Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

California collaboration: Activate a cloud (Workshop 2)

By Dana Buntrock

By mid-March, Susan Ubbelohde and I had a plan: we were going to hold a workshop on energy analysis and conservation, in Tokyo.

What would we need? People with a variety of technical skills, money to get them to Japan (plus house and feed them), a variety of equipment, well-organized teaching materials, and, lastly, people who were willing to hear what we had to say. We also needed time to pull it all together, while aware that each day made a difference in how willing people would be to listen--Susan, George and I each lived in New Orleans and recognized that people are receptive to new ideas for only a little while in these circumstances.

And, mind you, we still had our regular responsibilities: classes to teach, an office to run, and the normal family concerns that are a part of any life.

I found money and bought equipment for the workshops; the Center for Japanese Studies was very quick to offer support and, in spite of limited funds available at Cal these days, generous. Susan Ubbelohde set the minimum length of the workshop and the overall structure, based on her long experience teaching on these topics in a variety of settings. Together we identified the need for three graduate students, and, at first, two individuals from Susan's office, Loisos + Ubbelohde,  who we felt would be crucial: Susan's partner, George Loisos, and Brendon Levitt, a graduate of our program who I first met in Japan a decade ago, when he was working for Fumihiko Maki. Over time, three more of Susan's staff would also play key roles: Santosh Phillip, a computer whiz, and two recent graduates of our program, Ibone Santiago and Eduardo Pintos.

In light of the limited amount of time we had and the amount of work that needed to go into making everything happen and run smoothly, we naturally fell into a way of collaborating that has become common in California: the cloud. Each of us had strengths, and there was sufficient overlap to cover for any one of us at crucial moments if we just kept others in the loop with cc'd e-mails and the like. One simple example: Brendon and I both speak, read and write Japanese. Likely we sound like foreigners--we are--but we can write an e-mail or make a phone call. At one point, I was at a conference and there was important work to be done; before I could get to my e-mail, Brendon had made a call to Japan and taken care of moving things forward at a crucial time.

We also needed partners in Japan. We were not interested in suggesting we are better at energy conservation than Japan, but simply that we offered a way of thinking that filled out an area where Japan had not yet developed strengths. We have no intention of trying to make Japan come to us for answers: the workshop was organized in the spirit of academic exchange and intellectual support.

I've known Dr. Kengo Kuma of the University of Tokyo, an internationally respected architect, for a long time; he was a key subject in my second book, and he has a large, international staff. I asked him to help us make this workshop happen.  Kuma-San, in turn, brought several key players to the project: Balazs Bognar (who works in Kuma-San's office) and the Institute for Building Environment and Energy Conservation, headed by Dr. Shuzo Murakami, a retired professor. Dr. Murakami, in turn, offered the unstinting support of Nobufusa Yoshizawa, who manages the Building Research Department at IBEC.

Every one of the people involved in this project has a special skill or knowledge. Many of us from Berkeley have worked together closely for many years, learning each others' strengths and weaknesses. We never had a genuine leader on this effort, though it is fair to say that those of us who were older and more senior were at times given a greater voice in decisions we made. No one person, though, ever knew everything that was being done to make the workshop happen. Likely none of us knew if it would go well or not until it did.

We'd activated a cloud; we are, after all, Californians.

Next time (really!), I'll write about the tools and toys.

See all the entries on this workshop:

#1: Architects talking energy--in Tokyo

#2: California Collaboration: Activate a Cloud

#3: Technology & Toys

#4: Software for study and simulation

# 5: Where do we go from here?

Or see photos:

Everyday Wurster's site on Flickr