Point of View

The METROPOLIS Blog

February 2011

Places that Work: IND Airport

02/28/11

Places that Work: IND Airport

While checking in at the Indianapolis International Airport, I was thrilled to find a number of biophilic design principles in use, particularly in the airport’s Civic Plaza. IND is the first greenfield airport built after 9/11, designed by HOK, and opened in November 2008. Biophilic designers recognize the positive influence nature has on human well-being. So the HOK architects, working with their natural-sciences consultants, suffused the airport’s Civic Plaza with sunlight that enters through the massive skylight and window-wall. Although there’s not too much green on view inside, the space is enlivened by tall plantings and support elements reminiscent of large tree forms. This connection to plant life is reinforced by the landscape architecture—from numerous windows...

Posted at 12:39 PM | Permalink | Comments

A One Tonne Life

02/25/11

A One Tonne Life

  From the advice I was raised on, I’m going to assume that “eat right,” “turn off the lights when you leave a room,” “only do a full load of laundry,” and “how in the world do you spend so much money on gas in a month?!” are among the most often used phrases of any parent to their teenaged child. For the Lindell family of Hasselby outside of Stockholm, that advice not only worked on their 16 year old daughter, Hannah, but walked right into the center of the family home in the shape of a newspaper advertisement looking for test subjects. Enter the One Tonne Life project. For the next six months, the four-person Lindell family, made up of parents Nils and Alicja, and Hannah and Jonathan, 13, will live in a state-of-the-art, climate-smart villa by A-hus and trade...

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The Home of the Solar Decathlon

02/24/11

The Home of the Solar Decathlon

The 2009 Solar Decathlon at the National Mall. Photo: Richard King. The 20 international student teams participating in this year’s Solar Decathlon can finally breathe easy today. For the last month, the teams have been up in arms because the National Park Service revoked its permit to allow the Decathlon to take place at its customary venue, Washington D. C.’s National Mall. The Decathlon, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Energy, brings together students from all over the world to build innovative energy-efficient homes. It has gradually become the United States’ premier solar energy competition, a visionary platform for the sustainable technologies of tomorrow. And a big part of the competition’s prestige is that it is always held on what is often referred to as the...

Posted at 04:44 PM | Permalink | Comments

What is Life after Plastic?

02/23/11

What is Life after Plastic?

Who can remember life before plastic? Could you imagine life after plastic? The National Building Museum organized a panel of experts as part of its popular series For the Greener Good: Conversations that Will Change the World titled “Life After Plastic.” This discussion examined the role of plastics as they are used today and how they will change in the future. The organic discussion, molded by questions from the audience and online participants via Twitter (#FGG), was moderated by Lance Hosey, president and CEO of GreenBlue. Other panelists included: Blaine Brownell, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture; Jay Bolus, vice president of technical operations at MBDC; and Robert Peoples, Ph.D., director of the ACS Green Chemistry Institute....

Posted at 04:52 PM | Permalink | Comments

Finding One Good Chair

02/18/11

Finding One Good Chair

Late last month I had the pleasure of joining three amazing women on a jury for the One Good Chair competition in Las Vegas. While it’s always confounding to talk about sustainability in windowless convention facilities, in a city that’s a manifestation of the monstrous hybrid concept writ large, we were delighted to see green moves on a small scale. My fellow jurors and I were pleased to review the five finalists in the competition and learn how young designers from all over the world are thinking about materials, packaging, ergonomics, and more. Run by the Las Vegas Market and supported by the Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC), (Metropolis is a media sponsor), the competition is the brainchild of architect Lance Hosey who hatched the idea three years ago. He structured the...

Posted at 10:49 AM | Permalink | Comments

China Before Architecture

02/15/11

China Before Architecture

[Army Pants] My first trip to China was in 1988. Ironically, this was the same year sweeping land reforms were instituted by the government. It was very simple, really. It was like a massive stimulus package. Though, at the time, the full ramifications of these policies were not completely understood. Basically, the laws governing land management were altered. All land was (and still is) state-owned. There is no private property in China. 1949 erased the concept from history. Under the policy changes, which also coincided with other dramatic economic reforms, land use rights could be traded on a quasi-private real-estate market. In the eighties, one thing I had in common with China was a complete lack of interest in Architecture. Shocking, I know. Architecture was simply the...

Posted at 10:25 AM | Permalink | Comments

Out of (traditional) Practice

02/14/11

Out of (traditional) Practice

A rendering of the East River waterfront esplanade, by SHoP Architects. New York City's architecture community braved the snow recently to hear Greg Pasquerelli of SHoP Architecture explain how he and his partners are moving beyond identified styles and developing a performance-based architecture practice. Christopher Sharples, Coren Sharples, William Sharples, Kimberley Holden and Gregg Pasquerelli started the firm in 1996, after graduating from Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Starting with a staff of ten, SHoP now employs 70, each person chosen for his or her special and diverse skill sets. This allows the team to tackle new ideas and test them in innovative ways. Pasquerelli’s lecture, entitled "Out of Practice," alluded to this...

Posted at 10:24 AM | Permalink | Comments

The Trouble With Trade

02/11/11

The Trouble With Trade

Nearly 80% of all the world’s industrial goods will travel through the commercial shipping industry at some point in their material lives, mostly on cargo ships. A 1,000 ft (305 m) cargo container ship weighs 34,000 tons and on average carries 2,500 containers, traveling 480 miles a day. Such ships will burn 14,400 barrels of diesel fuel in one month. In addition, empty cargo containers, accounting for a third of the shipments made per year, will spend much of their time docked at some port. Could there be a better use for these oversized paperweights? With these questions in mind, this January I boarded a cargo container ship, anchored at Port Elizabeth, N.J., to do some investigating. A typical American shipping port is essentially a collection of container crates arranged like...

Posted at 10:56 AM | Permalink | Comments

Remembering

02/10/11

Remembering "Edgar T"

“Hello, Debra, this is Edgar T. calling,” a jovial voice would chirp from my answering machine on Saturday mornings. Whether I picked up or not, he would continue: “The other Edgar was E.J., you know—Edgar Kaufmann.” Edgar Tafel, who recently died at the age of 98, was the last surviving member of Frank Lloyd Wright’s original Fellowship. To me, and many others, he was history incarnate—propelling the past forward, granting us a tantalizing glimpse into the machinations of “the world’s greatest architect” (as Wright once termed himself) at a zenith of his career. Edgar was the man who carried “Mr. Wright’s” drawings in to the Johnson Wax Building presentation. He sharpened Wright’s pencils as he rushed to create the Fallingwater drawings before E.J., en...

Posted at 12:10 PM | Permalink | Comments

Places that Work: The Grainger Ballroom

02/09/11

Places that Work: The Grainger Ballroom

The Grainger Ballroom, in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) building, is a terrific place for listening to music. It’s a room where the design works to make the audience comfortable, and this, in turn, allows us to respond emotionally to what we’re hearing. The ballroom was designed by Daniel Burnham at the turn of the century and opened 1904. Burnham (1846-1912) is perhaps best known today as an urban planner – he worked on master plans for Chicago and Washington, DC - but he was also one of the leading architects of his time.  SOM renovated the Georgian CSO building in 1998, being careful to maintain Burnham’s design elements. This performance hall is unique in its connection to the outside world through its great arched windows. Unfortunately most concert halls...

Posted at 04:00 PM | Permalink | Comments

Finland's Musical Glass Cube

02/09/11

Finland's Musical Glass Cube

During the winter months, some days it’s hard to imagine wanting to leave your bed. But the city of Helsinki is looking 5 degree Fahrenheit winters in the face (the average annual temperature is 41 degrees). Indeed, the new Helsinki Music Hall laughs at the cold. In a feat of technical ingenuity, the city of 600,000 is building a giant cube of glass, a material you don’t normally think of for its insulating properties.  To handle the normal cold weather, as well as the sunny summer days which, suddenly, can hit 86 degrees for short spurts of time, LPR Architects and façade specialist Normek Oy are using 11,811 square feet of triple-pane glass, made by Interpane. The glass is called  iplus neutral E, and is rated at Ug-value: 1.1 W/m²K. Ok, so, to many of us, that doesn’t...

Posted at 10:49 AM | Permalink | Comments

HUD Grants Show Post-Partisan Promise

02/08/11

HUD Grants Show Post-Partisan Promise

The U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced grants of nearly $100 million at the end of last year to fund community projects that forward its six livability principles, guidelines that encourage walkable development, affordable housing and environmental protection. The grants are managed by HUD’s office of Sustainable Housing and Communities and attracted applications from towns and cities all across the United States. As the program’s director Shelly Poticha describes it, her office was “overwhelmed by the number and variety of the applications” which originated from both Democratic and Republican enclaves. This diversity is encouraging in today’s contentious political climate, when legislation that funds such grants provokes heated arguments and...

Posted at 09:35 AM | Permalink | Comments

02/07/11

"I Walk."

Some good things do come out of wars, even if only indirectly. Since 2003, the U.S. Government has been spending tens of millions of dollars to develop the most advanced technology for the men and women wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the scientists to receive this funding, MIT Media Lab professor Dr. Hugh Herr, used the money to develop a revolutionary prosthetic foot, the Powerfoot BiOM. The product has changed the lives of a few army veterans, and now a $15 million investment might eventually make the BiOM available to us civilians too, through the company that Herr founded in 2006, iWalk. Herr was 17 when both his legs were amputated below the knee because of a mountain climbing accident in 1982. He has since dedicated his life to bringing scientific innovation, and...

Posted at 03:27 PM | Permalink | Comments

Architecture Inspires

02/03/11

Architecture Inspires

This year’s Maison et Objet show in Paris held a pleasant surprise for architecture geeks everwhere. The Spanish ceramics producer Lladró released a new collection of vases, boxes, and mirrors called Metropolis. Not only is that a name I’m partial to, but the collection is inspired by my latest love – urban design. The young designers working in the newly formed Lladró Atelier wanted to evoke the modern city, its surfaces and forms, but in an abstract way. The mirror has Art Deco streamlines, and there is a box that might be the Empire State building, were it not for the geometric patterns on its surface. And if those patterns lend a faintly Islamic air to the collection, it is only fitting, considering Spain’s Moorish past. This is a collection that recreated a glorious...

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Bjarke Strikes Again

02/03/11

Bjarke Strikes Again

Leave it to Bjarke Ingels to win a competition for his proposal for a new waste to energy plant by designing a 31.000 m2 ski slope. The competition, which yielded 36 proposals in fall 2010, was the largest environmental initiative in Denmark. With a budget of 3.5 Billion DKK, competing teams designed structures to replace a 40- year-old Amagerforbraending plant in Copenhagen with a more sustainable waste energy plant. Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) decided to approach their design in a way that truly celebrates the idea of sustainability. What they call "hedonistic sustainability," refers to design that improves the quality of life, both directly and indirectly- ecologically and socially. Physical exercise and fresh air are rarely associated with waste treatment plants. But...

Posted at 10:52 AM | Permalink | Comments

Places that Work: Miniature Rooms

02/02/11

Places that Work: Miniature Rooms

A15: New York Parlor, 1850–1870, c.1940, Mrs. James Ward Thorne, Miniature Room, Mixed Media, Interior:  12 3/8 x 17 1/2 x  21 in., Scale: 1 inch = 1 foot, Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne. The Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago celebrate the diversity of spaces that human beings can call home. They move visitors, gently, to think about the places they live. As you enter the miniature rooms gallery you know you’re in a space that’s distinct from the rest of the Art Institute. Unlike adjoining areas, here the floor is carpeted, muting the echoes of ambient conversations to hushed tones. This seems appropriate for the intense study of tiny, intricate, realistic replicas of living spaces. A37: California Hallway, c. 1940, Mrs. James Ward Thorne, Miniature...

Posted at 11:15 AM | Permalink | Comments

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Examining contemporary life through design, architecture, interior design, product design, graphic design, crafts, planning, and preservation.