Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Home Delivery | To the Poorest

In July 2007, three Americans formed PFNC Global Communities -- PFNC stands for "Por Fin, Nuestra Casa," which roughly translates as "Finally, our own home." The company makes the homes you see above out of inexpensive, readily available, shipping containers. Their goal is to provide affordable housing for some of the poorest in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. These poor now live in houses made of scraps of paper and tin. PFNC wants factories who employ these people to offer homes as part of workers' benefits. Their plan may be working.

These diminutive homes are 320 square feet, around $8,000 with kitchen, bath, sleeping area. When drawings and color pictures of the prototype were shown around a poor Juarez neighborhood, people said, "You know it'd be like a dream to live in one of these," Nava said. "You know, just the thought of having nice fresh air ventilating through the house, a large bed ... a normal kitchen and a safe home that locks and closes each night was more than appealing."

The article about this project appeared on the CNN website. Brian McCarthy, the man who conceived of this idea, was visiting factories in Ciudad Juarez, across the boarder from El Paso, Texas, as part of finishing his MBA. After visiting the factories, a bus ride took him into an area of hundreds of ramshackle, tiny, paper and tin shacks that housed the workers of the factories he had just toured. In a moment, his life changed. It is one of the good stories.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Good bye Summer, Hello Autumn.

At 3:44 pm today, summer left us for another hemisphere.

"An equinox is the moment in time (not a whole day) when the centre of the Sun can be observed to be directly above the Earth's equator, occurring around March 20 and September 22 each year." Wiki

Happy 500th Palladio!

Villa Barbaro (click for larger image)
The Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio is celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the birth of Andrea Palladio. The exhibition opened 20 September 2008 and will close 6 January 2009 in, of course, Vicenza, Italy. The curators are attempting to tell the story of a remarkable life and to solve the mystery of how a humble stone cutter became the world's unrivaled master of building design.

Anthony Lambert of The Independent, in London, offers helpful survey of Palladio's influence. The celebration is running during the peak of the Venice Biennale , which this year celebrates architecture. Some jealous souls have coined this year's Biennale the Zaha-GaGa!, because of the larger than life presence and appreciation of the great modern architect Zaha Hadid. But surely, a "Palladio-GaGa" will arise with the opening of this exhibition of his extraordinary life and accomplishments. The offers this refreshing slant on the exhibit:

Departing sharply from the usual Classicist black and white interpretation, here Palladio is shown in a new light, as a creator of images, an inventor of new forms or innovative solutions required to overcome the difficulties of irregular sites.

Especially in his late years, by employing colour, giant orders and fa├žades like stage-sets, Palladio strove to design buildings that would move people.
If you believe in the power of architecture to move people and create harmony in communities and living spaces, and you believe in the power of architecture to improve the world we live in, Palladio's your guy. He's certainly ours.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Troubled Waters.

The documentary "Flow: For Love of Water" by Irena Salina, premiered in New York, September 4. The ideas it presents are startling. Consider this from Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing:

Global water profiteering is at the center of a global healthcare crisis that kills more people than AIDS or malaria. The film shows the grim reality of water in Asia, Africa, South and Central America, and the USA. The mortality is awful, and not just from bad water or no water -- also from police forces in states like Bolivia who go to war against people whose water supply has been sold to foreign multinationals who are reaping windfall profits while they die.

In the US and Europe, the bottled water industry pulls in billions to sell products that are more contaminated and toxic than what comes out of the tap. The result is a gigantic mountain of empty plastic bottles that toxify the environment -- and three times more money spent on bottled water than it would take to solve the world's real water crisis. The companies like Nestle that pump out our aquifers use private investigators to harass people who sign petitions to stop them from pumping.

But it's not all doom and gloom -- low-cost, sustainable purification technologies like ultraviolet water-health run by village cooperatives can make dramatic development differences for the poorest, most vulnerable people in the world, who are able to maintain their own systems without foreign involvement. Local activists all over the world and fighting back and winning public, non-profit ownership of their waterworks.

Only a few companies control the destiny of our planet's water. How can this happen? "Flow" film promoters ask us to support Article 31 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This Article declares that no one should be deprived of access to water, no matter what their financial circumstances. Amazing that we need resolutions to assure the right to this life sustaining element.

Keep an eye out for this important film.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

MTV | Green Song

It IS cheerful!

(hat tip to fernando,via:

Don Quixote, we have some windmills for you.

Vestas wind turbines on the high plains.

If the science is accurate, it rather takes the breath away to think that we could power nearly one quarter of the grid with wind, and—love him or hate him—having Pickens as pitchman certainly suggests the idea has gone mainstream. (Quote from following linked article)

Archinect covers the T. Boone Pickens wind turbine power plan. It offers a review of the Pickens' plan and a brief review of the 2008 Presidential candidate's energy plans.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

R. Buckminster Fuller @ the Whitney

One of the first retrospectives on the work of "Bucky" Fuller, is at the Whitney Museum through September 21. Better hurry!

But, if you can't get there, the Whitney link above is chock full of information on this amazing man.

One of the great American visionaries of the twentieth century, R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) endeavored to see what he, a single individual, might do to benefit the largest segment of humanity while consuming the minimum of the earth's resources. Doing "more with less" was Fuller's credo. He described himself as a "comprehensive anticipatory design scientist," setting forth to solve the escalating challenges that faced humanity before they became insurmountable.

Fuller's innovative theories and designs addressed fields ranging from architecture, the visual arts, and literature to mathematics, engineering, and sustainability. He refused to treat these diverse spheres as specialized areas of investigation because it inhibited his ability to think intuitively, independently, and, in his words, "comprehensively."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Quote II for the Day

Fuller in 1949 with scale models of his Standard of Living Package
and Skybreak Dome. (Courtesy: Whitney Museum of American Art)

“Our beds are empty two-thirds of the time.
Our living rooms are empty seven-eighths of the time.
Our office buildings are empty one-half of the time.
It’s time we gave this some thought.”

R. Buckminster Fuller

Allison Arieff, NYT Article, "Housing the Universe"

James and Dolly's House.

Preservationist will not be able to resist this wonderful blog about the restoration of James and Dolly Madison's home, Montpelier Mansion. The blog provides some terrific insight into the long and detailed process of restoring an historic home, this one being the home of, no less than, the Father of the American Constitution. With the restoration, the mansion is being returned in size, structure, form, and finishes to the home that James and Dolley Madison knew in the 1820s.

The official opening celebration of the restored home will take place tomorrow, September 17 at the site in Orange, Virginia. The festivities include numerous dignitaries and a living flag made up of 2,500 school children from local elementary schools. And... a Drum and Fife Corps; well, of course.

Quote for the Day

"Study Hall" at the Kanagawa Institute of Technology in Japan,
by Junya Ishigami, who created Japan's installation at the architecture
exhibition in Venice.

The Venice Biennale's International Architecture Exhibition is in full swing. Here is a brief review of the goings on. The theme of this year's exhibition is "Out There: Building Beyond Architecture." This coupled with the text over the entrance hall, "Architecture is not building. Architecture is about building," set the tone for reported "feast" of design.

The article ends with a thought about the rich and inexhaustible coupling of traditional and modern ideals. Catalonian architect Victor Lopez Cotelo proposed that the future lies
in combining rural and the urban, the spontaneous and planned, the natural and the built, the pre-existent and what is to come, so that memory finds its rightful place in the present.
A tall and inspiring order.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Beauty of Re-use

This 230 year old building inspired FNP Architekten in Germany to create a unique blend of modern and aged architecture. Partly demolished in WWII this structure sat idle for decades before these designers figured out a way to insert an entire building within the existing building - providing shelter and protection for the aged structural shell. If innovative architects can make something like this, it would seem that the sky is the limit.

The results are striking and make a wonderful statement about the embodied historic, economic, and material energy present in older structures. If an eighteenth century farm building can be renovated, imagine all of the older historic structures that exist in American inner cities that languish at ineptitude of our civic leaders to provide incentives for their redevelopment. Surely a building that can leverage the embodied energy of three hundred years is worth more to a city and a developer than a newly conceived structure reliant on its own internal architectural / programmatic dialogue to give it meaning and depth.

Gulp Locally.

Ok, it seems we are catching on in small ways, moving closer to understanding our water delusions. Gulp this.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Of What Use is Graphic Design?

Times Square - mega signage

Graphic designers are often stumped when asked to explain themselves. We recently found a set of images, by Gregor Graf, that help to demonstrate visually what the world would look like, in one respect, without GRAPHICS. (Click on the words "Hidden Town" in the left column.)

Gregor Graf draws the viewer's gaze to the city...completely purged of signs. With purposely intentional retouching, he emphasizes the architectonic and structural features of the city in an extreme way. The streets seem unreal, culturally interchangeable and alien. They call for a new kind of perception beyond the realm of our familiar experiences and patterns. At the same time, though, these pictures open up a view of architecture that is otherwise blocked and "clarified" spatial systems.

The Tiny House Movement Gets Bigger

Tumbleweed Weebee at Sunset

The above house is the same one pictured in this New York Times article reviewing the tiny house movement. Rather than being earthbound on a quiet evening at sunset, as it is shown above, the NYT shows the house rolling headlong down a ramp and into the busy traffic of a Los Angeles expressway. The photo offers a symbolic statement of the status of the Tiny House moving right into the flow of the modern world.

The Tiny House movment is not new. It has been a cultish delight ever since Henry David Thoreau first went into the woods and declared the virtues of simplicity. Anyone who knows us, knows of our commitment to the "Not So Big House." The emerging publicity and adoration for the really Tiny House is gratifying to see. Though few of us could live in one, still, they remind us of reducing our acquisitiveness and simplifying our lives. They can provide space for a myriad of uses: studios, retreats, garden escapes, mountain get-a-ways, writing space, music room, etc.

Design Boom recently offered a link to modern Tiny Houses, some of which are quite cool. For those who prefer an urban feel, the tiny house movement has not ignored your sensibilities. No longer will you have to settle for the narrow, bird house look of the traditional tiny house. There are options.

We invite you to view this video created by National Geographic. It features the small, now famous, Penguin House designed by Yasuhiro Yamashita in Tokyo. Yamashita took an extremely small footprint, even for Tokyo standards, and created the illusion of space with high ceilings, wise sight lines, and well-placed windows.

Finally, above, courtesy of the blog Miss Modular, one of our secret delights, is a boxcar called home. The ultimate eco-decision: adaptive reuse. Roll this thing right to Boise, Battle Creek or...Baltimore, you've got a home. We will continue to cover this unique and inspiring movement. The time could not be better.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Don't Do It!

The studio of the artist Arnold Bergier, at Greenwich Avenue and 10th Street,
which was demolished in 1960 to make way for a 14-story building
(despite the painted entreaties). Photograph by Fred W. McDarrah.

We talk about the worth of historic preservation. Its value to American cities is inestimable. However, it is sometimes difficult to explain the complexity of its effect. This coverage of a Vanity Fair article via helps to demonstrate this thinking. It is a colorful read, describing "a place, a mood, a way of life." The cohesion of the architecture of place is essential to a sense of place.
In last month's Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens considers the importance of urban "Bohemias" and why the ultimate demolishment/development of New York's Greenwich Village is a very, very sad thing. From the essay:
It isn’t possible to quantify the extent to which society and culture are indebted to Bohemia. In every age in every successful country, it has been important that at least a small part of the cityscape is not dominated by bankers, developers, chain stores, generic restaurants, and railway terminals. This little quarter should instead be the preserve of—in no special order—insomniacs and restaurants and bars that never close; bibliophiles and the little stores and stalls that cater to them; alcoholics and addicts and deviants and the proprietors who understand them; aspirant painters and musicians and the modest studios that can accommodate them; ladies of easy virtue and the men who require them; misfits and poets from foreign shores and exiles from remote and cruel dictatorships. Though it should be no disadvantage to be young in such a quartier, the atmosphere should not by any means discourage the veteran. It was Jean-Paul Sartre who to his last days lent the patina to the Saint-Germain district of Paris, just as it is Lawrence Ferlinghetti, last of the Beats, who by continuing to operate his City Lights bookstore in San Francisco’s North Beach still gives continuity with the past.

In aspect and design, New York’s West Village is the opposite of Soho in London in that it began its existence before the famous evolution of Manhattan as a grid had taken shape. As Malcolm Cowley phrased it, evoking the Village just after the First World War, “Most of us drifted to Manhattan to the crooked streets south of Fourteenth, where you could rent a furnished hall-bedroom for two or three dollars weekly.… We came to the Village … because living was cheap, because friends of ours had come already … because it seemed that New York was the only city where a young writer could be published.” Trying to sum up the ethos, Cowley wrote that for his generation the Village was something more than “a place, a mood, a way of life: Like all bohemias, it was also a doctrine.”