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19 October 2010

Henry Gifford’s insights on New York boilers, Madonna & status

This past weekend I went on a tour of Lower East Side boilers. Recently transplanted to Manhattan from the relatively bucolic borough of Brooklyn, I’ve become a bit more curious about what it takes to make this city function — the layers of concrete on pipe on soil on bedrock that makes New York City less like a piece of earthly geography than a Borg-like construct floating between the Hudson, Harlem and East Rivers.

Anyway, the tours were led by this guy Henry Gifford. Apparently he’s a somewhat controversial figure in the world of green building and architecture because of the questions he has about LEED standards. (Essentially, Gifford argues that LEED buildings end up utilizing more measured energy than normal buildings do.)

He’s also entertaining, at least in the crochety way of anyone that’s mad as hell and not going to take it anymore — at least enough so that the New Yorker somehow ended up doing a short profile of him in their Talk of the Town section back in 2003.

To entertaining let’s add the adjective “wise” — at least wise enough that said profile included a pretty interesting compliment (and implicit critique) of my business.

    “Henry,” said [Tim Baker, the engineering-magazine editor], his pen in the air. “You’ve talked about the ignorance, the dishonesty. Why is this?”

    Henry’s face broke into a grin that was bright enough to heat a loft space. He turned to an associate, who was working the slide projector. “Put the Madonna slide on,” he said. The slide showed young people standing in line on a Greenwich Village sidewalk. “O.K., so these people want to be dancers with Madonna’s world tour,” Henry said. “Look at this—the line stretches around the block. I asked these people, ‘How much does this job pay per hour?’ And none of them knew. This has to do with what I call the Gifford Status-Money Ratio: the amount of money a job pays is inversely correlated to the amount of status the job has. The dancers get paid with social status. Boiler work has zero or negative social status. And this ratio also influences the quality of work to be gotten from a person working in that field. In the basement, there’s money, but there’s no status. This doesn’t mean you’re dumb if you work in the basement. It just means that you’re not expected to be smart. The fact is, excellence is not expected in the basement.”

If you really want to geek out there’s a video lecture by Henry after the jump & a short preview video about the Conference on Preservation & Climate Change, sponsored by the Municipal Arts Society, of which it was apart:
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Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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