The reason for an extended European trip is to understand and learn from the differences between cultures. It is even better when you can stay with family or friends who are living the culture. While the world is becoming more homogenized there are still fundamental divergences between Europe and the United States. I do believe that we are slowly adopting the best from both but it will take a long time.
Regarding the built environment
In Europe they build for the distant future. The highways are tunneled under the cities — even under small towns the size of Lyons. The essence and functioning of the towns are not compromised by cars. The “Big Dig” in Boston is nothing compared to anywhere in Switzerland. I would guess that there are more tunnels in Switzerland than in the entire USA. The buildings are also built to last for an eternity. Human comfort, the environment and energy usage are taken much more seriously than even Boulder. Strangely, logic is used. For example; the HVAC systems are designed for comfort most of the year but not for the coldest and hottest days. In the winter time the offices are allowed to be as cool as 68 degrees and in the summer time 78 degrees. This makes net zero consumption much easier to achieve. The people argue that a warm office in the summer and cool office in the winter is better for your health than walking in and out of overly conditioned spaces. Air conditioning with compressors is illegal in Switzerland. They are only allowed to use heat pumps. Rain walls and double glazed curtain walls are vey common.
In Vienna everyone takes public transportation, everywhere. There are very few taxies. The subways are much quicker than cars because they run underground. But unlike NYC the subways run every three minutes. Most of the busses and trams also run every three minutes. There is no feeling of wasting time taking public transportation. The Denver public transportation system is short sighted and will never replace cars.
When resources are scarce, quality is more important. This concept has not hit the USA yet. The cost of everything in Switzerland is truly double of that in the USA. Yet the standard of living is much higher. Better, cars, houses, highways, schools, hospitals, pretty much everything. McDonalds understands this very well. The McDonalds in Europe have incredible pastries and Coffee. They are classy and comfortable. Social thought can raise the quality of life in very many ways.
Social care of the population is not a negative concept in Europe. While the systems are flawed, the goal is to constantly adjust the system and not abolish it. Consequently it is a much better continent to live in for all people. The immigrants are given german lessons and job training for free. Fast integration is far more successful than denial.
So what does this mean for us?
The AIA says that the Architects need to have a greater public voice. I agree that we need to educate people not just with pretty pictures of our work but be involved in Government, education and communications. The best way for us to obtain quality work is to educate the public why it is important. We need to change the codes to not support an outdated lifestyle. Staircases and bathrooms do not need to be as big as required. HVAC codes need drastic revisions.
We back down too quickly with our clients when discussing quality versus quantity. We use too many light fixtures, and as Cherie has been preaching; too many bathrooms. The discussions we have been having about too many choices is also related to culture. Small stores are still popular in Europe however this is being threatened by H&M and other stores.
So what can our office do? We need to secure work so that we can survive but at the same time we have to set philosophical goals for the long term like they do in Europe. Without a goal, you will never get there.