the second a memoir on being cured of cancer, the third a book on housing. I lived for 17 years in Washington DC holding several relatively-high level positions in the federal government as a speechwriter and public affairs official. I look at my world from a utilitarian political perspective–focusing on whether the solution to a problem works rather than on the spin one can put to something that does not work.
I am persistent. I read everything I can. I do not forget what I want to accomplish.
Changes In The Professional Environment:
The professional environment, as I see it, began 20 years ago when I lost the ability to walk. Between then and now, technology has made significant advances in providing access. Social barriers have come down. Productivity for disabled individuals such as myself still can be improved. Badly needed is the capital to invest in what are in effect human resources–hardware, software, disability vans, travel accommodations, and deservedly expensive specialized publications.
Plans For The Future:
Designing a multi-generation neighborhood for 100,000 individuals.
Dr. Jeniffer Simon, a caring and experienced urologist, Geissinger Medical Center, State College PA showed me on her computer this image–a cancerous tumor surrounding my right kidney, referring me to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. “Unless you have surgery quickly, you will be dead in 10 years.” The date: April 5, 2013, 4 P.M. We hugged; I cried.
The order of this posting (typically presented in a hodgepodge of disorder):
Paraplegia and the recollection of previous cancers
The last part of cancer therapy
This I believe
Make haste slowlyis the motto.
I first came across this seemingly contradictory expression when trying to learn Latin:Festina lente.
Unless one is in a situation such as mine, Make haste slowly appears to make no sense.
Speed and slow are opposites.
The last part of cancer therapy
My situation comes at the end of a difficult time.
The time began in April when I was diagnosed with kidney cancer and reached medical optimism after I left my home in State College, PA where the expertise to save my life did not exist.
I was referred to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City—a five hour car ride away. On August 8th, Dr. Paul Russo removed the cancerous tumor, saved my right kidney, and essentially prevented me from dying of kidney cancer. It was a gift of 10 years.
In The Canary Murder Case by S.S. Van Dine, Philo Vance—almost certainly the most obnoxious snob in the history of detective literature—is helping his friend the district attorney solve a difficult murder. The district attorney says, “’Well, well! So the case is settled! Now if you’ll but indicate which is the guilty one, I’ll arrest him at once, and return to my other duties.’”
“’You’re always in such haste,’ Vance lamented. “Why leap and run? The wisdom of the world’s philosophers is against it. Festina lente, says Caesar; or, as Rufus has it, Festinatio tarde est. And the Koran says quite frankly that haste is of the Devil. Shakespeare was constantly lamenting speed. ‘He tires that spurs too fast betimes.’”
Vance, whose name in 1927 became synonymous with private detective, goes on to quote Moliere, Chaucer and the Bible on the subject.
My energy level is sufficiently low and my acuity high enough I understand Vance’s point without citing the additional paragraph.
For the past 20 years, I have been a paraplegic unable even slowly “to leap and run.” Paradoxically, in high school I received a letter sweater for running 2 ½ miles regularly during cross-country competitions. My best record was clocked running two miles in less than 12 minutes, hardly the Olympics, but good enough for Cheltenham High School in Wyncotte, PA.
Yes, I would like to leap and run. There are a lot of things I would like to do that I cannot.
What I want to do is live life to the full and in the process make a contribution along the path I have committed myself.
I certainly have done a lot of living in the past 20 years as a paraplegic. In one of my three trips across the United States from sea to shining sea, I took my battery-powered scooter and drove it around the rim of the Grand Canyon.
In California, I watched my elder daughter Joanna train a horse to jump a fence. As I watched, the horse did something amazing. After going over the fence for the first time, the horse did a double-take, shaking its head as if to say, “I do not believe I did that.” Joanna’s smile of accomplishment…
In Santa Cruz, one glorious day, Amelia my younger daughter and I boarded a ship and watched whales frolicking.
For a while, I chose the Isadora Duncan School of Dance rather than rehabilitation–both dance and physical rehabilitation have become an essential part of my doxology.
In the Silicon Valley, I wrote a technical manual for KLA-Tancor on inspecting silicon wafers for defects. Often, I scrubbed down, putting on a white gown and hat; wheeling into the clean room where my readers would be using the documentation.
The recollection of previous cancers
After radiation treatment for cancer, I fathered my two children, published three books, and loved and was loved in return.
The experience of having cancer twice, first at age 28 then at 42—treatment which burned my spine and made me unable to walk certainly slowed me down. It did not stop me. Nor has the experience of having cancer for the third time at age 65 stopped me.
“The Roman historian Suetonius… tells that Augustus… thought nothing less becoming in a well-trained leader than haste and rashness, and, accordingly, favorite sayings of his were: ‘More haste, less speed’; ‘Better a safe commander than a bold’; and ‘That is done quickly enough which is done well enough.'”
Wikipedia continues, “Gold coins were minted for Augustus which bore the image of a crab and a butterfly, which was considered to be emblematic of the adage. Other pairings used to illustrate the adage include a hare in a snail shell; a chameleon with a fish; a diamond ring entwined with foliage; and, especially, a dolphin entwined around an anchor. Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany had festina lente as his motto and illustrated it with a tortoise with a sail upon its back.”
Frequently, I suspect I have not learned from experience.
The same mistakes seem to repeat themselves in predictable order. This is most often the case with loss of energy. So often have I felt my body filled with power and enthusiasm that when the power disappears and getting out of bed becomes a chore, a dark cloud seems to hang over me.
The cloud is not there now.
Recovery from surgery has surprised me by its slow pace.
When I returned from New York in August, the combination of weakness and pain made me grateful to be alone.
One consequence of my receiving a cancer diagnosis in April of this year is that the telling provoked waves of affection and attention not merely from those close to home.
A woman whom I had loved intensely in 1972 ( not seen or heard from since) read here on this site an optimistic account of my situation and responded with an e-mail followed by phone calls. We talked about the children we did not have together, the life we did not share, and the strangely odd and encouraging fact that affection untended continues despite the reality that it had its origins so long ago.
Friends appeared with whom I had lost contact for decades. My expectations of how good people could be to me were vastly exceeded by reality. I have emerged from surgery with the feeling of being cherished. Nothing I can say or do can ever repay my gratitude. You know who you are and yet you do not truly appreciate how much you have graced my heart.
Often I feel words used to describe me are wrong, just wrong. I do not think of myself as “brave” or “courageous” or a “fighter.” When I think of myself, which I do often, I try to stop—meditate and in my own fashion pray that the ego will dissolve and I will just continue, pursue the path.
Late in August, back at my apartment, alone, feeling that strange happiness that comes when intense pain disappears, whoever I am is comfortable to me. By nature I am impatient. By nature, I am persistent. Then, the phrase make haste slowly serves as a comfort. I will do what I need to do when the time comes. I will be grateful for energy and understanding when I cannot do what needs to be done. If the sky falls and I do not have the strength to stop it, the sky falls. Such is life.
Going to Joanna’s wedding in October appears now on the second day of December a miraculous event. Weeks before I boarded the plane, I did not believe the energy would return. I persisted. Giving away my elder daughter on a farm in Mebane, North Carolina produced euphoria that brought me through and carried me home on Delta Airlines.
At the wedding it was a delight seeing Amelia again in North Carolina a seeming aeon away from New York , saying goodbye before she returned to Spain for her third extended trip.
Watching my sister Sarah Leah Schmerler dance without inhibition after the intensity of being together at the hospital in New York
Revisiting my 12 year-old only nephew Asher Simonson with his unexpected moments of humor
Seeing his father Robert Simonson who had lugged my mobility devices around the Island of Manhattan
My son-in-law Jade Phillips and his firefighting colleagues who, when the festivities were over and the bonfire burned out, literally picked up my exhausted body and flung me into the passenger side of a truck
Then fatigue. Delight in being alone. Concern I would not finish the work I must finish. Optional isolation. Appearing outside my apartment only occasionally. Seeing as few people as possible. Avoiding crowds, large gatherings, and familiar places where I have been surrounded by affection.
Periodically, I receive calls, visits, e-mails and reports of those who ask with affection and concern “Where’s Joel?”
A dear friend becomes sick. Miles and often even a few blocks I do not have the energy to travel keep me from being where I would otherwise like to be.
I sit in my apartment and wait. A rush of energy and I find myself writing, as I am writing now, without stop, expressing while leaving dishes unwashed, my bed unmade, not yet able to complete rigorous academic writing—not quite able to pull together a large project.
Instead, I follow whim. I have been making You Tube videos—going off to a computer in the patient company of an expert in iMovie editing software, collapsing, returning, making slow steady progress as bills pile up, consistently refusing to think about the money I do not have and the energy I do not have to obtain it.
I have been reading Robert Alter’s The Book of Psalms, his introduction tracing the psalms’ origins back to the Bronze Age over 3,000 years ago, reciting his clear translation, going to the Hebrew, recalling my mother never left the house without a small Hebrew copy of Psalms in her pocketbook, dipping into David Halberstam writing about Elvis Presley, reading a paragraph here and there about architecture, engineering, virtual reality—not doing much for long, but doing and then in fatigue watching by choice vapid Netflix videos for hours.
The last part of cancer therapy
I hope to encourage others like me who are recovering to recognize our temporary limitations and persevere.
Most do not recognize the difficulties involved in recovering from cancer after the disease is gone but the energy has not returned.
While researching, I came across a footnote in a medical journal article. A young man with the most dangerous stage of Hodgkin’s disease had killed himself after being cured. The autopsy revealed no cancer was present in his body.
Surviving while still recovering can be a hard time unless one is willing to believe in the future. Henry David Thoreau should be an encouragement to those us living in situations such as the one I am now in. Thoreau wrote, “There is one consolation in being sick; and that is the possibility that you may recover to a better state than you were ever in before.”
My life seems to have been lived on the principle that best way to get from here to there is NOT to go in a straight line.
I have been watching You Tubes of Edward R. Murrow, my hero. This one caught my fancy yesterday at 2 in the morning.
This I believe
I am alive for a purpose.
The attempt to achieve the purpose, which I choose to call my path in homage to Laozi, serves not only its own end but to unite all that is sacred to me; namely, my children (of course) who are adults and have lives of their own; my sister Sarah and my family, my friends who are family; my love for women (a woman were the right woman in my bed); the need to care for myself, be independent in body and mind, be a good citizen who embraces not only my country but my mother Earth, and the need to be the human being I strive to be who believes in the spirit that gives us life.
3. My chosen path is to help the elderly and disabled achieve their potential.
4. Along that path is the virtue of technology which makes it possible for me to go seamlessly from my bed to my kitchen out the door and into the world on scooters like the kind that my dear friend Al Thieme of Amigo Mobility invented which he refers to as Power Operated Vehicle scooters or POV scooters to distinguish them from toys. The technology mobility path includes power chairs and equipment being developed at an astonishingly rapid pace. The consequence of this technology is I do not think of myself as one whose disability prevents me from living life to the full. For individuals with hearing and visual disabilities technology has developed to the point where, for example, an individual blind from birth can drive an automobile specially equipped with laser scanning of the road; the automobile provides the driver computer-voice simulated operated instructions.
Totally blind drivers have passed tests on intentionally difficult driving courses. I believe in my lifetime the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will issue drivers licenses to individuals who are totally blind but who have proven their ability to drive sophisticated vehicles such as the ones already produced by the Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory.
5. My path is focused on what the architectural, engineering, and construction community refer to as the built environment. See, for example, my biographical information and published work for e-architect: http://www.e-architect.co.uk/editors/joel-solkoff
6. To rebuild the environment, the promise of virtual reality is real. Virtual reality is a promise my 30 year-old mentor Sonali Kumar introduced to me as I worked with her as a research assistant at Penn State’s Architectural Engineering Department to complete her doctoral dissertation entitled: Experience-based design review of healthcare facilities using interactive virtual prototypes.
Sonali apologized when she used me as the model for this avatar. “I am sorry I put so much gray in your hair. You do have a lot of gray in your hair.”
Fashion aside, one of my contributions to Sonali’s animated three-dimensional model of an independent-living-aging-in-place home was the suggestion she replace the original bathtub with a roll in shower. As a paraplegic for whom being clean is vital, I have all too often been trapped in a bathtub–on one occasion it took me 45 minutes to figure out how to get out of the tub finally using my arms to push me out, pulling my legs after me as I landed onto a dirty bathroom floor.
7. Experienced-based design is essential. Experienced-based design is one of a number of academic terms meaning the best way to design an environment is to ask the person who will use it. The example that comes most readily to mind is an article I read about a new hospital in the Philadelphia area. The article complemented the hospital administration for asking patients at the previous facility what changes they would suggest making to the design of the new building to make the hospital more patient-friendly. The patients suggested making it easier to get from bed to bathroom by making the bathroom closer to the bed. The article praised the administration for the reduction in falls as a consequence. [I know. My instant reaction to that was Daaaaaaaaaaaahh.] Asking does matter. Ask experts like me, for example, or my neighbors at Addison Court (an independent living apartment building for the elderly and disabled) whom I arranged to view Sonali’s model wearing 3-D glasses at Dr. John Messner’s Immersive Construction Lab for Construction industry. The consequence is we have the experience to instruct the design of the environment around us so that it is more efficient. The result is not merely an exercise in odd-sounding academic words such as case studies, scenarios, and activities of daily living (ADL); it is also a good idea.
8. Self reliance should be encouraged. Shown here
[Note: Think of I believe in points 8, 9, and beyond as Coming Attractions.]
The following appeared in HME News, the publication for the home medical industry, on July 26, 2011. This year and last, I asked the residents of Addison Court, the low-income apartment for disabled and elderly in State College where I live, to attend a demonstration at the Immersive Construction Lab, described here.One of the participants was Lilian Hutchison, who celebrated her 87th birthday in January. No one can say for sure whether Lilian would have fallen several times in her apartment if this kind of technology were in place. However, the hope is that the future will be kinder to those of us who can benefit from design which residents are able to modify in advance.
The projectors behind the three, 8-foot screens show a virtual reality world that can improve the environment where home medical equipment HME is used. Professor John I. Messner’s Immersive Construction (ICon) Laboratory at Penn States Architectural Engineering Department is a dark, windowless room where the healthcare facilities being viewed seem so real there is a special world for it: immersion.
When Kaiser-Permanente began constructing a medical building in downtown Washington, D.C., pharmacists traveled 140 miles to State College to see how their workplace would appear. Among their suggestions: a partition so when two patients are served simultaneously, their privacy is insured.
There is substantial growth in constructing healthcare facilities from hospitals to housing for the elderly. Previously, a model of how a building would look required physical materials like wood and nails. By comparison, virtual reality offers interactive models early in the design process. The resulting efficiency and cost savings (making changes to a building before it is built) are creating a boom in the use of virtual reality in the architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) industry. Expectations exceed the ability of the AEC industry to have virtual reality applications ready as quickly as desired.
Sonali Kumar, a graduate research assistant at Penn State, is developing a 3-D model for an independent living facility for elderly and disabled individuals based on the concept of experience-based design. Experience-based design often refers to a body of academic literature, primarily health-care related. Designers are urged to consider the perspective of the individuals who build, maintain, work and reside in the facility, including patients and residents. A common example is the decision of a Philadelphia hospital to build its bathrooms closer to patients beds.
My perspective on Sonali’s effort comes from my status as a disabled resident of a primarily elderly independent living facility. For example, I look at an early version of Sonali’s model showing a bathtub in the bathroom and say, No. There should be a roll-in shower here. I show an early prototype to Travis Barr, co-owner of T & B Medical here in State College. While fixing my scooter, Travis says, “There should not be cabinet doors in the kitchen. Doors are a nuisance for people with disabilities.”
Sonali’s model is based on a Blue Roof Technologies cottage in McKeesport, Pa. Pennsylvania has a larger number of elderly people in its population than any other state except Florida. The need for elderly housing is acute. In McKeesport, where the factory for steel pipes closed down leaving a near-ghost town and an elderly population of more than 20%, Robert Walters, a retired Penn State professor, created Blueroof. The cottages are constructed of pre-fabricated housing and have special sensors inserted in the walls to remind residents when to take their medicine (the walls talk) and to call 911 if a resident falls and does not get up in a timely fashion.
Sonali’s model of a Blue Roof cottage makes use of interaction, the most significant new development in virtual reality. Look at the screen shot Sonali took of the power chair inside the kitchen of her model cottage. For those readers who have not spent their productive hours playing video games, an avatar is a virtual reality representation of an actor functioning in a 3-D environment. The avatar in the Sonali’s kitchen is a power chair. The power chair makes coffee and toast, opening the refrigerator door to get eggs and milk, and scrambles eggs on a stove the avatar has just turned on. Interactivity is key to understanding how practical people in the construction industry have come to use 3-D technology for practical purposes.
Interactivity is arrived at slowly as Sonali experiments with a wide range of software. I suggested that Sonali replace the 3-D power chair with a scooter. In my experience, a scooter is more mobile and less likely to damage walls and take bathroom doors off their hinges. I ask a manufacturer to provide a 3-D scooter file, but for reasons I cannot explain (because I do not understand), the file does not yet open. Sonali explains, “We are in the process of integrating the computer model obtained from Amigo Mobility.” Keep your 3-D glasses on and await future developments.
Joel Solkoff writes about disability issues from a customer perspective. He is an adjunct research assistant at the Department of Architectural Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University.
John Bertoty (right) is Executive Director of Blueroof Technologies, Inc. This is a position John has held for the past 10 years when he founded Blueroof with Robert Walters (left). Listen to one of the sounds you might hear after you enter the front door.
In 2002, John was Academic Principal,McKeesport Area High School, McKeesport, Pennsylvania. John writes that he was “responsible for all aspects of the academic program (1500 Students).”
This following is a photograph of McKeesport Area High School as it is today:
The website All About McKeesport Area High School and Technology Center notes:
“The high school became a Grade 9-12 building with the start of the 2000-2001 school year. In 2003-2004, new additions to the high school building provided room for the five remaining vocational/technical classes that were housed at North Hall. Culinary Arts, Cosmetology, Building Construction, Auto Body, and Auto Mechanics are now all a part of the comprehensive high school that offers its entire academic and vocational/technical curriculum under one roof.” http://www.mckasd.com/MAHS/general_information.php#matc
At the same time John was Principal, he also served as Acting Director of Vocational Education with full responsibility for the 700 student vocational/technical center. Indeed, it was John’s passion for vocational educational that led him to join with Robert Walters, a professor of engineering at the local Penn State campus, to create Blueroof. As Blueroof noted in its initial website: “Blueroof will use innovation, invention, and entrepreneurship to develop state-of-the-art living facilities that will keep senior citizens safer, healthier, and living independently at home as long as possible.”
John’s perspective focused on the fact that the school system was training workers for technical jobs which required, in Rust-Belt-devastated McKeesport, that the young people leave the area to obtain work. One goal of Blueroof was to keep young, skilled workers in McKeesport constructing badly needed housing for the elderly and disabled who have been left behind by the exodus.
In 1940, McKeesport had a population of 55,000 residents. According to the 2010 Census, McKeesport’s population is 19,731. McKeesport, just outside of Pittsburgh at the junction of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers, was steel country.
The largest employer, National Tube Works, once employed 10,000 workers. Now the factory—which graced the cover of postcards—is out of business. At its height, Tube City, as McKeesport was called, took pride in the fact that it was the largest supplier of tubing without seams in the world.
Tube City established a reputation for innovation which, according to Bob Walters, meant that in the 1950s, McKeesport had more patent attorneys than Pittsburgh. Penn State, the largest university in Pennsylvania established a campus at McKeesport which bore the city’s name, but when the city’s reputation became unsavory, the University changed the campus name to Greater Allegheny.
John Bertoty co-authored a scholarly paper on the program he helped found writing, “In 2005, Blueroof Technologies completed construction and dedication of its model Smart Cottage [shown in the photograph above], located at 400 Spring Street in the Third Ward of McKeesport.
“The model Smart Cottage was built to demonstrate and test the monitoring technology features and functions. In addition, Blueroof used the Smart Cottage to guide the development of a floor plan that utilized universal design concepts; this enables it to be adapted to the ever-changing and unique personal needs of each individual owner in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“A modular home is a structure designed and built for residential use; constructed in one or more three-dimensional modules in a factory, and transported to the home site for final assembly and completion on a permanent foundation.
“Using modular home construction techniques, the Smart Cottage is easily replicated for new construction at a cost of approximately $150,000, excluding land cost. About $10,000 (6.7%) of this $150,000 cost is associated with the technology add-ons (materials and labor) to facilitate aging in place. The basic information technology infrastructure (wiring, controller, basic sensors) adds ~$2,000. Internet connectivity, a computer server and an enhanced sensor array add ~$3,000. Networked cameras and a more advanced sensor array add ~$5,000.”
As the first invited guest to spend the night at the Experimental Cottage, it is difficult to describe the feeling of exhilaration I felt sleeping in an apartment designed to meet my specific needs as a person who cannot walk. For about two years, I have been working at Penn State’s Immersive Construction (ICON) Lab working with graduate assistant and 3-D modeller Sonali Kumar to develop a virtual reality demonstration of how residences for elderly and disabled people, such as myself, should be built. The model is based on the reality of the cottage in which I was sleeping and living for two days, using, for example, an expertly designed roll-in shower where I did not fear about falling because the grab bars and shower seat fit so comfortably. I had served as Sonali’s model for the avatar in virtual reality and there were moments when I half expected to bump into myself going into the shower.
If you go to this link at 9 am, (you do not need to log in, but you may have to wait because only one user can use the remote camera at a time), http://220.127.116.11:60001/CgiStart?page=Single&Language=0 you will see John Bertoty sipping his one deeply cherished mug of coffee for the day, talking with Bob Walters and Rich Knapick, who designs the remote sensing equipment, and the rest of the crew, planning the day.
My first day of my two night stay, John had me drive my POV [Power Operated Vehicle] scooter to his car and I transferred to the passenger seat and took the tour. We seemed to go everywhere and everywhere we went, everyone knew John Bertoty.
“Sometimes,” John later told me, “I will see someone who was a student I expelled, and he will come up to me and apologize for having behaved so poorly 15 years ago.” John is the kind of guy, a respected former principal who has been in the area for generations, everyone likes. He is well-equipped to coordinate the area’s human and other resources into creating the kind of housing that will revolutionize the construction of residences for the elderly and disabled. All he needs are the right tools.
Naturally, I begin with myself. The primary theme of my website is based on a scholarly body of literature known as experienced-based design which for the layperson, such as myself, means that I should have a role in the design of the world I live in.
2. My focus. Specifically, I am focusing on two separate worlds (or perhaps world views would be more correct); namely:
Reality: the design of housing for elderly and disabled individuals such as myself
Virtual reality: the tool that makes it possible, economical, and more efficient to create a 3-D model that can be used as a template for the massive construction effort required to house the elderly population here in Rust Belt, PA, and as we age; we “baby boomers” who constitute the largest generation in our country and indeed the world’s history. Stay tuned for more on this demographic reality and its impact.
McKeesport, PA is the unlikely location for a presentation of how the reality of technology currently being constructed should serve as a model for the future. The overriding example presented here is a non-profit corporation BlueroofTechnologies founded 10 years ago, where I spent three days and two nights in December as the first invited guest at the Blueroof Experimental Cottage shown here with Blueroof’s founders on the front porch (a front porch identified by elderly residents as being significant to their sense of well-being):
Next is a photograph of next door in decaying McKeesport. Notice that the road and sidewalk are rotting, and the door and everything else about the building has been demolished, but the wheelchair-accessible curb cut is brand new. (Stay tuned for more on McKeesport‘s curb cuts to nowhere.)
The principal characters in this encomium to Blueroof’s founders are Dr. Robert Walters, (left) a former engineering professor at the local campus of Penn State, and John Bertoty, a retired principal of the local high school.
My under construction profile of John’s cofounder reads: “Robert Walters is the kind of engineer who collects more data than he knows what to do with, but wants more.” Bob currently is collecting data on the number of times the residents of a non-experimental Blueroof residence open their refrigerator doors.
Assume your 86-year-old mother is living alone in an apartment (which is basically what a Blueroof Cottage is). If she has not opened her refrigerator door for three days, that indicates something is wrong. The wired cottage alerts you in a timely fashion and you are able to get there before three days, whatever default Bob contrives. Instead of arriving at Mom’s residence to find her passed out on the floor, requiring an ambulance and who-knows-what, you are able to get over there and help your mother out.
This is a device Bob contrived to measure activities of daily living (ADL) and signal alarms and phone calls for help. The wireless BlueNode System (motion detectors and other sensors not shown, nor the refrigerator):
University Park, PA. is a two and a half drive east and north from McKeesport. Here the Penn State Department of Architectural Engineering (AE) is home of the Smart Spaces Center for Independent Living, an interdisciplinary group which has the capability to help Bob Walters process the data he obtains and find useful applications.
One place where Bob’s data are applied is in the AE Department’s Immersive Construction (ICon) Lab and now is the time to put on your 3-D glasses:
The principals at University Park are:
Dr. Richard Behr, Director of the Smart Spaces Center for Independent Living and professor of architectural engineering.
Dr. John Messner, director of the Computer Integrated Construction (CIC) Research Program (which includes custodianship of the virtual reality lab) and professor of architectural engineering.
[No, I do not know why John and Sonali’s photos came out larger than Rich’s and my wonderful IT guru is asleep. Who wouldn’t be at this hour?]
Sonali Kumar, graduate assistant to John M. and the 3-D modeller who turned me into a virtual reality avatar.
Now more on each:
Dr. Richard Behr has been the prime visionary on all of this. As Director of the multidisciplinary Smart Spaces Center, Rich has been a prime mover in the effort to foster aging in place long before it because a recognized goal. He has focused on retrofitting existing residences so the elderly could continue to live in their traditional homes and in supporting the development of Blueroof and the use of virtual technology in Dr. Messner’s CIC Program.
“These technologies,” Dr. Behr writes, “are often grouped into three broad categories based on their function and value: those which
(1) address safety at the environmental level,
(2) secure health and wellness at the individual level, and
(3) enable social connectedness at the community level .”
Dr. John Messner uses virtual technology to design health care facilities. Shown here are pharmacists from the Washington, D.C. area viewing a Kaiser Permanente health care facility not yet constructed. The pharmacists drove from DC to State College (quite a schlep, try it sometime) to view their future workplace and make important design changes before building began.
Sonali Kumar built this 3-D model of me as an avatar getting ready to take a shower:
Sonali is completing her doctoral work on experienced-based design, which this is. As I keyboard this posting, I frequently glance at her award-winning poster entitled “Experience-Based Design Review of Healthcare Facilities Using An Interactive Prototyping System.” Shown here is one of the experienced-based design consultants Sonali used to research the effectiveness of an interactive prototyping system, Lilian Hutchison, my 87-year old neighbor:
4. Baby Boom Demographics
One out of every four Americans is a part of the Baby Boom generation which the U.S Census Department defines as those 76 million Americans born between 1946, the year after World War II ended, and 1964 when prodigious use of birth control and other factors caused the annual birth rate to fall below 4 million.
The first baby boomers have already begun to retire despite the fact that most jobs in the United States are held by baby boomers. When the members of my generation give up their jobs a whole slew of disaster scenarios appear—whether you go to the U.S. Census Bureau’s excellent website or consult Google’s index and find this expression of impending disaster:
5. Who is the primary audience for this information? Why it is the Ford Foundation, based in New York City which has demonstrated a tradition of providing funding for significantly innovative projects that improve the lives of indigent, elderly, and disabled individuals throughout the world (and the world includes the United States).
Ford has a tradition of distinguished leadership exemplified by McGeorge Bundy, who left Lyndon Johnson’s White House to become Ford’s President.
Today, the President of Ford is Luis Antonio Ubiñas. His official biography notes: “Prior to joining the Ford Foundation, Luis was a director at McKinsey & Company, leading the firm’s media practice on the West Coast. He served technology, telecommunications and media companies, working with them to develop and implement strategies and improve operations. Much of his work focused on the opportunities and challenges represented by the growth of Internet and wireless technologies.”