Saturday, May 30, 2009

Invasive Species War : Ecological Meltdown

Tiny Macquarie Island, in the South Ocean,
somewhere between Antartica and Australia

This science story in the Los Angeles Times blew us away. When seal hunting sailors arrived at the Macquarie Island around 1810, rats and mice casually debarked onto the island. These rats and mice attacked the local food stores. So on the next trips sailors brought cats, to stop the proliferation of mice. Next, a common tradition, they brought rabbits to provide stranded sailors with food. The cats, brought to catch the mice and rats, swiftly killed thousands of rabbits and totally exterminated the islands birds. Uncontained, the remaining rabbits slowly stripped the island of vegetation causing perilous erosion.

To control the rabbits, scientists brought fleas infected with the Myxomatosis virus! As the rabbit population was reduced, the cats, with no rabbits to eat, grew hungry and began attacking a new, burrowing bird population. To stop this, the scientists shot all the cats. Once the cats were gone, the few remaining rabbits, despite the virus, began proliferating, again. With the rabbits eating vegetation to excess, the island erosion increased, causing landslides. Now, it looks like the island may slide into the sea, endangering the rare penguin population.

But, wait! To prevent the island's demise, the scientists are now going to eradicate all the rabbits, mice and rats remaining on the island, a process that could cost at least $16 million and take years. We kid you not!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Big Boats from Little Chop Sticks Grow?

Wood was the original building material for humankind’s first boats and Shuhei Ogawara, who works in the Fukushima, Japan, City Hall Forestry Department, decided to go back to basics when designing a home-made canoe.

Ogawara added an environmental twist to the concept, however, by using only discarded wooden chopsticks from the city hall cafeteria - 7,382 of them! The result is a snazzy-looking canoe 13 feet long that weighs 66 pounds. You just can't beat this for ingenuity.

Did You Know?

Click to enlarge image

Did you know that 43% of carbon emissions in the United States originate from the operation of buildings?

11 Most Endangered Historic Places

The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) has announced its list of Endangered Historic Place. NTHP president, Richard Moe, says, "These 11 sites highlight many critical issues, including the importance of preserving architectural icons of the recent past and preservation as one of the most effective forms of sustainable development. Places like these help tell all of our stories, and losing them not only erases a piece of our heritage, it also represents a threat to our planet."

This year's designated sites are:

Frank LLoyd Wright's Unity Temple, Oak Park, Ill.
Wright’s design was unprecedented in 1905, with its cubist theme and poured concrete construction. Says Moe: "A century after its completion, Frank Lloyd Wright's temple is at a critical crossroads. If the building's structural integrity and interior damage are not addressed, this Modern icon will be lost to future generations."
The Hangar for the Enola Gay, Wendover Airfield, Utah
"The National Trust for Historic Preservation's ‘most endangered' designation for the Enola Gay Hangar highlights the critical need to preserve sites associated with the Manhattan Project," says Moe. "Though they evoke a unique, emotionally charged response, the sites associated with the Manhattan Project are part of America's story, and we look forward to the day when the public can visit Wendover and the Enola Gay Hangar as part of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park."
Memorial Bridge, between Portsmouth, NH and Kittery, ME
Memorial Bridge is "an engineering marvel and a landmark of transportation history … the oldest operational lift bridge in the eastern United States, [it] represents a key link in the great Eastern coastal route," says Moe. "Because federal and state-funded infrastructure projects across the nation have been identified as a priority by the Obama Administration, we now have an opportunity to reshape bridge preservation practices in the United States. Memorial Bridge is the poster child for all we stand to lose by erasing these cultural and engineering landmarks."
The Human Services Center, Yankton, SD
The Human Services Center in Yankton, S.D., a prairie hospital formerly known as the South Dakota Hospital for the Insane, is the oldest public institution in the state. In1890 Dr. Leonard Mead implemented his groundbreaking idea of creating an environment that would be therapeutically beneficial for patients instead of the sterile, fear-provoking asylums of the day. Buildings were added to include neo-Classical, Art Deco, and Italianate styles. Eleven of its structures are to be torn down. "This is an unparalleled collection of buildings," says Moe. "Dr. Mead's vision of a beautiful, soul-nourishing environment doesn't have to end just because the State of South Dakota wants to dispose of the Yankton campus."
Miami Marine Stadium
Miami Marine Stadium in Virginia Key, Fla., a cantilevered, cast-concrete stadium damaged by Hurricane Andrew, deterioration, vandalism, and neglect. Miami Marine Stadium is both a South Florida landmark and an icon of Modern design. Moe explains: "There was a time—not long ago—when the ultimate Miami experience was a night at Miami Marine Stadium. This magnificent stadium is an icon of the Modern movement and an important piece of Miami heritage and history, and we can't afford to lose it."
Mount Taylor, New Mexico
Mount Taylor in New Mexico, is a sacred site for American Indian tribes whose cultural and archaeological resources are threatened by uranium mining. The mountain was originally named for President Zachary Taylor. Says Moe: "We can't allow an antiquated mining law—one that has no merit today—to forever scar a place that has tremendous historical and cultural significance to thousands of Americans."
Ames Shovel Shops, Easton, Mass.
Ames Shovel Shops, was a 19th-century industrial village in Easton, Mass. "The shovels manufactured by the Ames family powered, enriched, and defended America,” says Moe. "This is a remarkable example of a manufacturing complex that has survived intact for 150 years."
The cast-iron architecture of Galveston, Texas
Dorchester Academy, Midway, GA
Dorchester Academy in Midway, Ga., was founded in 1868 as a school for freed slaves. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote and practiced portions of his "I Have a Dream" speech at Dorchester Academy. “The story of Dorchester Academy is not widely known, but it's a story that deserves to be told,” Moe says. “In addition to its highly significant role as a school for generations of African-American students, Dorchester played a seminal role in the great social movements of our nation's history."
Lana'i City, Hawaii
Lāna’i City, Hawaii, known as "Pineapple Isle," is a site of plantation homes built in the 1920s. "Lāna‘i City is a jewel, the last remaining intact plantation town in Hawaii," says Moe. "Its remote location protected the city from the intense development pressures seen in other parts of the state, and, as a result, it's been a haven for visitors anxious to experience an authentic and natural slice of paradise.”
The Century Plaza Hotel, Los Angeles
The Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles was built in the mid-’60s and designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the architect of the World Trade Center. "How is the demolition of a 40-year-old, fully functioning building environmentally responsible?" asks Moe. "In a state known for its environmental stewardship and strong focus on sustainable development, it boggles the imagination to think a developer could propose tearing down a newly renovated, thriving hotel—a landmark of Modern architecture—and replace it with new construction. Because historic preservation inherently involves the conservation of energy and natural resources, it has always been the greenest form of development."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Charlie Rose Interviews Frank Gehry + Renzo Piano

The show is a full hour, and very interesting. Each man emphasizes the seriousness of architecture's purpose and the importance of an engaged client. These two "starchitects" seem more humbled by the process than we have given them credit for. At one point, in discussing the NYT team for the new NYT building design, Gehry explains why he walked away from the job: the body language and attitude of the NYT team scared him. He makes this comment in a way that does not connote arrogance, but, rather, a longing for the playful process he has come to revere as the essence of creativity. Renzo Piano was awarded the job.

Renzo Piano discusses, among other ideas, the aesthetic of sustainability, which he believes is the inspiration driving the 21st Century. Simplified, he describes a sustainable building as one that "talks and breathes with nature." We liked his thoughts that architecture is the art of building emotion and that the idea of beauty is changing with the idea of sustainability. This beauty, he feels is the one thing that can compete successfully against the ethos of power and money. Piano is from a long line of builders. When his father learned that Renzo was going to study architecture he said to his son, "Why become and architect, when you could be a builder?" We guess this is a global contention of practices that will never end.

As each man discusses his life and work, the mind gratefully returns to contemplate some of the bigger issues of the practice of architecture.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Art Deco | The Roots of Modernism

The New York Public Library has the largest Art and Architecture collection in the country. It is free and accessible to the public. To celebrate it, the library posted a lovely, short video at ArtBabble featuring some of the material in the Art Deco collection. For Deco fans, there is a quick look at the works created through the pochoir technique and the work of a true renaissance woman, Sonia Delaunay.

Curator of the Arts and Architecture Collection, Paula Baxter, provides the commentary. Here's the link.

Considering the billions going toward new highways in the stimulus package, one must seriously wonder how we are going to resolve mass transit and land use issues. The brave at MIT march on.

MIT researchers are designing a futuristic bus stop called the EyeStop. A collaboration between architects and engineers in the SENSEable City Lab. From MIT News:

Riders can plan a bus trip on an interactive map, surf the Web, monitor their real-time exposure to pollutants and use their mobile devices as an interface with the bus shelter. They can also post ads and community announcements to an electronic bulletin board at the bus stop, enhancing the EyeStop's functionality as a community gathering space.

The EyeStop could change the whole experience of urban travel," said Carlo Ratti, Head of the SENSEable City Lab at MIT. "At the touch of a finger, passengers can get the shortest bus route to their destination or the position of all the buses in the city. The EyeStop will also glow at different levels of intensity to signal the distance of an approaching bus."

In addition to displaying information, the bus stop also acts as an active environmental sensing node, powering itself through sunlight and collecting real-time information about the surrounding environment.

EyeStop is like an 'info-tape' that snakes through the city," said project leader Giovanni de Niederhousern. It senses information about the environment and distributes it in a form accessible to all citizens.
Still, we are putting BILLIONS into new highways!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

New Urbanism - John Paget Video

John Paget is the award winning Producer and Director of this video for the Congress of New Urbanism . (At the moment CNU's website is off line for maintenance). The film also won a CNU award. This video stands in contrast to the more staid and corporate video from Kansas City, below. However, each plays a role in the process of reeducating all of us about the urgency's and solutions of the day.

These videos represent attempts to realign our thinking on the use of space and our sense of place. It is a good start. It is going to take a long time to educate people. The fact that Europe is well on its way to dealing with the ideas and issues of New Urbanism is a hopeful sign. And then there is something bouncing abot called "New Pedestrianism." Another idea coming to your neighborhood, soon. Things are cooking.

Envisioning Transportation Solutions

We think this is an informative video that
is wonderfully conceived and executed. Somehow the people of Kansas City are leading the imaginative exploration of mass transit!

Most people don't know that Light Rail is a land use issue - and not just about transportation. The video shows how pedestrian friendly developments are created around station locations, making light rail a catalyst for positive change in the community. Arnold Imaging conceived of, animated and edited this video for Kansas City Public Television as part of their Imagine KC series.

Architecture of Authority

A California prison's communal room is among Richard Ross's empty spaces. (By Richard Ross)

We have posted on this amazing book, "Architecture of Authority," by Richard Ross, last year. It is a sometimes shocking book. It provides images of spaces most of us would never see. Also, Ross questions the complicity of architects in designing some of these "dehumanizing" environments. Pictured are institutional spaces, interrogation rooms, holding cells and isolation booths , as well as high schools, DMV waiting rooms, hospitals. The breadth of images provides a compelling insight into how we "warehouse" people who must be controlled.

The reason we are posting about this book again is that an exhibition of 44 of these large format images from the book are on display at the National Building Museum in DC. Ross's images are "captured with a spare geometric beauty that is as compelling as it is disturbing," says the Washington Post architectural critic, Phillip Kennicott, in his vivid, challenging and excellent review of the images in this exhibition.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Henry David Thoreau's JournaL: May 18, 1857

Yellow Birch
Photo: Lorianne DiSabato

"There is a very grand and picturesque old yellow birch in the old cellar northwest the yellow birch swamp. Though this stands out in open land, it does not shed its pollen yet, and its catkins are not much more than half elongated, but it is very beautiful as it is, with its dark-yellowish tassels variegated with brown. Yet in the swamp westerly the yellow birches are in full bloom, and many catkins strew the ground. They are four or five inches long when in bloom. They begin to shed their pollen at the base of the catkins, as, I think, other birches do."
What have you noticed in the natural world today? Take a look.

Flaming Architecture

We have just read of a fire at Guangzhou Opera House. The project, designed by Zaha Hadid with a web-like exoskeleton, includes an 1,800-seat theater as well as a multipurpose hall and support facilities. The building was set to open this fall.

A Chinese media outlet reports that the blaze has been extinguished but that the extent of the damage has not been determined. A project architect is currently on site and a statement from Hadid’s office is expected shortly.

Following the recent fire of Rem Koolhass and Ole Scheeren's 522-foot OMA-designed Chinese, TVCC tower, the event represents the second construction blaze at a building site in China by an internationally known architect.

What are they doing over there?

The Top 50...and then some.

Architect Weekly / Hanley Wood announces its picks for the top 50 architecture firms in the United States based on profitability, commitment to sustainability, and caliber of design. A good read.

They, additionally, named 50 honored firms. Among them are two Baltimore firms that are not like those big, old, design mega-firms that usually eat everyone's lunch. The two firms that made the list are #74 Cho Benn Holback + Associates and #76 Design Collective. Congratulations! Thanks for the inspiration.

Urban Woodsman

Chris Holmgren, Seneca Creek Joinery
Photo: David Sharpe

Nothing is wasted. If a log has heart-rot or termites, Chris Holmgren dries it out and makes it into a bowl.

Holmgren is one of our eco-heroes right here in Montgomery County, Maryland. He was recently featured in the Washington Post. Once, as a contractor, he learned from the U.S. Forest Service that over 3.8 million board feet of timber are tossed or destroyed each year. He decided that was too much waste. Burned out on the remodeling business, he started the Seneca Creek Joinery and never looked back. He now collects every manner of salvaged tree or log. From them, he makes elegant Windsor Chairs, floor boards, tables and custom milled pieces.

Through his Wood Recovery Project he partners with local communities and tree companies to gather the wood that would normally be lost. Holmgren wants no tree to be wasted.

I envision six or eight processing centers like mine around the Beltway. Two hundred million board feet of lumber goes to waste each year inside the Beltway alone. What makes up that figure? Tree trimming, hazard trees and diseased trees. And there's always somebody saying, "Well, we don't like to take a tree down, but that one's so messy."

We lose 10 to 15 acres of woodland a day in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to land-clearing for development and growing corn for ethanol. That's not an economic disaster, but it's going to be an ecological disaster.

Holmgren makes the argument for thinking, buying and planning locally understandable and urgent.

Hit Tip to Paul Bowman

The Bus Stop

We are regularly dismayed by the condition of bus stops. Often they are vandalized and graffiti covered, or badly neglected. The offers a short slideshow of some bus stops that are pretty refreshing.

Tata of India Takes on Housing

Tata Housing Plan, Mumbai, India
Remember those people who brought us the $2,000 car? Well, now they have taken on housing. Here's what Tata's doing for less than imagined. Granted, they are building in India. Labor is cheap. But, importantly, they are DOING it. Business Week suggests that the price range from $7,800 to $13,400 encompasses the smart idea of selling to the "bottom of the pyramid" where the bulk of the population is.

Other's argue that even these prices are too high. For example, a well paid call center employee makes about $6,000 a year. One could speculate that Tata has anticipated the growth that the newly elected Singh party promises. Indians are unuse to carrying debt, but one can imagine that this, too, is in their future. We think the hopeful detail is that their project promises 70% open space.