the way we live

photo friday: the bean

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here’s a shot i love: the reflection of the chicago skyline along south michigan avenue as seen through annish kapoor’s marvelous “cloudgate,” affectionately referred to as “the bean.”   the way the skyline is warped and bent through the seamless reflective sculpture gives the image an ethereal watercolor like quality.  in a way it’s almost like a rea-life salvador dali painting.  this photo was taken using kodak ektachrome professional plus 100 speed film.

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7 March 2008 Posted by | photo, urban planning | 2 Comments

mile high v2.0

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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.”

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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

photo friday: fifth ave.

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this photo was lifted from devyn’s nyc photoblog, 24gotham.  as one of our favorite blogs we’ve mentioned it before, but it always proves interesting.  this is a powerful shot to be sure.   according to the metadata it was taken with a nikon d80, which just makes me jealous.  the overwhelming perspective combined with the dynamic black and white tones really make this picture pop (not to mention a certain special building in the background anchoring the whole composition).  if you’ve never seen 24gotham be sure to check it out (you could also venture to his old chicago-based photoblog, aptly named looper, if you’re feeling adventurous).

15 February 2008 Posted by | architecture, photo, urban planning | 1 Comment

whitehouse redux

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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

clean coal

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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

oil end game

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in the most recent addition to the already stellar series of podcasts from ted is a talk given back in 2005 at the conference by amory lovins.  in the talk mr. lovins discusses environmental policies/attitudes and specifically our dependence on oil and the need to kick it.  but here is where this talk stands out from most doom and gloom discussions pertaining to petropolitics, environmental policies, and world economies: mr. lovin’s asserts that, contrary to popular belief, transitioning the way we live to sustainable sources of fuel will actually increase economic prosperity worldwide.  mr. lovin’s rightfully states, “it is cheaper to save fuel than to buy fuel.”  in fact he cites that companies who already do this, companies that have invested in alternative sources of fuel, streamlined production lines, and rethought the way the do business have seen their bottom dollar increase.  climate protection is not costly as most people portray it as and we do not need to do something painful to avoid it; rather, we need to approach it as a design problem.  we must use intelligence. mr. lovin’s uses the example of the mclaren sports car in which new space-age composite materials cut down on weight (and thus reduce fuel requirements and in turn increase fuel economy) while making the car safer than by traditional construction.  we must streamline our approaches to manufacturing and other labor and evironmentally intensive areas.  here amory cites the example of car manufacturers cutting out the paint shop entirely, which is by far one of the most labor intensive and environmentally destructive phases of construction.  rather he proposes impregnating the raw materials and body panels of the automobile with color themselves.  we must also design efficiently.  companies’ engineering departments must go back to the drawing boards and rethink production, assembly, and product transportation.  if these three things can be accomplished, if the problem can be treated as a design problem, then it becomes an economically viable alternative.

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mr. lovin’s asserts that we can be off oil by 2040 and have a bigger, more robust, and diverse economy.  we don’t have to suffer hardships in doing so, we can actually increase world and domestic security in the process, reduce price volatility, and save the environment from otherwise imminent catastrophic collapse.  in fact, amory’s book is available as a free pdf download at his website, winning the oil end game.  mr. lovin’s talk was both inspiring and fascinating; if you don’t already subscribe to the ted talk podcast series from itunes or the ted website, i highly recommend it.

17 December 2007 Posted by | products, society, technology, urban planning | 2 Comments

plug-in city

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proposed in hay days of modernism (and anything but in the architectural movement sense of the word) in 1964 by archigram, this hypermodern futurist project was, in many ways, ahead of its time. plug-in city is literally, to borrow le corbusier’s words, “a machine for living.” i’ve been doing some investigation on this project as part of a set of case studies for the thesis project i’ve been working on. interestingly, the plug-in city proposal is actually devoid of actual “buildings;” rather, the idea is to provide a framework, or a megastructure, that acts as a dwelling unit host. this is an idea we’ve talked about previously in andrew maynard’s corb v2.0, which in many ways is a contemporary redesign of the archigram project. nonetheless, the plug-in city is fascinating in it’s approach to flexible living arrangements. the megastructure, as designed, is intended to house dwelling units. these standardized units literally plug into and out of the the provided framework allowing for an ever evolving transformable piece of flexible architecture.  to further the “machines for living” analogy, people essentially serve as raw materials being “processed” in what is, hopefully, an enjoyable living experience.

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one’s mind can’t help but imagine a world in which people actually live in what amounts to true mobile homes. complete dwelling units capable of driving down the road from megastructure to megastructure stopping off over night or for months or years on end and plugging-in, effectively becoming part of the building. this fluid world seems to be approaching more readily than we’d like to admit and it seems, now, 40 years later that archigram may have really been truly ahead of their time.

3 December 2007 Posted by | architecture, modern, society, thesis, urban planning | 1 Comment

google renewables

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yesterday abc news was reporting that everyone’s favorite search giant, google, is venturing into the utility business.  with a goal of making renewable energy as cheap as coal, google announced they plan in invest hundreds of millions of dollars in research, design, engineering, and implementation of three different renewable systems: solar thermal, geothermal, and high-altitude wind.  google’s rationale for the move is two-fold: first, google’s servers use an incredible amount of energy themselves and investing in renewable resources to meet these power demands makes good business sense.  second, according to google, they recognize the reality of the seriousness of climate change and they feel that they have both the brain power and the money to change the way we live.  regardless of their motivations, a company like this investing heavily in renewable energy research and development is extremely commendable.  if google can, in fact, manage to develop technology that reduce the cost of renewable energy into the range of coal it would be a huge positive for the world around us.

28 November 2007 Posted by | green, society, technology, urban planning | 2 Comments

nyt trifecta

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the new york times had three articles over the past two days worth noting here, each was quite well-written and very informative.  the first is mark landler’s “high-priced oil adds volatility to power scramble” (picture above).  as oil prices approach $100 a barrel and 3,000,000,000 new customers “walk onto the scene” as author thomas friedman puts it (india, china, etc) and geopolitical relationships become increasingly tenuous it becomes ever more clear exactly how important investing in sustainable and renewable energy technologies.

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the second article is by matthew wald called “the carbon calculus.”  mr. wald’s article talks about the growing push for a carbon tax and how such a tax would affect the way we live and the world around us.  in fact, mr. wald argues that many companies are already budgeting for such a tax and if it were to get above $10 a metric ton (especially more than $25/ton) renewable energies not only become cost effective, but actually cheaper…today.

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the last article worth mentioning is “the antisuburbanites” by a series of three authors. “the antisuburbanites” is about exactly what it says it is about; it documents three different families, one in london, one in new york, and one in los angeles who manage to find enjoyable ways to live and raise a family in the urban setting.  it’s a fascinating article filled with a bunch of great architectural subtones.

8 November 2007 Posted by | architecture, green, society, technology, urban planning | Leave a comment

l.a. fires

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by now we have all seen the devastation caused by the recent wildfires in california.  if you are looking to help, either by volunteering or donation i suggest heading over to architecture for humanity’s l.a. chapter’s website.  a couple of my old entrepreneurial college friends started this satellite chapter of mr. sinclair’s worldwide charitable architecture organization.  contact jack feichtner at jfeichtner@afhla.org if you would like to find a way to help.  as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, all donations are tax-deductible.

25 October 2007 Posted by | architecture, society, urban planning | Leave a comment