Getting A Little Uncomfortable: It’s Not Just For Architects

I’ve been thinking a lot about comfort recently. Particularly since the temperature began descending towards zero and below. I’m a lifelong Minnesotan so this condition is not new to me, and Winter is a close second to Fall in my favorite season category. What’s new, and has me thinking about this every morning, is my commute.

Before I continue, I want to first recognize that winter bikers and pedestrians will have no sympathy for my, um, experience, and nor should they! I aspire to their hardiness and recognize the privilege of my windshield (in addition to a multitude of others). But back to my commute.

This past May I sold my beloved 2008 Volvo C30, a beautifully designed and sporty coupe—which garnered many a passing glance after its premiere in the first Twilight movie—to replace it with a used VW eGolf. At the time, prompted by Earth Day and, admittedly, some deferred maintenance on the Volvo, my husband and I began looking at EVs (all-electric cars). Everyone is familiar with Tesla, but we’re not ones for wait lists or inflated sticker prices. It wasn’t until we truly started researching EVs that we realized there was an emerging market for used EVs from a range of manufacturers. For us the eGolf won out. Sporty, fun and unsettlingly quiet, it was an easy transition. But alas, winter has come. (I urge you to keep reading because I promise you this is not an unqualified car review from a qualified architect).

SALA Architect Bryan Anderson

We’d done our homework so we knew the range would drop in cold temperatures and that the creature comforts of contemporary vehicles would be severely limited by battery life. But it’s one thing to know it in June, and quite another to feel it in January. For those actually reading this for a review I will say the heated seats and windshield are great and highly efficient and the winter battery life is much closer to summer than we’d imagined, but preserving winter range is at the expense of maintaining feeling in your nose and toes.

Did we make a mistake? Do I wish for the comfort of my warm and cozy C30 again? Not in the least! In fact, on the occasion when I sit in slow-moving winter traffic amid a visibly exaggerated field of carbon exhaust, I relish my runny nose knowing I’ve traded it for a stinky tailpipe.

SALA Architect Bryan Anderson

In the same time I’ve been adjusting to my new transportation, we at SALA have been working with a graduate student from the University of Minnesota to better understand the energy and carbon impact of our work. What began as a desire to create a real-time energy assessment tool to help inform our clients of relative efficiencies between design variables became a means for graphing our own efficiency progress towards Architecture 2030. It indicates we have work to do. At our recent American Institute of Architects state conference multiple speakers focused on the crisis of global warming and our industry’s lagging response. It seems we all have work to do.

In the past 20 years of my tenure at SALA, I have heard Dale Mulfinger say many times: “Europeans put on a sweater and Americans turn up the thermostat.” Circumstances for the utterance have varied, but the message remains consistent. We like to be comfortable. But we need to do more. We need to challenge our comfort. I’ve been challenged by my brisk commutes and our research work with the University. I’m getting comfortable being uncomfortable.

So if you’ve stuck with me this long, I encourage you to challenge your own comfort for the greater good. You don’t have to buy an EV—especially if you’re already winter bike commuting!—but maybe eat less meat, or turn down the thermostat. Be an example for your friends and family; cozy up; put on a sweater; change the world. ‘Tis the season!

SALA Architect Bryan Anderson