the way we live

litracon

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i couldn’t resist posting one more fascinating use of concrete. litracon, or light transmitting concrete, is a phenomenal new product. as the name suggests, this concrete is actually capable of allowing light, and conversely shadow, pass through it. the holy grail of concrete has always been transparency and litracon comes pretty close. as strong and as capable as its standard concrete predecessor, litracon owes its abilities to the addition of fiber optics. the fiber optics run parallel to each other and perpendicular to the concrete block or wall; in this way light and shadow on one side of the wall are visible on the other.

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no word on other ingredients so it’s tough to make a judgment on its sustainability but its ingenuity is certainly off the charts. backlighting litracon with artificial light produces a brilliant glowing quality. meanwhile, daylighting behind a person or another object produces an almost ethereal ghostly silhouette. i can’t wait until this stuff goes mainstream. head on over to their website for some more great images, samples, example projects, and a small video of litracon in action.

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28 February 2007 Posted by | architecture, materials | 2 Comments

erosion sink

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the elegance of the precast concrete design work on hotel remota inspired me to find some more extremely unique concrete designs. pictured here is the erosion sink, designed and fabricated by gore design co. out of tempe, arizona.  founded in 2004, gore design co. aims to provide an environmentally friendly alternative to many major interior furniture pieces such as countertops, fireplace surrounds, sinks, and other furniture.  the erosion sink features a type of eco-concrete that gore design has been working with on a number of projects.  the concrete features the integration of fly-ash and other recycled materials, as well as voc-free sealers and heavy-metal free pigments.  in fact, they’ve re-dubbed their concrete recycrete.  all things considered this sink is a striking piece.  both functional and artistic, the natural aesthetics are calming.  i thoroughly enjoy the shallow tapering nature of the topographic lines meandering to and from each other.  its design almost suggests the degradation of the concrete sink slab was caused over time with nothing more than the faucet running.  the asymmetry of the piece, especially the offset nature of the drain, really make this eco-concrete sink something to behold.

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28 February 2007 Posted by | green, materials, products | 2 Comments

hotel remota

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the last post from south america reminded me of one of the most beautiful structures i’ve ever seen. published in architectural record in the december 2006 issue, hotel remota sits in puerto natales, chile, a three hour drive north of punta arenas which lies virtually at the southern tip of south america. designed by german del sol architects out of santiago, chile, hotel remota serves those who take the time to make a trip to the pristine wilderness of the patagonia region. resting just outside of torres del paine national park, the hotel offers a number of day-long or multi-day treks through the scenic mountain range and national park. the hotel and it’s 72 rooms blend ever so gently into the landscape with is low-slung design emphasizing the magnificence of the nearby mountains. the hotel is exquisitely constructed of precast concrete; other materials include native slate flooring, local lenga wood, and as seen here in the sauna, delicate smatterings of color within the hotel spaces.

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the hotel’s floor plan was pulled apart programatically into a “v” shape that begins to define outdoor spaces and claim them as the hotel’s own while emphasizing its connection with the landscape. in an interesting detail the architects replaced all the grass under the building’s footprint on the hotel’s roof as part of a living-roof insulation system. i find the delicate nature of the skyline reflections along the glass facade beautiful and only surpassed by the reversal of light at night in which the hotel becomes a soft-glowing beacon along the patagonia horizon at the base of the mountains. german del sol’s simple, elegant, minimalism in conjunction with their delicate site treatment and purely striking aesthetic really hammer this design home.

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27 February 2007 Posted by | architecture | 2 Comments

blue house

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built in 2001 near the argentinian coast outside of buenos aires this stunning blue house commands a unobstructed view of 360 degrees of pristine, untouched, argentinian coastline landscape. now my spanish is awful so i apologize if i mistranslated any of the following details from arquimaster’s article of the darío antonietti, ignacio montaldo, eugene ottolenghi designed project. the project was built more than 100km away from the nearest town and, consequently, much of it was prefabricated off-site (this also helped in keeping the natural surrounding landscape untouched). the program is divided up amongst three floors and includes four bedrooms, living spaces, dining spaces, a kitchen, bathrooms, and generous outdoor patio/porch spaces. the prefabricated modules lend themselves to establishing the form of the building as well as creating the generous covered void spaces for the outdoor living areas. this is certainly a fascinating house and i can imagine it has simply commanding views. be sure to head over to the arquimaster article for more info (in spanish) and phenomenal pictures including prelim renderings, sketches, construction photos, and you can even find corbusien modular men in the sections.

27 February 2007 Posted by | architecture, prefab | Leave a comment

3-form chroma

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i was leafing through the march issue of metropolis yesterday when i found an advertisement for this great product. called chroma, by 3-form, this diaphanous polymer panel is environmentally friendly. intended for interior uses in table tops, shelving, or non-load bearing interior partitions (no word on r-value so i doubt its suitable in thermal situations) it is nontoxic, highly durable, manufactured with low voc’s, and is completely recyclable.

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coming in either one or two-inch thick panels the polymer is impregnated with a range of 27 brilliant colors covering two palettes: refined (a more subdued, organic, and standard range of colors) and bold (brighter, almost stained glass quality colors seen above). i love the ghostly colorful aura of the material, the gentle translucency. i bet this product would almost glow if you backlit the edges with led lights. unfortunately though it’s a rather pricey material.

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aside from it’s leed certified manufacturing process and list of ingredients, 3-form’s business model for the product is commendable. chroma is intended to be recycled within a closed loop system as a technical nutrient; consequently, the company has options to lease, or rent, the material for a specified time. at the end of the lease one can simply send it back and the company will recycle it (i’m sure there’s an option to re-lease). in this way, 3-form ensures that the product will maintain it’s high quality and not simply be thrown away or downcycled.

26 February 2007 Posted by | architecture, green, materials, products | 3 Comments

disillusioned advertising

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a friend of mine told me to head over to banana republic’s website and check out their new advertising featuring architects…laughter promptly ensued. as you can see from above this isn’t exactly what one finds inside your typical architectural office. in fact, i’m not really sure where banana republic got this idea at all, seeing as the stereotype of architects is anything but. actually geoff manaugh over at bldgblog had a great link over to gawker on this topic. in turn, gawker has a simply hilarious “interview” with a working architect about this advertising and how interesting it is, some highlights:

  • frankie: well, firstly, these people look really well-rested and almost obscenely casual. if this were a real meeting, the model on the table would have some stray marks on it. more likely, it would be shattered in a million pieces on the floor.
  • frankie: if i were a high schooler with architectural aspirations seeing this, it would probably be too seductive to resist. five years in a design program, however, at a sufficiently respectable design school will bleed most of the color out of this person’s palette and leave them crushed and vulnerable enough to fully engage the profession.

actually, while you’re at bldgblog be sure to check out some other great posts as of late, including europe’s geological attics and north america vs. the a-241/bis device.

25 February 2007 Posted by | architecture, society | 1 Comment

re:volt

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this first in a series of five design competitions has been announced by re:vision, a community for planners, designers, and thinkers. this competition, aptly called re:volt, aims to engage people to rethink and redesign the way we use energy in the urban environment. are there ways to make cities zero-energy? or better yet, instead of having negative or even no impact on the environment, could they have a positive impact? the website lists five hypothetical question to think about, but your competition entry certainly lisn’t imited to these:

  • how can industry stop polluting the air and water?
  • how can visitors generate energy for a building?
  • how can buildings capture the sun and the wind?
  • how can offices be more energy efficient?
  • how can homes lower their energy bills to zero?

the deadline for entry is 15 march 2007 but entries don’t have to be postmarked until 01 april 2007. judges will be using 3.1 items of criteria:

  • sustainability and reality of intent – 33%
  • affordability and constructability – 33%
  • innovation and originality – 33%
  • judges’ discretion – 1%

i think this is a fascinating series of competitions that should produce some dramatically successful ideas for rebuilding/redesigning the way in which we use, and even think about, energy. oh, and did i mention there will be seven prizes of $2,000?  winners should be announced in late april or early may. four future competitions to follow will include:

  • re:route – rethinking urban transportation
  • re:store – greening the urban economy
  • re:connect – rethinking urban planning
  • re:vision – sustainable architectural urban solutions

25 February 2007 Posted by | green, society, urban planning | Leave a comment

nascar turning to ethanol?

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i’ll be the first to admit that i’m no nascar fan but i was perusing some of the archives over at time when i found an article about nascar closing in on switching from leaded gasoline to ethanol (interestingly i also found a small blurb on treehugger today). my first thought was utter disbelief in the fact that they actually still run on leaded fuel. other racing series, such as indy, have been using ethanol for a while now. my next thought was that this would be a great symbolic move for the sustainable movement. certainly nascar represents only a tiny fraction of gasoline consumed in this country but the societal swing power nascar carries could easily translate into faster shift away from gasoline throughout the country. the time article discusses the example of the brazilian system of ethanol cars in depth while trying to make the argument that it is applicable here. this seems rather basic to me as we’ve discussed before brazilian ethanol is not the same as the american version at all. in fact, the brazilian variety is generated from sugar cane as opposed to the corn we use stateside. additionally it has a production ratio of 1:8 and one can produce 650gal/acre of land. our corn-based ethanol requires one barrel of oil for every 1.3 barrels of ethanol produced (1:1.3 production ratio) and can only be produced at 350gal/acre. finally, our version costs 1.25 times more than gasoline per gallon, but is only 0.75 times as efficient, certainly this is not the sustainable fuel it is being marketed as. it is, however, a stop-gap and i am certainly not one to rail against nascar moving away from leaded fuel to something even partially more environmentally friendly. my concern is that at this point we need to move beyond stop-gaps and to something truly sustainable, recycled vegtable oil, hydrogen, water, electric, or  pressurized air powered cars to name a few.

24 February 2007 Posted by | green, society | 1 Comment

prefabs by ikea?

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as startling and ridiculous as that sounds it’s true.  i could barely believe what i saw: prefabricated homes for sale through a partnership with ikea.  swedish developer skanska and ikea (yes, that ikea) have coupled to produce the prefabs you see here.  they are aimed at families making 12,000-30,000 british pounds ($20,000-$60,000 usd for those of us on this side of the pond).  known as boklok these homes are quite charming to say the least though it seems, as of now, they are only available in scandinavia and the uk.

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it was tough to garner any information about the sustainability of these prefabs (as half of the website was in scandinavian languages), but the fact that they are prefabricated, at minimum, means reduced waste, more quality control in construction, and greater selectivity in materials.  the affordability of these homes is phenomenal as well.  gearing them towards families with less means is a great idea; prefabs, by definition, should be cheaper (unless you spring for the cadillac model).  as you can see, the prefabs range from single family detached dwelling units to multi-family attached units.  as surprised as i am to find ikea selling prefabs in scandinavia i think they have done it right.  they’ve created quite attractive and very reasonably priced units coming in a wide array of styles, sizes, and configurations.

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23 February 2007 Posted by | architecture, prefab, society | Leave a comment

social networking design

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this morning i stumbled upon a very neat site called design:related.  the site is intended to be another social networking site akin to myspace or facebook.  unlike those sites however, design:related is geared towards a specific group of people: designers.  now there have been social networking sites for designers before like core77’s coroflot, but design:related is different.  it’s more flexible.  sure you can still find your typical job postings, member profiles, uploaded portfolios, and link with friends, but you can also network among inspirations, interests, and design fields.  say sustainability is your thing, you can add eco-architects, sustainable industrial designers, environmental texts, green manufacturers, and global warming champions to your list of inspirations and then find like-minded folks.  i think the narrow focus of this networking site, coupled with its flexibility and abilities in general, will make this a rather interesting place sooner rather than later.  go give it a look-see.

22 February 2007 Posted by | society | Leave a comment