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Putting Architects on the Front Lines

Question: How do you feel about Obama placing an architect as director of the HUD?

Mitchell Joachim: The Obama administration is putting has put in charge a director that is an architect or I guess formally an architect, and is it a good idea to put architects in politics? I think so. I think they’re certainly trained to be jacks of all trades that can handle multiple problems, multitask and think in many scales. I’m not really familiar directly with this individual personally that Obama’s put in charge for HUD. I think that our – if you look at our past administration’s successes, or I should say failures, it’s been pretty miserable.

The issue in New Orleans and I don’t know how many years it’s been that we’ve failed to make some kind of contribution to the people in New Orleans, kind of return them to a state of conviviality and lifestyle that they were used to or even just house these folks is appalling. I think putting an architect in charge of the problems, especially one with urban design skills, would almost be a fantasy and I’m glad the Obama administration is looking towards some architects to think about this. I wish we can make it happen even faster.

I’m surprised that something like the Beijing Olympics that seemingly happened overnight, just a few years, they went from zero to 1,000 and impressed the world with a grand, munificent display of architecture and culture and yet America can’t really solve its housing crisis. So architects have been, and that’s all across the globe, have been working on this problem for a good century and I don’t think we still have the right answer. But to keep us off the front lines like many of past administrations was the wrong answer.

How Architects Could Save Detroit 

Mitchell Joachim: God, I think, if I was to see Barack in an elevator some place in D.C., I think that the advice I would give him is to maybe but put more folks like architects in charge of some major problems that are out there. I think that we can actually reify them, visually show what those solutions might be in many different camps. They certainly wouldn’t put us in charge of the military but I think we can help retool Detroit a lot better than the folks there. And I think that we’re fitted to accept that.

There was a talk before the – you know, before this happened between the McCain camp and the Obama camp about what they should be promoting in their elections and there, I guess, the big issue was Detroit. And thinking about what we can do to save Detroit. And I had two separate answers for that. I think for the McCain camp, it would be the military can save Detroit and there are some serious reasons why. And for the Obama camp, there’s going to be science and innovation, maybe, and put some big thinkers in architecture involved for retooling Detroit. But for the McCain camp, if you think about it, getting to an all electric infrastructure, an all electric mobile infrastructure because DARPA and those folks in the military could make a decision like that. And that decision could be, let’s make tanks run on electric drives. Let’s make Jeeps run on electric drives. And let’s do that because those engines have almost no moving parts so they are very easy to fix. They make no sound and I think military folks like stealth. It’s a pretty good thing.

They are a switchable fabric, in other words, the component can be taken out of the tank and put into the Jeep very easily. Come out of the Jeep and put it into a helicopter. And they’re hard to knock out. Batteries could be laced inside all of these vehicles, helicopters, Jeeps, tanks. So that if you hit a certain part of that tank and knock out a section of the battery power, all of the power is not destroyed, it’s distributed throughout the vehicle. So it actually makes a more robust tank plus with electric systems it goes from zero to 100 instantly.

There’s no throttling that you’d find in gasoline powered systems or diesel powered systems so there’s a lot of reasons to use electric drive trains in our military vehicles. The biggest one is because we want to wean ourselves off of oil. We probably can source that electricity through a heavy amount of investment in renewable. And then we’d have a military that was completely independent and very powerful and once the military can do that, it certainly can show Detroit the trail. It can give them a direction.

Recorded on: September 11, 2009



Mitchell Joachim, co-founder of Terreform ONE, describes the positive changes that architects—the ultimate jack-of-all-trades—could bring about in politics, the housing crisis, the military, and retooling Detroit.

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A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."


A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."