Friday, March 27, 2009

Skateable Habitat!? OMG!!

Photo: Theo Vranas
A client asked Archivirus Architecture and Design, an architectural firm in Athens, Greece, to create a home you could skateboard IN. It is called "Ramp House" and it is pretty stunning. It is not just a house with a ramp; the whole house is skateable. We'd call that a mega ramp for an excellent, 50-50 grind. Read on.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

How Palladian was Palladio?

Palladio’s Villa Rotonda

Andrea Palladio was the most influential architect in Western history. This week Paul Goldberger, in The New Yorker magazine, provides a crisp critique that describes Palladio as "a modern architect, not a copyist. It was the new ideas that mattered." It is not often that Palladio is described as a modernist. But, Goldberger defends this idea, by claiming that Palladio's designs went beyond any known style. Here's the link for your reading pleasure. (Please note: Sorry, a commercial "dashboard" may cover the article. Just click the "close" button.).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Heads Up! Vote Earth this Saturday!

Earth Hour 2009 takes place this Saturday, March 28 at 8:30 pm local time. Earth Hour is sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). This year they expect that over 1 billion people will vote YES for the future of the earth by turning off their lights for one hour. The San Francisco Bridge, the Sidney Opera House, the humongous Coca Cola sign in Times Square, to name a few lighting monuments, will go dark at 8:30 pm Saturday.

Visit the Vote Earth site to get a feeling for this enormous world-wide event. Baltimore, College Park, DC, and Arlington are among the local cities pledged to turn off the lights. We were impressed by how many more cities in Canada were registered than American. If you go to the Earth Hour site and cursor down the home

screen, to the world map, you can see the 2,800+ cities and 83 countries that are participating.

Earth Hour began in Sydney, Australia in 2007. These year's event has been turned into the world's first global election. For the first time in history, people of all ages, nationalities, race and background have the opportunity to use their light switch as their vote – Switching off your lights is a vote for Earth, or leaving them on is a vote for global warming.

WWF are urging the world to VOTE EARTH and reach the target of 1 billion votes, which will be presented to world leaders at the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen 2009. This meeting will determine official government policies to take action against global warming, which will replace the Kyoto Protocol. It is the chance for the people of the world to make their voice heard.

World's Cheapest Car is Ready

India's Tata Motors is debuting the $2,000 Nano. Time magazine offers a photo gallery of the new car and Ten Things You Should Know about the Nano.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Spring Forward

We've crossed the equinox. Heat is not far away. Neither is the urge to GREEN our world. The importance of the Green Revolution is evident in the willow's bloom. This spring, choose one thing you can do to combat climate change and promote sustainability. Save the willows. Save the earth. Choose to help.

1. Plant a tree in your yard or start a garden. Plants and trees help clean the air, are visual expressions of nature's beauty, and uplift us. Even something as simple as growing herbs in a garden can provide nourishment and delicious meals for the family.

2. Simply stop using pesticides on your lawn. Pesticides contribute to the pollution of the Earth and poison our water supply, endanger human health, and sicken wildlife. There are many effective, natural alternatives available, or even simpler, allow nature to take over the growing of your lawn, creating food for bees, birds and animals.

3. Support a local, organic farmer or CSA. Some farmers require your active participation, some deliver to urban areas. The food is nutritious and delicious, and uses less of our non-renewable resources.

4. Buy organic. Look for and ask for - organic produce wherever you buy your groceries, or even better, shop at your local health food store which carries only organic produce. Buying organic reduces pesticide exposure to the land, farmers, harvesters, and your family.

5. Spend time in nature. Taking a walk, having a picnic, or simply sitting outdoors and watching the sky, deepens our connection to the natural world , thereby motivating us to be better stewards of the Earth.

6. Buy energy-saving, compact-fluorescent light bulbs and other energy efficient products. When your next bulb goes out, replace it with a compact fluorescent light bulb. They last 10 times as long, and over their lifetime, use 1/4 the energy of an incandescent bulb, saving you $30-$40 on your electric bill. When replacing major appliances purchase energy efficient ones - look for the government's EnergyStar label.

7. Recycle. The old adage "reduce, reuse, recycle" still works very well today. Many large waste disposal companies have an at-your-curb recycling program. Check your own local disposal company.

8. Shop Green. Be a consumer that uses your dollars to support companies and products that are better for the Earth. Hundreds of companies offer everything from organic and hemp clothing to non-toxic cleaners and solar energy products.

9. Join or make a donation to any organization that supports the environment. There are numerous worthy organizations that work hard for the Earth and are in need of our support. If the aforementioned tasks seem to require too much effort or time, simply write a check to those who have integrity regarding the Earth and make a meaningful contribution to the Earth's health.

10. Create good thoughts. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "All we have to fear is fear itself." By creating the awareness that we can heal the Earth - that it is not too late, we combat the paralysis that fear often produces. So if all you can do on this Earth Day is think one good thought about the Earth, you will have contributed to a changing of the fear-based mentality.

Very Small Homes

The apartments shown in Michael Wolf's "100 x 100" helped us to appreciate minimalism in an entirely different way.

Wolf asked residents of a housing project in Hong Kong for permission to photography their 10 x 10 apartments: some spare, some cluttered, some claustrophobic. We found it interesting to try to identify what we could find, besides the basic utilitarian objects---bed, table, chair---that is universal in these homes. Right off the bat, we found the color red everywhere, warming the most cluttered space and inviting us in.

As we clicked through the photos, we had to remind ourselves that the Chinese are the people who developed the practice of feng shui.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Maya Lin, Landscape Amnesia

Maya Lin, 2009

Maya Lin, designer of the deeply moving Vietnam Veterans Memorial, is exhibiting in DC for the first time in 15 years. Her exhibit, titled "Systematic Landscapes," opened this Saturday at the Corcoran Art Gallery and runs through July 12. This article in the Washington Post provides helpful perspective on her life after the Vietnam Memorial and her maturing work.

What also caught our imagination is her next project called, "What is Missing?"
It will be dedicated to extinct and endangered species, and to threatened habitats. More subtly, it will highlight "landscape amnesia" and "shifting base lines," the notions that we don't know what is missing because we have forgotten the way things were -- the lost sound of songbirds in the yard when we were children.

Where will this memorial be? Nowhere, everywhere, says Lin..."Let's rethink what a monument can be, and what if a monument can, in a funny way, be formless," she says. "A memorial that can go wherever it wants to go. It's basically free."

It is a fascinating idea. Lin claims this will be her last memorial. We offered this post "Maya Lin, Artist or Architect?" in November 2008. A video of her accompanies the post along with several links to deeper information about her.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Where in the World are You?

The Newseum in DC has created a brilliant interactive design, featuring the front page news in real time from newspapers all over the world.

For those of us with our noses in the New York Times and the Washington Post, it is a bracing reminder that the rest of the press in the states and around world have a great variety of issues that somehow seem rarely addressed by the big guys and, when they are, they seem weighted differently.

See what the press is saying and how they are saying it, from small towns to cultural centers of the world at the Newseum's site. The design is impressive, er, news worthy.

LEED Platinum House

A prefab home, called "Unity House," was completed by Bensonwood Homes of Walpole, N.H., in collaboration with an M.IT. research consortium. The house built for Unity College, in Unity, Maine, has just been granted LEED Platinum designation by the U.S. Green Building Council. Designed for net-zero energy use, the house is actually performing ahead of expectations, even in Maine's severe winter weather where the temperatures in December slid to -15 degrees. LEED Platinum has been awarded to only 200+ homes in America.

The residents of Unity House, Cindy and Mitchell Thomashow, Mitchell is the President of the college, are blogging about their experience. It is an informative blog! Interestingly, Unity College calls itself "America's Environmental College." This house is the first in a master plan to convert the entire campus into a zero carbon institution.

A short slide show of photos, including the interior of the 1,900/sf house, can be found at the end of this article.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Shelter for the Poorest

Brenda Gardenhire was homeless over the last year, until she got her EDAR unit.

They are currently calling it the "Hobo Condo." We posted in December last year about EDAR (Everyone Deserves a Roof) an innovative shelter designed by Pasadena Art Center College of Design students. We are happy to report that the unit is on the streets and helping people already. Here is a web article from CNN.

It's the brainchild of "Revenge of the Nerds" movie producer Peter Samuelson, who has spent much of his life working with charities to help impoverished children. He researched the project while cycling to work from LA to Santa Monica. He interviewed 62 homeless people on one ride alone.

Samuelson put his smarts and money to work and came up with the EDAR.
The four-wheeled home has an expandable base that stays off the ground and is covered by a canvas, giving it the feel of a tent. It extends 86 inches and is 32 inches wide, thin enough to fit through standard doorways. Each unit has a mattress and sleeping bag to provide comfort. It's also flame-retardant and sturdy enough to keep its occupants dry during heavy rains. A braking mechanism prevents the unit from rolling away at night. They also come with a chain and padlock to prevent it from being stolen.
It's not a moment too soon.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Mod.FabTM, although designed by Taliesin, the desert based studio started by Frank Lloyd Wright, the prefabricated units don't bear the typical warmth of material choice associated with the master architect. The added use of color and minimal interiors reflect a more Bauhaus aesthetic.

Nonetheless the 600 sq ft prototype, built at Taliesin West is another intelligent and welcome addition to the host of modern prefabricated structures now available. The prefab structure when built is meant to be "unplugged," relying on low-consumption fixtures, rainwater harvesting, greywater re-use, natural ventilation, solar orientation, and photovoltaics.

The Taliesin class that designed and build The Mod.FabTM was co-taught by Jennifer Siegal or the highly regarded Office of Mobile Design in Los Angeles.

Nostalgia Nod

For everyone who sorely misses the familiar local stores and markets, James T. Murry and Karla L. Murray have produced a photo collection of local New York storefronts that just makes us smile.

From butchers to knish makers to florists and five-and-dimes, they provide a luscious photographic review in their book "STORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York ." It is a massive 6+ pound historic New York City document of a quickly disappearing urban phenomenon.

There are four fold-outs that extend to a fabulous 51 inches. As local stores quickly disappear from cities everywhere, the new city seems more defined by what is gone than by what has arrived. We think that as the recession creates more and more uncertainty, we will find ourselves even more deeply moved by what has been lost.

This is not to say that we regret change, it is to say that change shifts our paradigms and it takes a while for our hearts to catch up. That seems as it should be.

From Porch to Patio

The porch in early America represented opportunities for social connection on many levels and a sphere of civil society on another. Patrick Deneen remembers an article he read in college, back in 1975:

In this simple but profound essay, Thomas explores the social implications of the architectural practice of building porches on the front of homes and its eventual abandonment in favor of patios behind the house...As with any central feature in our built environment, this is more than merely a passing fashion trend or a meaningless design change: the transition from porch to patio was one of the clearest and significant manifestations of the physical change from a society concerned with the relationship of private and public things - in the Latin, res publica - to one of increasing privacy. The porch, as a physical bridge between the private realm of the house and the public domain of the street and sidewalk, was the literal intermediate space between two worlds that have been increasingly separated in our time, and hence increasingly ungoverned in both forms.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Radical Architecture Intervention

Claimed to be the most radical public art in England, British artist Richard Wilson created "Turning the Place Over." And that he does! One of the wildest interventions into a piece of architecture we've seen. The art was created for the Liverpool Biennial.

Flickr offers some terrific still shots of the work.

Can Modern Architecture be Truly Sustainable?

"Yes, says Hopkins’ MD Bill Taylor, we have no choice but to build sustainably; No, says the Victorian Society director Ian Dungavell, modern architects prefer gadgetry to thermal mass."

The British debate. You decide.

Nothing is Original.

Click on the image to enlarge

Jim Jarmusch's films have nearly single-handedly defined independent cinema. We think his films are hip, smart, quirky, slow, and always interesting. The above poster articulates his belief in thievery in the cause of authenticity.

Abandoned Places : Chernobyl

The melancholy of abandoned places is heightened in Chernobyl, by the physical and emotional contamination caused by one of our great environmental tragedies.

On 26 April 1986 01:23:45 a.m. reactor number four at the Chernobyl plant, near Pripyat in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, exploded. Further explosions and the resulting fire sent a plume of highly radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area. Four hundred times more fallout was released than had been by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Here is a huge collection of haunting photos taken by Dimitry Kuznetsov in Pripyat, Ukraine, the town of 50,000 people who worked at the plant. They were a small part of the 336,000 who were evacuated from the area. The evacuees were told that they would return to Pripyat in three days, explaining why clothing and furnishings remain.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Don't Wait to be Laid Off!

We came across a snappy list of 100 ways to save money if you are laid off.

But, we say, WHY WAIT?! These are terrific, good, sustainable ideas. Get ahead of the damage. Take action now.

Villa Savoye

Villa Savoye, before its restoration

Villa Savoye, Poissy, France, Le Corbusier, built in 1929

Villa Savoye, after its restoration

Another gem has been saved. It remains hard to imagine that Le Corbusier built this house in 1929. The house is timeless. It could have been built last week. Whether you've warmed up to the International Style or not, love it or hate it, its influence continues to drive design and architecture ideas right into the 21st Century.

Villa Savoye hovers above a grass plane on thin concrete pillars, emphasizing mass and diminishing support visually, with strip windows, and a flat roof with a deck area, ramp, and a few contained touches of curvaceous walls. Simple.

Design by Jihad : Insomniac-punk

We are always intrigued by graffiti. This young graffiti artist is French and Islamic and fed up with western advertising's "impurity":
By day, she wears a white veil, symbol of purity. By night, her black veil is the expression of her vengeful fight for a cause. With her spray paint and black marker pen, she is out to hijabize advertising. Even Kate Moss is targeted. She knows all about visual terrorism! And she will not spare her right of expression for the likes of publicists. Make sure that all advertising can be hijabized “ ‘cause that’s her fight Jihad is her art”. And don’t forget, she acts upon her own free will. She is not involved in any lobby or movement be it political, religious or to do with advertising. In fact, the Princess is an insomniac-punk. She is the leader of an artistic fight, nothing else.
Beware the Princess. She's got your number.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Stop Recycling! Start Repairing.

Platform21 offers these counterintuitive mandates. CLICK on the Manifesto to get the full effect. Repair!