INTERVIEWEE: Pliny Fisk (PF)
INTERVIEWER: David Todd (DT)
DATE: April 12, 2002
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Karen Brewer and Robin Johnson
Please note that the video includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers correlate with the time codes on the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.
DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It’s April 12th, the year 2002 and we’re in Austin, Texas east of—of town at the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, which is a group that Pliny Fisk and his wife Gail Vittori have—have been co-directors of for going on 30 years almost.
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PF: Well, 26 plus.
DT: Twenty-six, a long time and—and have helped lead in the sustainable design of and—and—and building reform efforts of the—those—those years. And I wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk to us about…
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PF: You’re very welcome, it’s good to be here.
DT: Um, I thought we might start with a question about your early years and—and whether it was as a child or—or into school—school age years and—and ask if there were family members or early friends or perhaps teachers that influenced your interest in—in the environment and in building and—and design.
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PF: Well, it—it’s probably all three of those. It’s – it was a situation where I grew up in a fairly unique household where I had a—a mom who was a painter, artist, a beautiful illustrator, drawer and a dad who was a self-taught microbiologist who held something like 60 odd patents for high-rate composting, but didn’t have very much busi—business acumen. So compost, after we created it in a high rate composting plant for our dear town in New York state that proceeded basically not understanding it and throwing the whole idea and practically us out of town, it ended up at our house. So, we had mountains of compost around us as I grew up with tomatoes, the most unreal size that looked as though they came from another planet that you could ever imagine. So, that was definitely an influence and I think part of the influence there as well was, you know, not only the—the sort of art and science sort of hitting me daily, but I think also the sort of persistence of actually doing something despite, you know, what forces in that case it was the Archdiocese
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of New York coming out from New York City and fighting in the City Hall a pollution attempt to cross the mountain from their seminary. So, these things from the age of what was that, I think something like 12 on were very part of my existence. And then I guess the next influence period was with Ian McHarg who was and s—I guess still is considered the sort of grandfather of ecological land planning in this country. And I had the
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good fortune of not only going through his courses and so on, but also being invited to work for the office and doing fairly outrageous projects at a very early age and that those outrageous projects included anything from, you know, new towns of whatever 100,000 people sitting on the Mississippi Delta wondering whether the new town should be really a positive influence on the Delta, which obviously it should be, but the more important thing is how do you do that? So, how do you look at the food chain from people and people’s waste to actually helping the wetlands and helping the marshlands around that new town
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because here we were sitting right next to what was it, it was the second largest fishing area in this hemisphere. So, what we were doing there was very influential and—and I guess one of the things that I sort of like to say, which is a little bit overly graphic but New Orleans, an area that really represents, you know, sort of the asshole of the nation and being the asshole of the nation what goes through the body of the country comes out as a particular kind of waste, which could be good or which could be bad. So, the challenge in that case was really understanding that waste flow and what you could do with it which necessitated immense creativity beyond what we really had at that point and the idea that the new
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town would economically derive from the treating of a whole range of waste was put on the board at that time. But Ian was a person that would take ideas such as that and not be afraid at all of trying to see how far it could be taken and so wha—who are the ecologists that would be brought in? Who are the chemists, who are this, who were that and the surprising thing to me having worked there in a full time basis for the first time in any office was that those sorts of issues were being brought up basically in an architecture planning office that one would not think had very much to do with the waste coming down
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a river. And so it was very important to get a bridge in ones mind to realize it certainly had a tremendous amount to do with the waste coming down the river. You can either pay no attention to it or you can take—tackle it and it becomes part of your development efforts on the tip of that whole peninsula. Then I think a third stage influence was the whole issue of how does the—the—the cross over between technology and economics begin to work and that means people like Hazel Henderson, people like E.F. Schumacher, all those sorts of people at that time who are really trying to say what you do technically has an immense
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amount to do with who is influenced, who is hired, how you relate to a region. So, the idea of what is technology—what is an appropriate technology both from an environmental sense, but also from a people sense, from an econ—economic sense. That sort of got folded in very early in what we were doing in our early years in working in South Texas and working in—in the Mexican American community and then proceeding to work in—in third world situations and in some, well, revolutions that were really same kinds of revolutions that were trying to take place in this country with the Mexican American
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movement. In other words, how do we control our own future, how do we understand our own resources, how do we get decent food how do we provide income for our own people and not be run by outside forces. Um, that sort of fit into this whole appropriate technology situation that we had been very connected to related to Shoemaker and Hazel Henderson and others. And then I think if I, you know, if I went one step further the sort of breakthrough really happened when people began to realize through media and other means. And we have somehow gotten very good media over the years to
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our utter amazement at times, but a lot of what was going on in Crystal City, Texas with the Mexican American movement was on national public television, it was in the New York Times, it was centerfold in the Christian Science Monitor, it got a lot of press. But what also—what that did is that it got other people such as the City of Austin, such as Sarasota, Florida, such as a little town in Indiana, various places, interested in what we were doing from a more holistic sense, meaning what could a city region do. And that meant, you
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know, what—well, in from one sense what you specified in your town from the built environment standpoint. What you put in the roads, what was your sewer system, what were things made out of, where does your energy come from, was actually planning the region and people were not realizing it was planning the region. So, what you were specing [specifying] even in a building, what were your vendors, who were your producers of anything within that building was actually saying you are specing something presumably for a reason and that that had something to do with who and where received the money, what was the environment impact in that effort. And so we began to tie together the built
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environment and the planned environment, and the publicity that came out of those things really sort of sparked Austin’s interest. And Austin actually had the guts after many years of sort of we’re the untouchables because we’re dealing with all these radical people around the world came to us and said we’d like—well, do you have any ideas for what to do related to our city applying to the Urban Consortium for a grant and what would you do? And so Gail proposed sort of picking off on some of these experiences going on at the center, why don’t we do a sustainable city project? And so that went through and
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so we gathered all our—our forces to enable that to happen. And then I guess the next sort of development and I—and I originally said there were only two or three but as I kind of start to thinking it sort of evolves through these very specific periods over the years. And a next sort of development was how do you actually do this in such a way, meaning how do you actually spec buildings, deal with cities, deal with regions, how does that all come together to being an approach on ones work? So when one is doing a green builder program that one is reflecting that in their architecture, but one is also reflecting that in how you plan a region. And so there was a major leap made again and the leap was essentially
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EPA getting very interested in our work. And when that happened they basically said, “Well we like your criticism related to what others are doing in the world, what would you do?” And so we created what was called a national model for baselining: What Does Green Mean. And that national model was funded for about a three-year period and we were able to actually incorporate into that what’s called The Input-Output Analysis of the U.S. Economy. And what that meant is that that was the only means that this country or any country has of actually connecting the flow of things from business to
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business. So, that means something that comes out of a mine or out of the forest where does it go next, where does it go after that, where does it go after that and after that and after that, all the way through to the point of where you’re using it.
DT: This is a material flow model not a cash flow…
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PF: This can be material flow, it can be cash flow and it can be energy flow. It can be all of those and it’s another way of now thinking in—in a term that’s used extensively called life cycle assessment. And there are two types of life cycle assessment. One is the kind that you simply call up somebody and you get all the people that supply them and you call them up and you get all the people that supply them and you keep calling up. You’re getting as much information as you possibly can collect from their data on their way of
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doing business and doing production. The problem with that is that that can take forever because these days what seems simple is extremely complex and can get hundreds of things that are inputting behind it. You know, how much do people travel to work to produce that? What are all the things that are a function of how that business works? Some businesses are much higher tech than other businesses. Some produce much more pollution than others. How do you get all that complexity of that entire chain all the way to
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the point of here you have something and I’m about to put it in a building. You cannot call people up because there are hundreds and sometimes thousands of people that are involved in that. So, the—what’s called the input output way of doing a life cycle assessment for the first time was funded by EPA to our organization so that we could responsibly say “If you’re trying to be green what is the baseline condition for the greenhouse gases, the criteria air pollutants, the toxic release behind every element was in a building or the building as a whole or buildings or the role that buildings have related to all of their
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activities?” So buildings and this model are only about 28 out of 520 some odd activities. So, some people such as the City of Seattle who did most recent work that we’ve been doing along these lines and the Pentagon work that Gail’s been doing on a number of other projects have been actually asking us to do a real analysis of what is the role of buildings. You’re doing a green city program or sustainable city program it deals with a whole lot more than just buildings, it deals with the roads, it deals with transportations systems, it deals with anything that’s made. And this model basically deals with the materiality of the
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environment. So, it sort of parallels the energy aspect of the environment, which has been concentrated on extensively over the last 20 years really leaving out the real complex issue, which is materials because energy you can pretty well get a fairly good handle on that somewhat easily. To get to know the thousands of things behind the production of a TV is a very different item than understanding the energy that a TV uses or the energy that all the elements behind the TV use. Because the materials are what creates the toxic release and
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the materials are what create a lot of the other commotion far beyond what the energy is involved in in the operational aspects. So that was sort of the—the last real leap of what we’ve doing in that it sort of follows this development. Now my old friend Ian McHarg, when I try to take that information and put it down onto a map of a region or a map of a country or a map of whatever it is, your community, we use a particular technique of doing that and he of course has a total fit or use to have a fit because he passed away about a year ago or so. And the fit was is that we’re trying to come up with a—an approach that really
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is very interdisciplinary, very interoperational. If you look at this model sitting in front of me, for example, people wonder, you know, why did you do this in a grid system? And it’s amazing to realize for—to most people that that grid system on all or—all our buildings, the building that is our office, the building that we’re just doing under construction for Libby Winston Mize in East Texas that use to be Peaceable Kingdom, is all based on a grid system. The grid system relates to a geographic information system. The geographic information system says there’s an important piece of information in that square as opposed
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to that square and how those two guys get along with each other or how this guy and that gal get along with each other as to what goes on within that area and how they are working with each other or at not working with each other. In other words, how well is that farm integrated in this case? This being the Laredo Demonstration Farm model, is exactly the way in another scale how a region works. Now because it’s an infinite grid, we can approximate right down to a square inch what is going on. Biologists, ecologists gi—the
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first thing that they go and do in a field is that they put a transect on the field exactly like this and they try to understand what is going on with the energy flow, the material flow within that transect, which is very often say a three meter square. We’re basically saying if you begin to be what—what is called in the field interoperational, which means all right I am an ecologist now what does that have to do with a planner? What does that have to do with an architect? What does that have to do with a wastewater engineer? What does that have to do with all the different actors out there and can we actually get some framework,
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some system that we can cooperatively get together on and say, yeah, GIS system, them, that’s a good cell that’s equal area that we begin to understand our inputs and outputs whether it be a national economic model or whether it be a city that we’re talking about to its region or we talk about the buildings sitting in this complex. It’s all exactly the same approach. What that does is very, very interesting things because some people take the attitude well, if the world’s coming to that what a terrible, terrible world we’re getting ourselves into, or, you can reverse it. You can say that’s (inaudible) more than a tool. That
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tool is more sophisticated throu—certainly than a pencil. The computer is certainly more sophisticated than a pencil. Let’s go to the next step and put a perspective on how we use a computer. A computer as we know is a big pixelation system as it is. If you look very closely a bunch of squares in that screen and, in fact, depending on what software you use you can re-gauge the size of those pixels. And so those pixels could be these pixels and these pixels could be that square in the City of Laredo and we could begin to operate quite creatively with that and not look at it as a stigma, but actually look at it as a framework of responsibility to understand what am I doing here. What am I not doing? What am I
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depending on somebody else for that before this point in time presumably I would just assume without telling them I’m going to use your water. I’m going to use your environmental impact that you’ve just created in pulling that steel out of the ground. I’m going to use your whatever. Now we’re getting more responsible, presumably. We’re saying I am agreeing to say that I am not doing that in this complex and what I am doing, I can put down and understand and share with others, but what I’m not doing I’m also
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willing to put down and share with others. That’s a totally different world than the world that we’ve been dealing with. That begins to put very different things on land use planning. That puts very different things on individual’s responsibility, and again we find it an incredibly creative tool to do whatever we’re doing from architectural design on through.
DT: Can you—can you run this grid out? I understood that as part of this Laredo project you did a very innovative resource map of Texas trying to get people to be more cognizant of the—how place effects the kind of building that you might put up.
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PF: Right. Well, in the days that we—we didn’t quite have our geographic information systems together yet, in fact, we still have quite a long ways to go in that area. And so we didn’t use the system quite to the extent that I just talked to you about at a regional level. We did here, but we didn’t in a regional level, but we did do resource maps. So, we got some idea of, you know, we were taking all that drilling stem and taking it from recycling places. It was from, you know, left over from oilrigs in the old days and incorporated that into the farm. Or in the case there—we—we found at a regional level that there was a grass species coming in and taking over. They call buffle grass. And farmers were
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eradicating it with all kinds of terrible things. So, we said instead of using those terrible things why don’t we go and harvest them; take it away, but use it. And we run into many of those kin—sorts of things. How do you use the principles of ecology of the reuse of something to go and to make something else instead of saying let’s obliterate that? So, in this case lets manage it and control it and let’s not let it get any further, but let’s see if there
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are any good uses for this happenstance thing that nature came along and said or probably people came along and said we have unintentionally planted buffle grass. Buffle grass as it turned out did beautifully in the building of the straw bail buildings and these were the first straw bail buildings actually ever done for any public agency in the United States. So, it was very important that the story behind what we’re doing caught on and became important. And probably one of the—the interesting things to—in—in our work from a design sense but also a community sense is that these things caught on in Laredo and after
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Jim Hightower lost office with the Texas Department of Agriculture and Rick Perry came in, the community took over the farm. And the community said, “Well, you know we—we’re not into farming as a community, we’re not farmers although we work on farms. What’s most important to us is actually taking this facility and relating it to the river next door,” which happens to be the Rio Grande River and they made it into the Rio Grande Study Center. And the Rio Grande Study Center is actually doing a far more relevant effort than any farm really could and that is studying the ecology of the whole Rio Grande and as soon as you walk in, in fact, to this building now on the floor of that building is the entire
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Rio Grande watershed painted on the floor. So, people come in, they sort of orient themselves as to where they are, they look at the particular ecology in this part, you go outside and you see all the donations of all the families and businesses in the area have donated into ecological niches of particular aspects of the lower Rio Grande River basin. So, you go outside and you see all the flora and fauna for this particular part of the Rio Grande or that particular part of Rio Grande. The miraculous thing is that it is very used by the community. There are four to six thousand people that visit every month this facility in
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Laredo instead of going to, you know, some fancy facility in Corpus or San Antonio or wherever else. They actually get to know more and more of their own community. Now the nice thing on top of that, is that much of our work from an architectural standpoint has gotten very good respect. The facility was actually chosen by the design profession as being, at least in one publisher’s view, one of the 70 most significant architectural efforts since Kennedy in this country. And as a similar—and—and we think that that kind of thing as important because the advance green builder demonstration, which you’re going to take
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photographs of in a while is also fit into this kind of yolk, whatever, and that is the design community sort of saying that is one of the most significant buildings for that year around the world by American architecture firm. So, that building in one book by Taschen Press actually sits next to the Bilbao Museum in Spain. Now at first you think well, you know, that’s cute and that’s neat, but what we’re really in the business of )if you sort of really think in the core of what we’re trying to do) is we’re trying to people—change peoples mindsets. We’re trying to change how you look at the environment. How you look at what
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architecture is to the environment. How you accept a new aesthetics of the environment and that aesthetics incorporates these things by nature into it. And so if you’re actually able to communicate at those levels of design as well as the sort of more scientific end of what we’re doing, what are the inputs outputs, how does this function related to other entities in the world. Those two things coming together are really a lot of what—what we’re doing because we can flip anytime. Scientific aspects, okay let’s talk about that.
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design aspects, okay let’s talk about that and these two worlds emerge.
DT: Can you talk about some of the materials and technology you’ve used that have really caught architects and designers attention?
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PF: Well, they’re always changing but I think there are a number of things in this facility and facilities that we’re presently actually designing and putting up that are very important. If we go and we look, for example, at the EPA model and we try to understand what are the biggest impacts that buildings have from a greenhouse gas standpoint and erosion standpoint and this that and the other thing and a lot of it has to do with what we’re doing when we first start building. What’s your foundation? How do you treat that site? Are you bringing in all kinds of equipment? Are you putting concrete foundations in? Is that
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building a light touch on the land or is it really, really ruining things before you even do anything else? And so La—Laredo was a first attempt at putting in temporary buildings, which means that the structures that you see here are actually held in for a large part by anchors. The anchors are put into the ground. They can be taken out in the future. The pole system, which is the support system that you’re simply penetrating into the ground to a certain distance can be extracted and this could become something else, so that the drilling stem is actually a very strong way of holding up these buildings. We could build the buildings, roof-wise, on the ground; elevate them to destroy walls underneath them. That
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technique of doing low impact buildings foundation wise we now have about three different foundation systems that we’re using where we can use a helix to put into the ground and the building being built on that helix. A lot of people don’t realize that those anchors are not only good for tension, but they’re good for compression and that means that there’s only a very small part of land and a very small piece of equipment that goes in to put that into the ground. And by the way can easily be put in reverse and be taken out of the ground and that building put some other place. So, the building that we’re in is a
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building that was actually funded by the Department of Energy Building America Program. And they went along with us going and doing six of these in the ground. So, this building is held up by six anchors. Interestingly enough the building can stay here and also in high wind because the anchor is also good because the building does not lift off, as well. it’s anchored into the ground, but this is—could be looked at as agricultural soil. Now it’s not the best agricultural soil, but in the future if I add a hundred years people might say,
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“That’s very important place to grow food and to grow other things.” So, the very, very important part of what we’re doing is to say a lot of buildings should not necessarily be permanent. We should be able to say let’s get rid of them; let’s put them in another place. How they’re built though also says can you re-put them together. Are they what’s called internationally an open building system, which means the disassembly and the sem—the assembly is possible and that you’re not simply throwing things away once you take a building and remove it and put it in another place. Now that is a very different way of
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building than, unfortunately, is done out there right now. Right now we are building essentially at whatever scale that you can almost think of unless you’re talking about capitol buildings and—and things like that, government buildings. We’re building a throw away building culture because the buildings are not meant to last. So, we’re getting into this situation where even affordable housing people will come to us and say, you know, if we had spent 25 percent more on that building to make it last that we wouldn’t be running
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into the troubles that we are because they’re running behind. They’re getting—they’re not even catching up. They’re sort of not only been bib—been building poor buildings that are now deteriorating within 20 years so they have to rebuild those and catch up with the buildings that they need to build for the future. So that that whole issue of, you know, what
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things are made out of now the—the—the—the—well, not only what things are made out of but how are they put together, are they meant to be disassembled? Are they meant to, say even in a design sense to somebody looking at it and viewing it, can I take that apart? Can I reuse that? Is it designed in such a way that that meaning is coming across to me? Now another part of this is very important to us is that how do you support local businesses in this effort? And so what we do is we sort of look at the core of our building as being sort of an armature. And like any armature, things can be placed on them and the armature can hold them. So, we look at the armature as passing all our codes, passing safety problems, a lot of those things, structural issues, but they act as an armature to use more
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localized materials. So, it actually becomes an excuse to say “Let’s use agricultural ways, let’s use mining ways, let’s use industrial byproducts.” So, in this case we’re actually able to use some of the flash from cold fire power plants as our cement. And we’ve been able to do that all the way to 100 percent replacement of Portland cement because Portland cement is equivalent to about eight percent of the total global CO2 warming problem, which is soon to be about 17 1/2 % in the year 2015. So, here is just one material that, by the way, is the core material for foundations and if you can get rid of that material or displace it with
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something more sensible than Portland cement then you’re talking about tremendous impact in global warming issues. And our work, since it takes us everywhere I mean China right now—we’re dealing with a couple of projects in China. Their world is cement. Their world is coal and their real big issue to us as an organization is continually asking questions. They got very excited about fly ash cement and if the Chinese get excited about fly ash cement that becomes an excuse to burning coal. If they burn their coal, we are all in deep trouble. So we’re getting them looking at another cement that is not fly ash cement.
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It is much more benign and indigenous to China. So, it’s sort of an endless discovery process of really critiquing yourself, really trying to find the context that you’re sitting in. What are the major issues, global issues, even though you’re dealing with that context and how does that begin to develop the architecture and the design and the engineering and the wastewater and the this and the that that really responds to that condition?
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DT: Um, one of the contributions that I see you making is of by not only asking these questions yourselves but—but helping students ask these questions as well. And I was wondering if you could talk about your role as a teacher both in an academic sense — I know you’ve taught in the University of Texas and elsewhere– and also in a hands on sense with—with the interns and staff that you have here at the center.
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PF: Well, you know, I think it—it’s a very important position for an organization such as ours to be dealing with policy at one end and actually carrying something out at the other end. And to get wi—wi—I guess the most teaching that we’ve actually done is with interns internally to our organization and not with University’s. We’ve had many more interns over the last 20 years than we’ve been dealing with University’s. The University of Texas or—is beginning to get involved with us again, but right now it’s just a very, very
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beginning interns begin to really get these two worlds. How do you get this perspective and how you get out to the other shop and actually make what you just thought works and disn’t—and doesn’t work is just the nice thing and nice thing in a sense that it becomes a very good learning tool and not so nice if you’re ki—trying to put a project together that’s due tomorrow. But there has to be, and I think it’s really missing in
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education where you get a situation where you begin to understand what you think of as the problem if you’re lucky, and then it’s a whole other major step to come out with a solution to that problem. Because the solution to the problem begins to influence the problem itself and what you thought might work here doesn’t work here and you’ve got to change it from bottom up instead of top down. And that’s the very good thing about us being lucky enough to be working in how we do work in trying to get both ends of this in getting
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students involved at both ends with the hands on and the perspective.
DT: Can you describe some of the hands on projects you had students working on here?
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PF: Oh, right now we’re actually dealing with a series of these foundation issues and actually making a prototype of our own version of that. We’re trying to put a whole package together so that we all see that, you know, all you need is a pick up truck and an entire foundation for a good size building can go in back of that pick up truck and all the equipment for putting the foundation in is in the back of the pick up truck and that that’s possible. Now as of two days ago our little hydraulic motor and a little 14 horsepower
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engine to put our anchors in broke on site. So, it’s having to be totally redesigned, but I think, you know, it’s—it’s sort of this situation where you have a vision beyond what you’re doing. I mean normally if it’s just a business as usual way of doing things of something broke we can’t spend more time of that, there’s not—not, you know, money—any money left; let’s go and do the easiest solution; let’s go back to our concrete; this is ridiculous. Instead of that what we do and what our role in the world is is to be very
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persistent. Our goals are much more important than a failure that happened to exist on its way to getting to that goal. And to get students and faculty and—and, you know, I’m—I’m academic chair at two university’s; University of Oklahoma and Mississippi State University. We will—they have me working together with the entire faculty, the entire student body, to give problems for the entire three-day sharep for the whole school is involved. That’s when you begin to get this feeling, you know, propose something it’s not
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going to work, look at global issues, look at your own issues. How is Mississippi doing with CO2 balancing as a state as opposed to what Texas is doing or Oklahoma’s doing and a student begins to say, “You mean to tell me that those forests have something to do with global warming?” I, as a designer never knew that. My role in putting buildings up to deteriorate in 20 years because they’re built poorly is making me add to the problem of carbon dioxide. Because when that building rots and goes into the landfill all the carbon
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that was stored in that wood goes back up into the air and I never knew that. So, that you begin to get that bridging all the time in all kinds of scales right down to your little individual’s seemingly unrelevant—irrelevant project, if that’s magnified a million times makes a difference.
DT: When you talk to your students what sort of problems and challenges and opportunities do you try and explain to them might—they might confront or have as opportunities in the years to come?
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PF: Well, I think a very important point—part of it is who are your peers. Who do you spend time with? Are they environmentally connected firms? Are they conferences? Are they places that you’re involving yourself as a professional in the future that augment this knowledge building process or are you just going on out there business as usual and I’m a landscape architect or I’m an architect or I’m a planner or I’m a whatever. Because you soon realize that if you dip yourself into that situation unless you’re extremely
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persistent you will get totally absorbed and you will forget all the things that you should be after in the world. So, it’s just like what you’re doing in your video. It’s the reinforcing between those groups that are already doing these things to others. What are the benefits for understanding what these 17 groups in Austin, Texas from an environmental standpoint are doing with each other, are doing related to the rest of the world and how do I become part of that? How do I view—view this video and I begin to understand my particular
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connectivity from my aspect into that realm of things? Um, that’s what I talk about with them and I go over lists and lists of offices, organizations job opportunities when they get out, on and on, and in order for them to sort of keep going because you can get distracted real easy.
DT: And how do you recruit people to work at the center, to watch this video, to be aware of these problems?
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PF: We—we never recruit. We I have 28 interns on a list right now for this summer, three of whom I take and my—my um, words to them, persistence. If you’re not persistent you will not be one of the three. And those interns, by the way, are a great variety of people. They are not necessarily designers or planners or landscape architects, they are, you know, they deal with many different professions. In fact, some of the
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professions that have been here from the standpoint of interns and students that have been most successful have not necessarily been architects at all. They’ve been mathematicians, biologists, all kinds of different people.
DT: Uh, one person I’ve been very interested in is Randall, the—the fellow who’s, I believe that’s his name, who’s helped you fabricate a lot of the…
PF: Randall is not an intern, that’s for sure.
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PF: Randall is one of these happenstance things that somebody that actually helps one of us out in a jam, came out to an open house and said, “Man this is cool stuff. Is there anything I can do?” And we said, “Well, what skills do you have?” And when we found out we said “You are in deep, deep trouble.” Mike Ogado’s the same way. Mike Ogado was working for AMD earning a very good salary as head of a particular part of that fad, and came out to an open house and he was sort of ready for a change of things and said,
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“Can I volunteer my capabilities?” And we said, “What are they?” And he said, “I am a chemical engineer.” And we said, “Well, we happened to be taking our fly ash concrete out of the laboratory for the first time and into the field.” He proceeded in actually quitting his job, joining us at one—one hundred and twentieth the salary that he was getting and that sort of changed his whole direction. He went—then went into architecture school, just came out with a degree and came back with us and is now with us again after three years of
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going back to school. That’s happened with several people around here. It’s happened with Jim Walker in Austin who’s doing a lot of environmental work with all sorts of groups. He was a carpenter, moved a friend down from Oregon, happened to pick up a either an Observer or I think it actually was a Chronicle on his way out, went to a rest stop, opened it up, there was an article on us, he what did he do? He sort of—I guess he made a u-turn is what he did. He came right down here and sort of parked out here until
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he could figure out something that we could use him for and that changed his whole—whole life from being a computer programmer, carpenter, to being a planner doing significant things in the environmental community in Austin now. So, you never know, comes from all kinds of situations. The main role that we have is getting the approach and the technique out there so people can understand it.
DT: Well, thanks for explaining it to us.
PF: You’re very welcome.
DT: Um, I wanted to thank you for taking the time and we’ll I guess end here but—but unless you had something you’d like to add.
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PF: I think I’ve probably covered as much as I want to cover this morning, but you know, another cup of—sip of that coffee I might go on for another hour so, I’d better be very careful.
DT: Thanks very much.
PF: You’re welcome. Thanks David.
[End of Reel 2184]
[End of interview with Pliny Fisk]