Friday, January 30, 2009

Instant Architecture

Bemerton Street, North London

A shop in a shipping container! We're all for it. If it turns out to be a bad location, move it to a new one! We especially like how it has been integrated into its context by adding a brick garden wall and a canopy, and then, a little wrought iron fence detail. A sign of the future? A Starbucks solution?

Falafel and a paper to go, please!

via Unlikely Worlds

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Green Q&A

Tom Zeller Jr., a New York Times editor and writer who covers alternative energy and green business and edits the Green Inc. blog, is answering questions from NYT readers Jan. 26-30, 2009.

Here are a slew of questions Tom answers covering subjects like:

Food Crops for Fuel
Obama, Cars and the Environment
Nuclear Power
Harnessing the Power of the Sea
Natural Gas for Cars
Electric Cars
The Cost of Organic Food
Solar Energy Draw Backs

City Planning Snafu

Tullahassee Creek Indian Cemetery, Okalahoma
It is hard to imagine the aesthetics of the shopping mall getting much worse, but here we have a series of shopping malls built around...grave yards. When we think about the grave yards of the western world---a place where dead bodies or cremation remains are buried---finding them as you park at The Home Depot, to pick up some Duct Tape, makes for a strange experience. A Wiki comment:
Different cultures have different attitudes to destruction of cemeteries and use of the land for construction. In some countries it is considered normal to destroy the graves, while in others the graves are traditionally respected for a century or more. In many cases, after a suitable period of time has elapsed, the headstones are removed and the now former cemetery is converted to a recreational park or construction site. A more recent trend, particularly in South American cities, involves constructing high-rise buildings to house graves.
It is always interesting to look at how we conform space to our rituals and customs. This is a fine example of the urge for commerce appearing to be mediated by customs of respect. The odd part is how disrespectful the solution seems.

LINK: Cemetery History and Preservation

London. Oh, Wow!

Jason Hawkes, British photographer, has done it again. London by night, from the air. Magnificent photography of a beautiful city. It gives us every opportunity to enjoy the undulating, arcing, bisected, constructed, thrill of design, lighting and architecture, compounded. Gorgeous.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Urban Planner's Nightmare

Jonas Bendiksen's documentation of life in slums around the world has resulted in a touring multimedia exhibition. It was produced in cooperation with the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway. The exhibition opened in Oslo this month.

To compliment this exhibition, The Peace Center has also produced, The Places We Live, an utterly riveting narrated Flash slideshow of the world's slums. It takes the form of a series of panoramic photos of slums around the world, with voice-over from people who live there (in translation). It is worth a long visit.

Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya
Caracas, Venezuela
Dharavi, Mumbai, India
Jakarta, Indonesia

Over 1 billion people live in slums. Urban dwellers are the fastest growing population in the world. It is estimated that the number of impoverished urban dwellers will double in the next 25 years. This extraordinary slide show provides a feeling for the sense of place in which a vast, and growing, number of people live, most in abject conditions.

A slum is defined as:
A household that lacks any two of the following five elements: access to sufficient amounts of water for family use at an affordable price, without being subject to extreme effort; access to improved sanitation, either in the form of a private toilet or a public toilet shared with a reasonable number of people; security of tenure (the rights of a tenant to hold property); housing in a permanent and adequate structure in a non-hazardous location; and, in most areas, a household requiring more than two people to share the same room.

These are the most dense communities in the world, with up to 30 people to a square meter. Despite commonly held assumptions, they are not simply places of poverty and misery. Yet slum dwellers continually face enormous challenges such as lack of health care, sanitation and electricity. How we care for this population of people over the coming decades will be a significant challenge among many we will face.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Good graffiti?

Manifesting creative visions into material objects and spaces is one of the most prominent developments in contemporary design today. Graphics morph into spatial sculptures, the intangible is made visual through handmade craftsmanship, physical experiences, visual environments and staged spatial installations such as art installations, interiors and architecture as well as urban interventions.

Jan Vormann, Dispatchwork, is one of the proponents of this innovation of graphic design. His work, above, in Tel Aviv, is a terrific example of this movement, which some call "high touch visuals"---we're calling it "tangible graphics."

Contemplation of the day.

The blog offers this to contemplate:

Energy-optimized buildings usually require thick thermal insulation: Improved insulation can lead to energy efficiency and will reduce CO2 output. Superinsulation is one of the strategies to achieve the passive house standard – a standard for central Europe which requires that the building fulfills certain requirements, for example: a building must not use more than 15 kWh/m² per year.

Is the resulting wall thickness aesthetically questionable in architectural design? Does it result in bunker-like structures? Definitely, designers should be aware of the growing demand of thermal insulation – and - why not go for bulky buildings? "

Maybe the glass in the superinsulation illustration could be flush with the facade, so you could sit and enjoy the window's warm sill? Or not.

We Recommend.

The New Yorker Magazine's, January 12 issue, offers an in-depth look at the work of Van Jones and his efforts to "green the ghetto." Jones is fighting to address poverty and climate change, at the same time, through public works projects. He has been called the Martin Luther King of the green-jobs movement. We think he is a fascinating and important voice, a man to keep your eye on.

Jones suggests that our crisis is fueled by the idea of disposability. We all know that one of our problems is treating the planet as if it is disposable. Jones feels that we also consider people disposable. He wants the "disposable people" to be an important part of the whole green movement. He wants them to be trained in green jobs and elevated out of lives of poverty and crime. Jones believes environmental justice is tied, inextricably, to social justice.

However, the green movement is not one of diversity. "A 2006 study commissioned by Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law group, found that the 'ecological base'---defined as Americans who report the environment as being central to their concerns---is 'nearly ninety percent white, mostly college-educated, higher-income, and over thirty-five,'"

Jones suggests that the movement needs to include and hear the voice of the poor:

Your goal has to be to get the greenest solutions to the poorest people...That's the only goal that's morally compelling enough to generate enough energy to pull this transition off. The challenge is making this an everybody movement, so your Joe Six-Pack and Joe the Plumber icons are becoming Joe the Solar Panel Guy, or that kid on the street corner (is) putting down his handgun, picking up a caulk gun...
Jones intends to keep our feet to the green fire.

The Green Move: Save time. Money. Earth.

Spencer Brown, Founder of Rent-a-Green Box

Remember your last move and the dozens and dozens of paper boxes? Remember throwing them all out? Remember all that paper packing material you disposed of? No more!

As swiftly as they can open franchises, is providing ecologically correct moving supplies to the nation. They send a truck to your home with whatever number of boxes you need (they’ll help you estimate). The boxes are made from recycled plastic containers, and come in various sizes—smaller ones for heavy objects like books, larger ones for more lightweight things like clothes or bedding. The service comes with recycled packing materials, too, so you don’t have to use ├╝ber-wasteful, petroleum-based stuff like bubble wrap or Styrofoam packing peanuts. It is a zero-waste, pack and move solution, developed entirely from recycled trash, mined from local landfill.

"Why are we cutting down our trees to make a cardboard box that’s used once,
maybe twice,
to just throw it away in a landfill?"

These green movers drive 100% veggie bio-diesel trucks and provide those clever packing materials called "expandos" and "recocubes." We have to admit the whole thing is a designers delight. Everything stacks neatly and the colors are very appealing. Their website design, alone, is worth a visit.

By all estimates, the green move is cheaper than the wasteful paper box move. We just need a local franchise. Someone, get on this.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Art Shanty Project

dICEHOUSES, by the citizens of Mt. Holly, Minnesota

On the frozen Medicine Lake, citizens of Plymouth, Minnesota come together (17 January - 14 February 2009) for the Art Shanty Project. This is the sixth year for the event. The event founders challenged artists to create outside of their disciplines and traditional studio-to-gallery environment and to make art accessible and engaging to the bundled up, general public.

A nice slideshow of the event is here. The Mayor of nearby Mt. Holly, Minnesota, Mike Haeg, enlisted his community in the project this year. "The citizenry of Mt. Holly experienced the Art Shanty Projects for the first time last year and we were so inspired, that we submitted our own shanty idea this year; 5 giant, Oldenburg-esque dice stocked with dice, cards, and board games. We call them The dICEHOUSES Shanty. They reintroduce families, friends and strangers to to the conversation, warmth, and closeness fostered by the cadence of table games." You can see further photos at the dICEHOUSES blog.

Pretty cool.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Recession Question: Now what do we do?

Left, The Eames chair, an enduring classic;
Right the Vermelha chair, by the Campana Brothers.

Few pictures better epitomize the gap between the modernist promise and the state of current design. The NYT helps us look at where we are and consider the way forward in its article "Design Loves a Depression."

This quote from the article sums up a prevailing thought:
The old paradigm — epitomized by shelter magazines like Architectural Digest and Dwell — that found romance in single-family homes, each with its own lawn, detached garage and septic system, may crumble under the weight of its wastefulness. One challenge will be for designers to coax us to a more efficient way of living, as the architect Lorcan O’Herlihy is doing with his light and airy schemes for multifamily dwellings in Los Angeles, a city where backyards and driveways are all but a birthright. Fewer buildings will go up, and the stock of mid-century buildings nearing the end of their lifespan will be thoughtfully reworked to make them efficient and in keeping with principles of sustainability.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Here's Where We Live - 2009

This is all we've got: planet earth.

How will be care for it?
How will we share it?
How will we conserve it?
How can we improve it?
How can we mimic it?
How can we educate about it?
How can we restore it?
How can we learn from it?
How can we love it?
How can we save it?