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Green Building Blog

Blog Review: The Art of Construction

Philosophical mediations on housing affordability, sustainability, and hard work

Construction and Art:

Richard Reilly, a skilled photographer as well as a construction veteran, combines an appreciation of both at his blog. This is a LEED platinum project in St. Louis for Habitat for Humanity.

You’ll have to do a bit of sleuthing if you want any background information on the author of “The Art of Construction.” There’s no handy “contact” link on the home page, no “history” page, no photo. Not even a name, just “posted by RR” at the bottom of the entries.

So I started at the beginning, with the first two posts written by Richard Reilly in August 2008.

Now I know that Reilly was an accounting major at the University of Kansas in 1980 when he took a summer construction job and was fired not long afterward because he didn’t know what he was doing. Two years later, he joined Boa Construction Co. in St. Louis, Missouri, and there he stayed for at least 26 years, rising from carpenter to chief operations officer in a company with annual revenues of about $20 million.

He became a LEED Accredited Professional in 2007, and joined the St. Louis HBA Green Building Council. He’s also done a lot of work with Habitat for Humanity, particularly in getting new Habitat homes certified at the LEED gold and platinum levels.

Reilly has since moved to Trumpet LLC, another St. Louis firm, where he is director of operations. He specializes in low-cost, sustainable housing.

If you were thinking this kind of background would produce a bland, business-oriented account of how to build high-performance housing, or offer tips on running Manual J calculations, well, think again.

Follow the link to his blog and one of the first things you’ll see is a series of photographs Reilly took on a recent trip through South Dakota and Wyoming. There’s a post about a Susan Sontag essay on understanding the “saturnine personality,” a lengthy essay entitled “A Brief Meditation on Existentialism and Modern Art,” and photographs on a variety of subjects not directly related to building houses.

In short, it would be helpful to throw away any manufactured notions you might have on what a construction blog is all about and ease into a looser frame of mind before you tackle The Art of Construction.

On childhood summers in the South

“I have often thought of [William] Faulkner as an explanation of the complexity behind the scenes of the summers I spent in the south. Whether or not this is true is hard to say – but it is not hard to say that the south has stayed with me in deep and profound ways and it remains a touchstone. When I go there I see how it has changed and how I have changed. Growth and aging, maturation, sweetening, mellowing and the remnants of what was. And hard life. This is not to say that I ‘know’ the south, only that is has been and remains an important part of my heritage was.”

On America

“What a big, wide, beautiful, and awe-inspiring country we live in. The juxtaposition of natural wonder, infrastructure and americana tells a great story.”

On dealing with the modern world

“We need hard work. We need to struggle with opposing ideas, conflicting ideas and take this work seriously in order to come close to this thing called our ‘potential.’ To think through difficult, nuanced arguments and concepts takes time and effort. If we are kept from conflict, from difficulty by a technology that wants us to be ‘happy’ with the results of our interactions with it, then the cart is before the horse and the servant has become the master.”

On his professional experience

“… I learned, quite convincingly, that money does not buy happiness; I’ve had some happy, well-adjusted and well-to-do clients, but almost as many who were immature, unhappy and unkind. I have seen architects and clients alike agonize over minute details (because it seemed they lost sight of the ‘whole’) in ways I found incomprehensible – at least relative to my experiences watching people live in these highly controlled, rigorously designed spaces. Once folks moved in, life took over and the best one could hope for is that building and occupants were up to the challenges that were asked of each.”

On trends in building

“We are on a path which will eventually unite consumer demand, enlightened building codes and economic necessity. Until then, let’s make the most of the energy-efficient measures we can incorporate into our projects.”

On connecting life and work

“There are a lot of reason we live where we live. These days we have to ask ourselves questions about affordability. How long does it take to get to work? How much does that cost every month? Our lifestyles are a combination of factors and associated costs. House payment, car payment, gas, utilities, etc. Do you have the right combination for your family?

“From the sustainability perspective, strategies are available that yield the effects of more time at at home, lower utility costs, cheaper transportation costs, lower insurance premiums and more. If it makes sense, live closer to work and save money.”

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