the way we live

ice cap goodbye


the other day i spotted an even scarier assessment of the current climate crisis our planet is facing.  treehugger had an article in which they were citing a new calculation that claimed the arctic ice cap could be gone by as earlier as this summer.  while earlier estimates ranged from 5 to 100 years, two of the more well known are 2013 and 2030.  of course the process by which the polar ice caps disintegrate is exponentially sped up by increasingly lower and lower local and global albedo levels.  that is to say, as the ice melts by means of a hotter climate due to global warming, less and less bright white, reflective ice remains on the globe to reflect large quantities of sunlight.  in turn, more and more dark bodied water is exposed that absorbs more and more of the sun’s heat, thus speeding the process exponentially.  when the polar ice caps disappear there will be little to nothing left to stem the tide of global warming: fears of dramatically rising sea levels inundating coastal cities, desertification of the subtropics, unpredictable and violent weather patterns (not to mention the exposure to increasingly vast amounts of ultraviolet rays and heat in general), and biological effects galore such as species collapse.


of course not everything is doom and gloom; no arctic ice cap means the opening of the famed northwest passage including increased coastlines at the poles.  the world’s food producing locations and robust economies will surely shift poleward as well.  of course, the precious few benefits come at devastatingly alarming costs.  regardless, let’s all hope we can get our acts together and stem the tide of global warming.

5 March 2008 Posted by | green, society, technology | Leave a comment

mile high v2.0


coming just days on the heels of the hyder consulting announcement that they are working on a mile high skyscrapper comes the announcement that populararchitecture is also working on a mile high tower of their own. if built, the populararchitecture tower would be located in london. unlike the hyder structure, populararchitecture has released renderings that show the immense scale of such a building, a scale that as i accurately hypothesized before, is completely out of touch with everything human. according to inhabitat, the tower would rise some 500 stories and, “would contain schools and hospitals to shops and pubs, and everything else under the sun.”


additionally, this structure is to be environmentally friendly, though any skeptic would be quick to point out the sheer absurd abundance of materials, resources, and energy required to build and maintain such a structure. though it is true, such a design emphasizes efficiency in the way we live and minimizes our literal footprint on the earth’s surface as a function of living vertically as opposed to horizontally. personally, i don’t see any way either of these towers get the go-ahead anytime in the near future. regardless, i should hope at the least these proposal generate discourse about the way we live and how we should be living. are towers of this size necessary? despite being green, what are their environmental impacts? how do incredible dense footprints such as this affect the vibrancy of the neighborhoods surrounding them? surely though possible, the designers don’t actually intend the residence never leave the structure? while certainly fascinating ideas, i for one prefer not to see these built for fear of shattering delicate urban fabrics and destroying the delicate scalar balance of human existence.

1 March 2008 Posted by | architecture, green, modern, society, technology, urban planning | 3 Comments



this part houseboat, part fan boat, looking contraption is actually an ice hovercraft school bus for a small rural community in wisconsin. the village in question happens to be an ice-locked island in lake superior. the 250 hearty souls who call la pointe, wisconsin home have to juggle the sometimes liquid water commute against the usually frozen crossing. their solution happens to be this ingenious hovercraft designed specifically for ice situations. maxing out at some 18 mph, the craft is hardly a powerhouse. what the vehicle lacks in power it makes up for in utility. what fascinates me though is the utter mobility of what amounts to a house (something i’ve been working with in my own thesis). these icecrafts make me think about archigram’s plug-in city. i can’t help but wonder why these little red guys haven’t populated the surrounding waters as motor homes of the north, providing access and mobility to thousands who would otherwise be stuck inside.

25 February 2008 Posted by | architecture, modern, society, technology | 3 Comments

animal type


last week core77 pointed me towards a wonderfully ingenious typography set. jeremy pettis of the milwaukee institute of art and design designed this set as part of a thesis project. the set is organized by the first letter of each animal in alphabetical order.


furthermore though, the font of each animal is appropriate to the form and characteristics of that animal, often times the written word resembles the animal’s shape itself. i find this to be creative, fun, and fascinating.


according to jeremy, “the animal idea began as a joke but then i realized that it would be a great way to bridge the gap between people who are into type and the average person. everyone knows and loves animals so it was something familiar to lead the viewer through the unfamiliar.”


24 February 2008 Posted by | modern, society | 1 Comment

photo friday: starry night


this photo was posted to my friend kyle’s photoblog, oh yeah photos, back in early january. it’s, by far, one of the better (and certainly crisper) chicago skyline night shots i’ve seen. i love the purple tones in the sky juxtasposed to the already illuminated windows. the series of uber-bright street lights in the lower left adds a nice little visual punch to the composition. even if i hadn’t told you it was posted in january one could tell it was taken around the holiday season by virtue of the red and green lights at the top of the sears tower.

22 February 2008 Posted by | photo, society | Leave a comment

mile high


today archinect pointed me to a fascinating press release by hyder consulting in which they claim to be designing a 1600m tall building…that’s one mile high.  of course immediately i’m reminded of the infamous frank lloyd wright design for the illinois, a mile high building itself (below).


the current world’s tallest, though not yet completed is the burj dubai in dubai, uae slated to rise some 800m, or half as tall as this recent proposal (below).


bldgblog whipped up the comparative picture at the top of the post; additionally though, a recent bldgblog post has even more significance with the announcement of a mile-high structure.  tapei 101, the world’s tallest structure prior to the burj dubai, has actually caused the land around it to become tectonically unstable (it was previously 100% safe), ie. prone to earthquakes.  the massive weight of the building itself is essentially causing earthquakes.  i can only imagine what kind of forces a mile high structure would impose upon the earth.  but the bigger issue here is not environmental effects or even architectural articulation of such structure, but the sociological implications they bring with them.  are supertall, supermassive, buildings ideal for living in?  isn’t there a serious concern with scale, at a point these buildings are no longer in line with any human scale.  furthermore, are these building even applicable to the way we live?  in a world of global transience, impermanence, and instant everything we no longer live like we used to (see the thesis category).  i can’t help but wonder if it’s even worth designing such a tower regardless of whether or not we can practically build it.

20 February 2008 Posted by | architecture, society, technology, thesis | Leave a comment

toxic trailers


yesterday news broke that the fema trailers (pictured above) housing hurricane katrina victims tested positive for inordinate amounts of toxins, namely formaldehyde.  specifically, five times the normal levels of formaldehyde were found in fema trailers.  more than 100,000 people (some 38,000 families) still live in these temporary trailers almost 3 years after the hurricane, may of whom had been reporting serious illnesses and respitory problems almost immediately after being relocated to the trailers.  first, it’s simply unacceptable that 100,000 people are still living in temporary trailers almost three years later.  second, i am astounded to find that, at minimum, these people havent been relocated to any number of the proposed alternative dwellings all of which have been extremely cheap and necessarily small but humane and warm with wonderful architectural articulation.


some of these include the lovely katrina cottage (pictured above and discussed here).  another wonderful example is the architecture for humanity response in biloxi, mississippi (pictured below and discussed here and here).


these people deserve better; i would think that at minimum they should not have to go to sleep at night hoping they aren’t being poisoned.  it is unconscionable for fema, the federal government, the state government, or insurance companies to allow this to happen.  furthermore, it is shameful that those who had to endure the devastating and traumatic experience of the hurricane have been forced to live like this, to live through this, for the past three years.

15 February 2008 Posted by | architecture, society | Leave a comment

whitehouse redux


announced back in mid-january is the whitehouse redux design competition.  the competition has a fascinating premise: what if the whitehouse was designed today?  with an incredible program of spaces, a dramatic site, and historical significance, the project offers a unique architectural experiment.  issues of democracy and transparency in design, security, and historicism will be exciting to address.  i can’t help but think of gunter behnisch’s work in the field of democracy and desgin, especially that of the munich olympics of ’72.  from the competition website:

home of the world’s most powerful individual.  universally recognized symbol of political authority.  one of america’s greatest tourist attractions.  nerve-center of the world’s most complex communications system.  the ultimate architectural embodiment of power.

few people realize the extent of the white house, since much of it is below ground or otherwise concealed by landscaping.  the white house includes: six stories and 55,000 square feet of floor space, 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms, 412 doors, 147 windows, twenty-eight fireplaces, eight staircases, three elevators, five full-time chefs, a tennis court, a bowling alley, a movie theater, a jogging track, a swimming pool, and a putting green.  it receives about 5,000 visitors a day.

the original white house design, by james hoban, was the result of a competition held in 1792.  over the centuries, presidents have added rooms, facilities and even entire new wings, turning the white house into the labyrinthine complex it is today.

what if, instead of in 1792, that competition were to be held today?  what would a white house designed in 2008, year of election of the 44th president of the united states, look like?

entries are due 20 april 2008.  winners will be selected in may.

10 February 2008 Posted by | architecture, modern, society, urban planning | 6 Comments

photo friday: street blur


captured in much the same style as last friday’s photographic experiment, this image was shot at night while in a moving car.  setting the exposure to bulb and driving down a neon and street light filled street i was able to capture light in a whimsical, playful, not always obvious sort of way.  using kodak ektachrome professional plus color slide film the vibrant hues of the lights was richened to an almost ethereal level.  this photo has always struck me for its dynamic and surreal color and motion combination.  as always, more photos are available here and here.

28 December 2007 Posted by | photo, society | 3 Comments

clean coal


coming promptly on the heels of our discussion about ending our addiction to oil came an announcement from the federal government that they had chosen a site in illinois for the first “clean coal” power plant to be built (at a cost of $1.8 billion, with a “b”).  no amount of architectural refinement (as seen above) can disguise the fact that this is still a coal power plant.  why are we insisting on pursuing such backwards technology?  proponents of the new “clean coal” technology argue that it is pollution free; that statement is a serious misguided diagnosis.  it is true, coal at this plant will not be burned in the way it traditionally would, rather it under goes a process called gasification in which energy is harvested from the coal without burning it.  unfortunately, this still produces enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.  the “solution” is carbon capture and sequestration.  the carbon capture process is exactly what it sounds like: capture all the carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and put it somewhere else.  where?  pump it under ground.  i see a few obvious problems with this.  for starters the entire principle hinges on the fact that you can construct a volume that is totally impermeable to gas, meaning that it wont leak out into the environment anyways (and it must essentially last forever).  second, if you store enough of the carbon dioxide, under pressure as the plan calls for, aren’t we in fact creating a ticking time bomb underground?  it’s spent nuclear fuel all over again.  in 50, 100, 200 years (if it makes it that long) what is to stop someone from inadvertently digging into this storage space and releasing the gas, or worse causing an explosion while releasing the gas.  of course none of this even addresses the issue of harvesting the coal to begin with, a process that is already incredible harmful to the environment (then of course the transportation of the coal, etc.).  instead, why don’t we stop investing in technology that is barely a stop gap (if at all) and start employing the alternative technologies that are already available while pursuing braver, bolder, truly innovative technologies that are whole-heartedly sustainable, not just in name only.  why don’t we increase wind farms, wave harvesting, solar farms, or geothermal technologies on the scale of $1.8 billion and see how many homes we can power and how much farther innovation advances.  practically speaking of course, it makes exponentially more sense to generate much smaller amounts of power where it will actually be used as a large percentage of usable power is lost in “transportation/delivery.”  this is why we must rethink how we design our buildings.  we must increase passive heating and cooling technologies by way of materials, construction, and design.  we must utilize these new innovative technologies to maximize the resources made available on site: rain water catchment, greywater systems, daylighting, building integrated photovoltaics or wind turbines just to name the tip of the iceberg.  enough with the antiquated technologies that got us in this catastrophic climate mess.  let’s use our minds, treat this like a design problem, and move forward.

19 December 2007 Posted by | green, society, urban planning | 1 Comment