Point of View

March 2011

A Good Fence

03/31/11

A Good Fence

The US-Mexico border wall, photo courtesy thecurvature.com Robert Frost’s maxim about good fences and good neighbors probably works very well if you’re a small landowner in rural New England. It gets a little more complicated when applied to international boundaries. But Ronald Rael, assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is suggesting that there might be some truth in the idea even for the border between the United States and Mexico – and that design might hold the key. It is hard to think of a more contentious public building project in than the US-Mexico border wall. Authorized in 2006 by the Secure Fence Act, the barrier – which will eventually cover about 700 miles along the 2,000 mile border – is roiled in immigration laws, human rights...

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To Save the World

03/30/11

To Save the World

Ulrike Rose’s "Sehen Lernen Sehstation," Photo: Paul Clemence. As Milan’s design week readies to showcase the newest, shiny furnishings by world-renowned designers at the Salone, the world is obsessing over oil spills, earthquakes, tsunamis, and nuclear radiation. We’re thinking interconnectivity -- the delicacy and art of human-to-earth relationships and activities. Our exploration of art, green, design, and architecture has led us to uncover the exciting vitality of art beyond galleries and architecture aligned with green space. From outdoors to indoors and back again, we’re asking, what is the current of conversation of our experience of the land, and how does this conversation apply to the design of our homes? Christo, Greenpeace, the return of local green craft,...

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A Portuguese Pritzker

03/29/11

A Portuguese Pritzker

Casa das Artes by Souto de Moura Arquitectos, photo: Luis Ferreira Alves. When I first entered a house by Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura, winner of the 2011 Pritzker Prize, I was not impressed. The sun was setting and a bitingly cold wind had just started, causing me to rush through a small white gate and an over-porportioned door into a rather small hallway. Here, wooden slab floors ran parallel to the horizontal lines that permeated the whole space, and, looking around, I gawked. What had appeared from the outside to be a generic small space was unraveling in front of me— room after room of white, hard, geometric walls that opened to larger and larger spaces. The house finally opened, through glass panes, into a seemingly infinite garden, and as I stepped out to...

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Exhibition Design in the App Age

03/29/11

Exhibition Design in the App Age

Photo: Tom Hennes, Thinc Design. When you walk into the Park Avenue Armory over the next two days you are likely to gasp at your first glimpse of  Infinite Variety: 3 Centuries of Red and White Quilts, 651 American quilts on loan from collector Joanna S. Rose. Suspended invisibly from the 8 story high ceiling of the 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall, the quilts hang in three tiers, back to back, arranged in 13 round “pavilions.” From any vantage point, the entire collection may be seen at once. At the center of the hall, directly opposite the entrance, eight chairs sit in a polite circle, evoking a quilting bee, as a tornado of quilts spirals upwards directly above them. The effect calls to mind a Harold Edgerton strobe photograph of playing cards tossed up and frozen...

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Eduardo Souto de Moura

03/29/11

Eduardo Souto de Moura

Eduardo Souta de Mora. Photo: Francisco Nogueira At the youthful age of 58, Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura has won architecture’s most prestigious award, the Pritzker Prize (regarded as architecture’s Nobel Prize). He now enters the ranks of an elite lineage of architects who have been honored with the Prize since its inception in 1979. One of Mr. Souto de Moura’s early mentors, Alvaro Siza, also from Portugal, won the prize in 1992. It would appear the young protégé studied well. Museu Paula Rego, Casa das Histórias, Cascais, Portugal. Photo: FG + SG/Fernando Guerra. In architecture, lineage like this is significant because so much of the discipline is passed down through mentoring. To make a crass reference to popular culture, architects are perhaps like Jedi...

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A BIG Winning Streak

03/28/11

A BIG Winning Streak

BIG's proposal for Greenland's National Gallery of Art. We’re having a hard time keeping up with all the competitions the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) has won, and all the prestigious projects they’ve bagged, just in the past three months. It’s certainly a wonderful start of the year for the maverick Danish firm, but what is truly impressive is the consistency across all the projects we’ve seen. Bjarke Ingels is nothing if not imaginative, of course. But we love him more because of the way every one of the projects, shown below, actively seeks out rules to break and conventions to challenge. The Stockholmsporten Competition Client: City of Stockholm, Swedish Transport Administration Collaborators: Grontmij, Spacescape In their latest win, BIG brings life...

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A Home of the Future

03/25/11

A Home of the Future

Fantastically futuristic, there's something eerie about this geodesic sky-dome. Like a 1950s vision of the future coming to life, it's otherworldly -- something out of a science fiction movie. In late 2011, this dome, aptly named The Home for the Future, however, will become a reality. Providing a year-round microclimate that showcases cooperation between man, technology, and nature, The Home for the Future was designed by Laboratory for Visionary Architecture Asia Pacific (LAVA), with the goal to create a space where technologies are seamlessly integrated to satisfy human needs. The sky-dome, to be built on the rooftop of a furniture mall in Beijing, China, will be constructed out of Ethylene Tetrafluroethylene, ETFE, a plastic designed for resistance that supports a wide range...

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Publishers of the World Unite!

03/25/11

Publishers of the World Unite!

The back cover of the book Green Patriot Posters, published by Metropolis Books. Seems like we have been predicting the end of the printed matter for a while now.  But whatever happens to newspapers and magazines, books are here to stay – for the simple reason that people love them.  Books, to some, are objects of worship.   Now, I am willing to bet that there is significant overlap in the population of book lovers and the population of people that self-identify as “green” or are concerned about things like climate change. That makes sense, given that reading books is about acquiring knowledge and concern about our ecological crisis is founded on a trust of knowledge, as opposed to ideology or wishful thinking. Yet, how many book lovers, or more importantly how many book...

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Helping Japan

03/24/11

Helping Japan

John Pawson's "Ribbon for Japan." Image courtesy dezeen. The catastrophe that ripped through Japan on March 11 seems like the worst amalgam of every disaster we have ever seen – earthquake, tsunami, fire, and to top it all, nuclear radiation. 2010 and 2011 are undoubtedly the Design for Disaster years: architects and designers are still rising to the challenges of Haiti and Pakistan. But we have a deep emotional connection with Japan, a country that has always been a design powerhouse. The challenges are greater this time, the stakes are higher, and the responses – some more sensible than others, in this age of web 2.0 – have been faster than ever before. The first line of action seems to be fundraising, and the number of things being sold “for Japan” is astounding. A quick...

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Healthy Made Easy

03/24/11

Healthy Made Easy

Last Spring I enrolled in a sustainable construction development class thinking it would be nice to know a thing or two about healthy building material alternatives. Despite the section of my bookcase now dedicated to green manuals and alternative materials catalogs, I have learned an important lesson that most building professionals, concerned with health and sustainability, have learned before me: there is no such thing as “a thing or two.” It’s more like a few thousand things, most of them with crazy scientific names ending with “-ene” or “-ide.” You can spend hours just figuring out what type of paint to invest in (or, should that be wallpaper instead?) to minimize the VOCs used, and that’s even before the dreaded “egg shell white, or linen white?” debate. Even...

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Visit Isola during Salone

03/21/11

Visit Isola during Salone

Like forgotten weedy islands, most neglected inner city neighborhoods adjacent to transport lines remain isolated, even as art, commerce, and design create vitality around them. One such industrial neighborhood in Milan, actually called Isola ( “Island”) Zona 9, once on “the wrong side of the railway tracks,” is now being touted as “an oasis in the city” by international architects like Cesar Pelli. It’s quickly becoming a visionary blueprint of new green thinking, creativity, and commerce. This “Island” is now a centerpiece in preparation for Milan’s hosting of the 2015 World Expo, “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”. Remember this is Italy, birthplace of Slow Food. And as a World Expo host, Milan is poised to become the hotbed for urban agriculture,...

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Q&A: Norman Foster and the Dymaxion Car

03/18/11

Q&A: Norman Foster and the Dymaxion Car

Photo: Gregory Gibbons, courtesy Ivorypress. Norman Foster is not an easy architect to get on the phone. We’ve covered a number of Foster + Partners’ projects in the past, and requests for interviews with the boss were often met with “Lord Foster is traveling in Asia” or “out of the office until the end of the month.” So, while reporting on Foster’s remake of Bucky Fuller’s Dymaxion Car, it came as a bit of surprise when an offhand, what-the-hell-I-might-as-well-ask request for an interview was met with a yes. The project, as it turns out, was a real labor of love: an homage to a beloved figure in Foster’s life. Here, the architect talks about his relationship with Fuller, the continued relevance of the car, and the legacy of his former mentor. As an added treat, we...

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Sustainism

03/17/11

Sustainism

Naming “movements” can be a tricky business. Naming a worldwide shift toward systems thinking, social responsibility, and “all things green” has been particularly dicey. For better or worse, all these things, together, have been summed up as the sustainability movement. But the word sustainability has left many designers as well others feeling less than satisfied. (Well-known green design thinker William McDonough, for whose architecture firm I work now, has been vocal on this point. Bill finds the term woefully lacking in aspiration and frequently asks his audiences: “Do you want your marriage to be ‘sustainable’?”) Though lamenting the lack of potency and poetry of “sustainability”, those committed to the movement have accepted the word’s shortcomings as well...

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Farmhack MIT

03/17/11

Farmhack MIT

Standing in the lobby of the Microsoft -funded MIT NERD lab this past Saturday felt like a trip into the future.  Opaque glass paneling lined the walls spreading ambient light upon concrete surfaces. A well-spoken man rose from behind a sleek black desk and guided me to my destination.  I arrived in a room with high ceilings and a picturesque view of the Boston skyline. Suddenly, the serene futurism of the concrete and glass was interrupted by a collection of rough silhouettes. They looked like veterans of earthen bounty, and smelled like it too. I have met many organic farmers in my short time on earth, but never so many in one room, and certainly not discussing design problems. Farmhack is an effort to pair designers, engineers, business people, and others with farmers, in order...

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Q&A: Memphis

03/16/11

Q&A: Memphis

Grace Designs: Memphis showroom designed by Sottsass Associati. World Trade Center, Dallas, TX, 1984. Rumor has it that the short-lived design movement, Memphis, got its name as group of designers sat around late one evening in Milan with their leader, Ettore Sottsass Jr., while American music played on the radio. The story goes that Bob Dylan was singing “Oh, Mama, can this really be the end /To be stuck inside of Mobile/ With the Memphis blues again.”  With its pop-culture roots, it’s not surprising that some of Memphis’s most memorable products, plastic laminates, have become the favorite surfacing material of “fast food restaurants and cheesy nightclubs,” as Belinda Lanks writes in our March 2011 issue. Abet Laminati's Memphis tabletops in Big Daddy's, New York. Read...

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Q&A: The Energy of Jugaad

03/15/11

Q&A: The Energy of Jugaad

Many developing countries have highly developed cultures of making-do: ingenious strategies that help people work with the realities of economic disparity, growing populations, and rapidly developing cities that put constant pressure on scarce resources. Out of things like old oil tins and discarded car parts, people put together remarkably creative products. In Kenya they call it Jua Kali, in Brazil they call it Gambiarra. The word Indians use is Jugaad. At the Centre for Architecture, New York, a pioneering exhibition called Jugaad Urbanism is taking a closer look at this rich culture of innovation in India. 22 projects, ranging from a smokeless stove to overhead pedestrian walkways, show how Indian citizens and designers are finding solutions for pressing urban issues.  I spoke...

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Letter from Ecuador

03/14/11

Letter from Ecuador

B3 volunteers in Tingo. Photo: Robert Gradoville. By the end of February, 34 high school volunteers from the service group Builders Beyond Borders (B3) had completed one of four distribution loops for Tingo´s nascent water system. Over the course of six days, the students dug nearly 2,000 feet of ditches, then assembled and laid the high-pressure PVC piping that will eventually carry water to 30 houses scattered along the hillside. Designed by engineering students from the University of Pittsburgh—whose visit coincided with B3’s in order to direct the first stages of work--the distribution loops run from a concrete storage tank (yet to be built) at the highest point, a hill behind the community center, beside the village president’s house. The tank will be fed by an intake and...

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Places that Work: Milwaukee Art Museum

03/11/11

Places that Work: Milwaukee Art Museum

Image courtesy the Milawaukee Art Museum, Photo: Timothy Hursley. Whenever I’m in the Quadracci Pavilion at the Milwaukee Art Museum, I have to catch my breath. Being there is an exhilarating, intensely positive experience. The space works hard to prepare visitors for the experiences they’re about to have as they proceed to view the collection--this makes the dramatic pavilion a place that works. The Santiago Calatrava addition to the museum opened ten years ago, in 2001. The structure’s famous wings that open and close, change the amount and quality of sunlight that enters the area immediately beneath them. This reception hall, used for many community and private events, is surrounded by an auditorium, a store, a café, and room for temporary exhibits. I find the reception...

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The Little Car Deconstructed

03/07/11

The Little Car Deconstructed

Five years after the Indian businessman Ratan Tata first claimed that he would build a car for under $2,200, we’re still trying to figure out how he did it. Tata is one of Cornell University’s most distinguished alumni, and he will return to the Ithaca, New York, campus next week to speak at a symposium organized in conjunction with the exhibition, Unpacking the Nano. Both the exhibition and the symposium seek to understand the phenomenon that is the Tata Nano: how it was conceived, engineered, and designed, but also how it has managed to capture the imagination of India and the world. This is not the first time we are seeing the Nano in the U.S.: It was on display at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in March 2010, and then travelled to the Detroit Road Show that year. ...

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Passivehaus to our Haus?

03/03/11

Passivehaus to our Haus?

Why the funny title?  Well, I went to a conference a few weeks ago in Burlington, Vermont and came away wondering if the Passiv Haus movement is really accessible to the mainstream. The phrase is a play on words from the presentation, "From Bauhaus to Passivhaus", given by Ken Levenson during the Better Building by Design Conference, hosted by Efficiency Vermont. A handful of presentations showcased Passivhaus projects and their innovative design process, as well as other super-low energy, net-zero projects. They brought together a variety of professionals and their case studies, working on opposite ends of the spectrum-- houses for the wealthy 'spare no expense group' and those working with Habitat for Humanity, ‘let's figure out how to do this for everyone group'.  Somewhere...

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Qiugang and Ponca City

03/02/11

Qiugang and Ponca City

Watching the Academy Awards ceremony last Sunday, I waited eagerly for a section I don’t usually pay much attention to – the award for Best Documentary: Short Subject. As Jake Gyllenhall and Amy Adams opened the envelope, I was rooting for The Warriors of Qiugang, the rousing story of Chinese villagers who are protesting a pesticide factory that is poisoning their lives. Filmed in 2007 by Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon, and co-produced by Yale Environment 360, the film follows the fortunes of the farmer Zhang Gongli, who is determined to have the chemical plant shut down. Its effluents have contaminated the village’s water sources, killing off the fish in the river, the crops in the fields, and over fifty people in two and a half years. The 39-minute film is full of colorful...

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