Maria Mudd Ruth is the author of more than a dozen books on natural history topics for young and general readers. Her latest book, A Sideways Look at Clouds, will be published in September by Mountaineers Books…
Even when designed by a top-tier architect like Spain's Santiago Calatrava or built by one of the largest and most experienced construction companies in the world, Skanska, the fact is, skylights tend to leak…
In any environment—natural or artificial, exterior or interior—the zenith, the point in the celestial sphere directly above the observer, and the horizon line, the apparent junction of earth and sky, serve as…
A Sideways Look at Clouds:
An Interview with Maria Mudd Ruth
Maria Mudd Ruth is the author of more than a dozen books on natural history topics for young and general readers. Her latest book, A Sideways Look at Clouds, will be published in September by Mountaineers Books.
Maria reached out to Sky Factory founder, Bill Witherspoon, as part of her research for this book. She also caught up with our SkyMobile, our traveling gallery showroom, during its Pacific Northwest tour last year. This past 4th of July, we took the opportunity to chat with her.
SF: What are the most fascinating facts you learned from researching A Sideways Look at Clouds?
MMR: I knew clouds had a critical role in the water cycle; that they created shade and precipitation of all kinds, but I didn't understand that they keep our planet inhabitable by acting as a kind of global thermostat to balance the incoming and outgoing radiation from the sun.
It was fascinating to learn that clouds are considered the "wild card" in climate change—that scientists are just now beginning to understand how different clouds contribute to the heating and cooling of the planet.
By watching clouds for long periods, I discovered they had a subtle power to improve my mood, relieve stress, and even provide emotional comfort. Naturally, I was thrilled to discover that these same benefits were brought indoors—to patients in hospitals and medical treatment rooms—by the clouds in Sky Factory's illusory sky ceilings.
SF: What event or experience led you to become a naturalist?
MMR: Though I have always enjoyed hiking, gardening, and nature photography, I never gave much thought into how the natural world "worked" until I was asked to write a children's book on butterflies by colleagues at the National Geographic Society.
I was on the research staff of Traveler magazine and I didn’t know much about butterflies. Researching the insect’s metamorphosis had a profound impact on me when I was able to understand the science behind the beauty.
SF: What drew you to become a writer?
Both my parents were avid readers and writers—my father a journalist and my mother a poet. Words, grammar, and the power of language really mattered in our house.
Maria Mudd Ruth. Photo by Mark Ruth.
After I wrote my book on butterflies, I realized I was happier out in the world and wanted to share true stories of the natural world with young readers.
SF: What books have left a deep impression?
MMR: I am drawn to non-fiction natural-history books: Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is at the top of this list, Jay Griffith's Wild, John McPhee's Coming Into the Country, Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams, and Christopher Cokinos's Hope is the Thing with Feathers.
Also Wendell Berry's The Unsettling of America and Peter Wohlleben's Hidden Life of Trees. These are all titles I have found so inspiring that I could not read but a few pages of without tossing the book aside (literally) to get outside into nature or to pick up a pen and start writing.
The Sky Factory wishes Maria great success with the launch of her latest book, which can be ordered from Mountaineers Books or her web site, Maria Ruth Books.
No One's Singing in the Oculus:
Leaks Bedevil World's Most Expensive Skylight
Even when designed by a top-tier architect like Spain's Santiago Calatrava or built by one of the largest and most experienced construction companies in the world, Skanska, the fact is, skylights tend to leak.
Ever since its highly anticipated (and much delayed) inauguration last year, the World Trade Center's half billion dollar "Bird in Flight" oculus has been marred by multiple leaks, many incurred again this past May to the Port Authority's chagrin.
Even after Calatrava’s elegant design, which the architect said was intended to resemble a bird being released from a child's hand, morphed—for security reasons—into an stegosaurus more than a fanciful bird (in the words of the New York Times), the armored skylight has stubbornly refused to seal.
WTC Transportation Hub. Photo courtesy of Hufton + Crow.
Unfortunately, transportation mega-projects like the WTC Transportation Hub are engineering and construction operations of such complexity—so many actors, stakeholders, and phases—not to speak of the delays (more than a decade!), and the cost overruns (a few billion for the entire plan), that when raindrops trickle down onto the marbled white floors, finding the cause (and the responsible party!) becomes a collective obsession.
Such is the situation the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey finds itself in. The transit hub’s spokesman fired the opening salvo back in May stating that “somehow water is getting into open areas of WTC 3…Water also leaked into the Oculus from the east side of the mezzanine, but there was no indication it came through the roof."1
The Three WTC developer, Silverstein Properties, denied responsibility and threw the blame back to the Port Authority. The bizarre chain of events featured outright leak denials by government officials despite eyewitness accounts from a New York Post reporter and many more unhappy commuters posting on Twitter.
Curious thing, a core principle of modernist architecture is that form follows function, but when the function itself is purportedly problematic to begin with: what can you do? A skylight's main function is to channel daylight into enclosed interiors to restore a visual connection to open sky, a welcome feature in most architecture.
Sky Factory's Luminous SkyCeiling at the Orange Telecom HQ reception in Paris.
However, aside from the universal problem of rain and snow finding its way inside, a skylight's lack of weather resistance also creates heat loss and gain depending on the time of day (and season), creating a costly load for HVAC systems.
It is not uncommon for facility planners to consider replacing a real skylight with an illusory one. Seal the roof and create a simulated portal to open skies and the maintenance headache posed by the possible threat of a leak, vanishes.
The main function of virtual skylights applying EBD (evidence-based design) principles is to deliver spatial comfort to occupants of enclosed environments. In addition, restorative illusory skies allow facility managers and property owners to marshal their resources to other pressing areas of the property.
1As quoted in the New York Post, May 7, 2017
New AIA CE Course Coming Soon:
The Restorative Impact of Perceived Open Space
In any environment—natural or artificial, exterior or interior—the zenith, the point in the celestial sphere directly above the observer, and the horizon line, the apparent junction of earth and sky, serve as environmental anchors that shape our experience of space. Access to these references is essential for proper spatial cognition and human wellness.
In deep plan buildings, enclosed interiors collapse the natural zenith and horizon line into architectural space, which result in the occupant's isolation from the exterior and/or reduce his field of view to urban landscapes that yield minimal benefit.
However, these spatial anchor points can be restored, even in the most claustrophobic spaces, by leveraging our habits of perception. This fall, learn more about the healing properties of the perceived zenith and the perceived horizon line.
Join us at one of these events or book a presentation at your firm by contacting Beth Wilkinson at (866) 759-3228 ext. 203 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, September 29th
AIA Iowa Cohesion workshop
Des Moines, IA
Monday, October 15th
Watch a preview of the new AIA CE course:
Fall 2017 Tradeshow Schedule
||Dallas Market Hall
|Compass Health Facilities Symposium
||Doubletree by Hilton, Portland
|AIA North Carolina
||Hilton Wilmington Riverside
|Health Facilities Symposium Expo
||Austin Convention Center
||San Diego, CA
||San Diego Convention Center
||Des Moines, IA
||Iowa Events Center
||Baltimore Marriott Waterfront