in 2002 architect william mcdonough and chemist michael braugart published my favorite book, cradle to cradle: remaking the way we make things. if you’ve never read this book, it’s a must read. william mcdonough is an architect of william mcdonough + partners who has been focusing on the ultimate sustainable projects for the better part of a decade. his partner, a chemist named michael braungart, is a partner in mcdonough braungart design chemistry, a firm focusing on designing super-sustainable manufacturing processes and products. cradle to cradle is a manifesto of sorts calling for the end of our current highly unsustainable manufacturing and building processes, or a system of living the authors dubbed cradle to grave. mcdonough and braungart champion an idea in which our lifestyles, manufacturing, and building techniques are shifted to a cradle to cradle system. this means rather than producing, using, and discarding objects we should produce, use, and recycle to be reused again; there would be no true death, just rebirth. it is important to note here that mcdonough is not talking about recycling as we think of it now. that process is more akin to downcycling, in which dissimilar materials are combined and melted down into less valuable materials that can never truly be reused. in a cradle to cradle system materials would fall into one of two categories. first, biological nutrients, these are materials that are completely inert and organic. sustainably produced they can easily decompose without harm to the planet (this means these materials could safely be thrown out/buried with no harm). second, technical nutrients, these are high grade materials that would be circulated through closed loop cycles. these cycles keep high-grade similar materials together so as to retain their original value, essentially a viable and true recycling program (or even upcycling). these ideas are well developed, extremely rational, and much needed. mcdonough’s book very eloquently puts our current means of using/abusing this planet into the grave context that it deserves. however, the positive solutions he offers are something we should all be striving for. as mcdonough posits in the book, “what would it look like if we were 100% good” (as opposed to being merely less bad).
a few days back we talked about the slick looking rocio romero prefabs, well this desert prefab by marmol radziner is certainly no less attractive. this prefab, however, doesn’t carry the traditional kit-of-parts look that many others do. the desert house, as marmol radziner refers to it as, is an elegantly low-slung prefab in the california desert. sitting on a five-acre site, desert house takes full advantage of the powerful desert sun. 100% of the energy needed by the house is generated by photovoltaic solar cells on site. other environmentally conscious design decisions include, green and energy efficient materials, intelligent sunshading on the south and west elevations, and the use of covered outdoor living space to establish a buffer zone between the harsh desert sun and the interior living spaces.
in plan the house is “L” shaped meaning that this prefab’s architecture begins to claim exterior land surrounding the house as its own. This exterior space takes the form of a fire pit and swimming pool (i would wager a guess that the swimming pool also provides for a little passive cooling as well) for social ineraction/gatherings. in the colder months concrete floors help provide thermal masses in an attempt to passively heat the house. mostly, however, i am drawn to the elegant aesthetics of the desert house; i have a really affinity for these sculptural landscapes created by the architecture.
some time ago i stumbled upon a brilliant book published by the mit press, it’s called the home house project. the book itself is a wonderful compilation/documentation of the competition by the same name put on by the southeastern center for contemporary arts (secca) back in 2003. what makes this project so phenomenal is the premise: to take the basic and modest habitat for humanity house plan and look at it from a sustainable and affordable standpoint. secca received some 400+ entries for this competition, the best of which are documented in the book. projects focused on using good architecture to change the lives of the people who lived there. prefabricated and recycled materials, greywater systems for water catchment and reuse, passive heating/cooling techniques, effective use of daylighting and natural ventilation, and many other energy efficient appliances, systems and strategies were of the central concern in the designs submitted. the problems created by the lack of affordable housing through the united states were well document in both the designs presented and the accompanying essays provided in the book. personally, i was more than impressed that the onus of responsibility was placed squarely on the architect to produce responsible architecture, both in terms of energy efficiency, sustainability, and enjoyable living spaces for those who often cannot afford it. the best part, however, was the acutal implementation of the winning designs in a new habitat for humanity neighborhood in the winston-salem area.
here in chicago the buzz around town is the city’s bid for the 2016 olympic games. i must say, when chicago’s mayor daley wants to do something right he is more than capable. the city is more than ready to handle the olympics; we have plenty of convention centers, waterways, oublic parks, public transportation, and of course, sporting venues (see the recent chicago tribune article). the bid calls for the use of the united center, the uic pavilion, northerly island, north avenue beach, soldier field, the lakefront, grant park, northwestern university and mccormick place among others (see the venue map and venue images here) and if baseball and softball are reimplimented as olympic sports we could be seeing olympic baseball at wrigley field! as part of an attempt to bring the games to the entire region horseback riding events will be brought to neighboring lake county and soccer and other sporting prelims will be spread out among the region’s myriad of colleges and universities. it is important to note that public transportation both locally and regionally is mighty strong chicago. sure the “L” (what we call our system of elevated trains here in chicago) is old and is in need of some major overhauls (much of which is already under way) but all said it’s a very thorough network. combine that with metra’s system of hundreds of miles of regional railways shuffling people in and out of downtown to places as far away as wisconsin, indiana, and central illinois. one drawback of the city’s bid, however, is the proposal for a $350 million, 90,000 seat temporary olympic stadium. soldier field is capable of only seating just over 60,000 people which is not enough for an opening/closing ceremony:
lynn becker over at arcchicago (scroll down the page a bit to find the article) had a great question regarding the relevance of such an expensive stadium when it is only temporary. regardless, i think the single most positive aspect of the bid is the fact that win or lose, the city plans on following through with all the system overhauls and public building projects (less the temporary stadium of course) for the greater good of the city. if the final result is anything like the architectural shine of the recently proposed renderings it will be a great thing for chicago:
the only place i differ with the city on the bid is their proposal to turn the olympic village residences into yuppie condos post-games. personally, i would like to see them become mixed income, mixed use, social housing/market rate units. the games could present the city with a major opportunity to revamp the way we look at/treat social housing. think of the statement of value it would make to take something as important as an olympic village and turn it into mixed use, mixed income facilities.
some of my favorite prefabs are the ones designed by rocio romero. the lv series seen here come in a variety of sizes ranging from 625 sq.ft. to 1453 sq.ft. (without optional basement). not only are these thing beautifully stunning they are very reasonably priced as well from $21,000 to $41,000 respectively. naturally you’d have to have a plot of land and be willing to pour your own foundation (slab on grade, crawl space, or full basement) in addition to running your own mechanical and electrical. rocio romero even has a series of prefabs designed to withstand 150 mph winds in compliance with the most stringent hurricane codes. of course my favorite aspect is how much more environmentally friendly the manufacturing process is on prefabricated homes as opposed to built-on-site. upwards of 40% of our landfills is nothing but construction debris. prefabs typically generate only 2% of the refuse that built-on-site homes do.
last night the history channel ran back to back modern marvels episodes on green technologies. the first was “renewable energy” an episode being rerun from last year and the second was a new episode, “environmental technology.” i must say both episodes were extremely thorough, very interesting, and jambed full of information. naturally as one would expect the renewable energy episode discussed advancements in solar energy including photovoltaic films that can literally be printed on surfaces like glass and roof shingles meaning the current method of growing expensive silicon wafers is unnecessary. geothermal energy was documented as well, both for producing heat and hot water, in both forms (the tapping the hot springs/lava method and the running conduit 6′-8′ under the ground for residential uses). wind farms now have turbines capable of generating 1.5 megawatts of power and hydro turbines are several hundred times more efficient than wind. “environmental technology” documented the ever widening field of both bio and phytoremediation which is the use of organisms or plant life to decontaminate soils and groundwater, even on sites contaminated with nuclear waste. a multitude of carbon sequestration methods were documented as well, including an interesting method of capturing the carbon from fossil fuel burning and putting it into a tank with algae blooms. through photosynthesis the algae actually devours the carbon dioxide leaving only water and oxygen. finally there was a very informative discussion on the successes/pitfalls of ethanol. the variety being championed here in the states is by no means a sustainable source of fuel. it costs 1.25 times more to produce than regular gasoline and is only about .75 times as efficient went burned. additionally, it requires one barrel of oil for every 1.3 barrels of corn based ethanol produced (1:1.3) additionally, one can produce only 350gal/acre. however, brazilian sugar cane based ethanol has a production ratio of 1:8 and one can produce 650gal/acre. the real chance for ethanol to be both renewable and sustainable lies in using switchgrass. switchgrass has a production ratio of 1:10 (barrels of oil used to barrels of ethanol produced) and one can produce 1150gal/acre. the plant requires far less maintenance to grow and can grow in a much wider region than corn. all said, nice job history channel.
this morning i stumbled across gapminder. the site was started in stockholm, sweden back in 1998 and aims to compile visual information on the health of the world’s people. they have a stunning array of pdf graphics, powerpoint slideshows, and flash animation videos covering everything from income and poverty to health and education, all of which is broken down by regions, age, gender, and religion. there are some fascinatingly scary statistics over at gapminder including one flash video that discusses the shift in world income over the last 30 or so years. currently, the richest 20% of the world’s population has a staggering 74% of the world’s wealth whereas the poorest 20% of the world’s population has a mere 2% of the world’s total wealth. the rich are getting richer, and the poor, poorer; it’s unsettling to see some of these statistics: 54% of the worlds lives on less that $2 a day.
if you’ve never heard of architecture for humanity head on over to their website and take a peek. the organization, founded in 1999 by cameron sinclair, serves to provide those without means or devastated by disaster a place to live. they believe, as i do, that architecture should do more to enhance our world and provide shelter for everyone. in recent years AFH has worked on reconstruction in the wake of the south pacific tsunami and hurricane katrina. i had the privilege to see mr. sinclair speak in late 2003, if my memory serves me right, and i remember being struck by how humble, sincere, and driven he was. in 2006 mr. sinclair was awarded the prestigious TED prize and just the other day there was a very nice article in the new york times about his work. the most important product of AFH of late is the implementation of its “open source network” in which it plans to freely distribute its design work to the less fortunate people of the world, free of charge, with very few (if any serious) strings attached. finally, if you have a chance be sure to pick up their book, design like you give a damn, it’s filled with some 80 inspiring projects that AFH has worked on over the last couple of years. it’s always humbling and refreshing to find people out their working so hard for others.
our goal here at the way we live is to explore the way we live, physically, in terms of architecture and urban planning, socially, including how we interact and how we address culture, and practically, regarding products and materials we develop and use to make our lives more sustainable, more organized, more efficient, and more enjoyable.