Sunday, December 21, 2014

A garden on every corner...

I once heard that my city has a church on every corner and a bar on every other....but what if we alternated these two staples with a garden?  Or better yet, do what NYC's Bill De Blasio says and replace fast food chains with gardens?  As long as they aren't Monsanto seeds...I think this move would make the world a better place :)

Friday, December 19, 2014

ArchiCULTURE...a movie and some comments

25 minutes to explain what architecture students spend 4-7 years of their lives doing...and then have to deal with (in some manner) for the rest of their careers in the field...or GETTING into the field and becoming licensed.  I can't speak beyond that time (yet)...

In case anyone ever wanted an explanation of architecture school...with some video...and from another perspective (or 5)...I present to you:

I'd like to know how many of the 26,000 students who start (per their facts at the beginning) drop out or change career paths either during or after their arch education.

I appreciate that they show the dichotomy of ideas related to time management: the 1 week of up-all-night vs. the 12 hour push that results in something that is probably quite similar to that week-long production.

I appreciate how they explained the camaraderie of architecture school...these are still some of my very best could they NOT be?  Spending so much quality time together, learning together, understanding our work ethics and work processes...these are really intimate things when you think about it.  Most people in other career paths are either working directly with others (theatrical art, choir, band, scientific research in teams) or in solitude (instrument, voice, paper-writing, research).  This is a strange combination where we are asked to work alone, but inevitably must work together.  We create something individually that is not ours alone in any sense...

The portion about the critique fascinates me.  You're asked to do this create defend it by explaining your thoughts and process.  Then people who may or may not know anything about the project until moments before your explanation begins are asked to process whatever words and visual cues they are given in order to tell you what they have only had a few moments to consider.  This can either go a direction which allows discussion that is helpful and productive for the future of the project at hand, or it can become a conflict of egos that diverts the topic to another realm of thinking which has nothing to do with the "idea" or the "project" and everything to do with some minutia of the presentation.

I once had a terrible critique wearing a cute an completely appropriate-for-a-presentation yellow sundress.  The critics wouldn't let me complete my explanations before asking "why this?  why that?"  Did I inspire thought in them?  Perhaps?  It was unclear because it seemed like I hadn't had enough words to inspire them yet.  Or perhaps it was the visuals that inspired them to speak before completion...But how they processed their thoughts in order to inspire me?  Was not only uninspiring, but was taken, even by fellow students, as a criticism of something that they did not take the time to understand before attacking it.  My fellow 6'-5" studio-mate followed my presentation wearing rolled up jeans, a t-shirt and a cigarette pack rolled in his sleeve.  The critics didn't speak until he was done presenting, and then, they were able to give positive feedback about what they liked, and ideas for how it could be improved.  This, most of us consider a good critique - a positive view of your creation, with ideas that inspire it to become even better...  At the end of the day, my older studio-mate came up to me and said: "We just learned something important here more yellow sundresses."  The things you learn at a critique oftentimes have nothing to do with your project.

I like the Columbia University professor and critic, Kenneth Frampton's, idea of having critques solely of the visuals. The reason I support this is because this is what happens, in many ways, in real life.  You create something and are not even given a chance for a lengthy explanation...BUT THEN some arenas you ARE given the are given the same situation that you have between a student and the critic/teacher (we also call our studio teacher our "critic," so I'll call them the professor or teacher just to distinguish between outside critics and the permanent, personal-interaction-for-an-extended-length-of-time-throughout-the-duration-of-the-project critic).  In real life, you are the designer (or part of a team of designers - see:student) and you work with the client (see: teacher) to discuss site, project, scope, problems, solutions, likes and dislikes..because ULTIMATELY your client is the one who matters (and your teacher is the one, in the same way, that sees the project from the beginning and inherently owns some stake in your final project because of how it progresses based on conversation and critique).  Similarly, we often need to utilize verbal and written skills to be convincing, and as such, the "sales pitch" jury (read "crit" or "critique") is equally as "real-world" an experience as the "visuals-only" option.  Maybe we should push for both of these in our architecture education...I, personally, succeed better in a situation where I am allowed to use words to express my ideas;  I am a much stronger idea-person than I am a producer of images to represent my idea.  Perhaps more visual-only techniques would have pushed me to develop more intriguing visual skills.  Or perhaps not.

I love all of the explanations of what makes a good architect.  I think that this follows the recent NYTimes article about architects needing to reconnect to the world around them...Sometimes, or maybe even oftentimes, that got lost in studio (luckily...I was not there as often as most...).

One thing I found myself saying often was how arrogant designers are...I never wanted to be one of them.  I wanted to be able to see the world and know about it for myself instead of telling people that I was designing for that I was right and have no personal experience to back it up.  We design for others...we are not above them.  We need to design FOR them, and all of their needs...and they know their needs better than we do.  So we need to design for their needs in a way that inspires the work, play, or other activity that they do in the spaces we create.  In some ways, we become the "critic"; we take something we know a little about, and we try to breathe ideas and life to direct it to become something better than what it is at the point where we encountered it.

OMG...what a fascinating contrast between the studio space and the office space.  I never noticed what a stark contrast it was until seeing this video.  You can almost see the creativity and excitement and interaction being robbed from one to the next step in the architecture career.  Why do we all have to become suits to be successful at what we can do, and do comfortably, in jeans and t-shirts?  This is a topic for another day, I'm sure.

I think the professors have an interesting perspective regarding their students and how they are (un)prepared for the "real world."  I think actually building things that were not able to be held in my hands (ie: things that are real spaces at human scale) would have been incredibly beneficial to my education.  There were few opportunities that I found to allow me to get the hands-on part of architecture and building.  I think it would benefit architects to build, with their own hands, the things that we often draw as a 2D line and then forget about.

I've never heard architecture students described as optimistic...but I guess I'm a testament to that statement, so I'm gonna' roll with it for now!

THANK YOU FOR ACCEPTING THAT YOU ARE TRYING TO TRAIN STARCHITECTS!  I think that there were some of us that had wonderful, practical, build-able ideas that were not nearly as exciting as other projects but that would actual have stood up structurally, and been economically feasible, and would have created social interaction within spaces that did not solely revolve around staring at the sculptural architecture piece that was the building meant for some other, greater purpose!  Admittedly, those other really cool-looking projects were ALWAYS fun to stare at, though.

YES, Boston University leader: Thank you for seeing what I have always seen in architecture: the ability to use our knowledge of design and building to solve problems...REAL problems that are not focused on "which light fixture looks better," but instead on things like "how do we house these people who have nothing?" or "How do we generate as much positive atmospheric and environmental output as we remove when we destroy in order to build?" and "How can we create cities that are more like real jungles instead of concrete jungles?"

Andddd...then it ended with 2 minutes of architectural images and a few summaries and it was over.  I appreciate the effort to encompass years of this experience from so many viewpoints (of professors and students and a variety of other professionals) in such a short timespan.  I think, having gone through this experience, that nothing I see will ever do it justice.  I'll always look for MY exact experience in what I'm seeing...and those experiences are plentiful and so diverse that they could be covered in no way but to have filmed the whole thing in its entirety while I was in the belly of the beast.  I can relate to the tom-foolery in studio and recall my own, but I will never be able to explain to you how that FEELS.  So...if you REALLY want to know that badly...sign up for architecture school.  Let me know how it goes!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Red and Green: Strawberry Margarita Jello Shots

Just for holiday's a recipe design that is easy and delicious 
(if you can find strawberries in season, that is)!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Silo City, Washington's Forgotten Water Treatment Facility

All you designers out there, get your thinking caps on!  The mysterious McMillan site in Washington DC (on Michigan Avenue between Howard University and The Catholic University of America) has been re-discovered and it's possible that there will be a future for it beyond being a large fenced-off silo city.

A carbon copy of an Albany, NY water treatment facility, this may be the last of its kind, though not functioning.  With 20 silos and underground vaults that are sand-filled to treat water.  Algae was grown purposefully to purify the water and the sand filtered out sediment to be pumped out to to the households and businesses of DC until it was replaced by chemical and mechanical treatment by the US Engineer Corp.

A fascinating space whose future is still unknown is a great source of fascination with what was, an interest in what is, and an inspiration for what could be!

Friday, November 14, 2014

What to do with your withering pumpkin...

(or you can just go out and buy puree...whatever works).

It's almost Thanksgiving, why not make the most out of these last few weeks of fall and try homemade pumpkin icecream: Easy and delicious!  


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Grand Design...

The Grand Design...

Sometimes a design needs to be turned inside out and upside-down.  It needs to be molded and crushed and added to and subtracted from.  It must be completely demolished and distorted so from its original self that it is almost completely foreign in order to become what it is capable of being.  

Don't believe me?  Ask nature...or Cynthia Occelli...or both.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Ever Wonder How You Look When You Dance?

Silly?  Flawless?  Usher-esque?

Well, there's a new invention out there that can show just how you dance...and I'll bet you'll find that your dancing is a lot more awesome than you could have imagined!

The invention is called an E-Trace.  It is a mechanism that you can attach to your shoes (in this case, your ballet slipper), where your movements are converted into lines, like paint on the canvas that is your world!

The images produced by ballet dancers have been compared to calligraphy and symbol-art.  I imagine you can paint with your feet, or just dance and see what happens!  Either way, this creation is truly a design worth discussing, and I'd suggest that you check out the original article to see the video of how it works, by clicking here!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Peaceful Pool...Pond...Pool-Pond!

I love DIY projects!

Here's one that you can do in your own backyard, with one idea, a bit of money, and a lot of time!  They completed their backyard haven over the course of about 2 or 3 years, but it looks like it was totally worth it.  Check out the article and the play-by-play with pictures.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Design of the Mind...Telepathy and Dreams

I suppose that the grand design of the human mind is as good as any to discuss here...

Dreams have constantly mesmerized humanity...What do they mean?  Where do they come from?  Are they reflections of our past?  our fears?  our emotions?  Or are they a look into the future?

Have you ever considered the connections between our interest in the subconscious, dreaming, mind and the study of telepathy?  Telepathy is essentially the power to transfer information from one person to another without use of written, spoken, or acted language - at a distance, for example.  It has been said that this could be both conscious and subconscious.  In some studies, for example, a  group or individual is asked to think about a certain object, song, etc and another subject is told to tell an observer what he or she has come to mind at the same time that the other is "sending" the messages via thought.  In other accounts, people who are praying, or asking for help subconsciously, are "heard" by someone either known or unknown.  For this reason, some investigative agencies do not rule out telepathy as a means for finding missing people or discovering clues to unsolved crimes.

It's an interesting concept: combining dreams with telepathy...two things that are said to be powers of our own minds, yet, not altogether in our control.  It's as fascinating as either of the two topics on their own.  Now, there is said to be evidence of their connection.  Take a look, and consider the design of something you own but that you do not necessarily control...or do you?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

DIY herbs

Did you know...

You can keep your garlic sprouting "stuff" and actually grow those sprouts and use them in your salads?

This and more DIY herbs can save you money AND make you a green thumb!  Don't forget; plants also absorb carbon dioxide and other toxins in the air and replace them with life-giving oxygen, so your house will be more oxygen-rich, and toxin-free too!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


You have the power to choose where (and on what) you spend your take this into account.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The World on Green Transportation

Love the Upworthy post about the photos taken in Munich, Germany in '91 to show how much less congested and yuck the world would be without cars!  All in just three photos...

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Mother Nature remains #1 in Design

You've heard of chameleons; they change color to blend in or camouflage themselves to avoid predators.  They aren't the only animal to do this; there are various species that mimic others to protect themselves or to hunt.  

What is rather unexpected, however, is to find a plant that biomimics.  Even crazier, and the first of its kind to be discovered, is a vine that doesn't just mimic one specific alternate (by any measure a surprise given that plants cannot see what they are mimicking) but multiple alternates. So, the vine, in some way as yet to be determined by scientists studying it, senses the shape, size, color and even the veins of the host plant's leaves in order to camouflage itself.  Now THAT'S good design.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Amazon Architecture Competition!

Given the beauty and uniqueness of the Amazon, I couldn't avoid passing on this opportunity for students and recent grads to share their ideas in this international design competition for an educational center for NOA (the Nature Observatory of Amazonia).  What an awesome opportunity to design for global leadership in sustainable education in the largest jungle in the world!  Please let us know if you decide to participate and tell us how it goes!

Dado la belleza y el hecho de que es tan única la región del Amazona, no pude evitar de pasarles esta oportunidad para estudiantes y recién graduados para compartir sus ideas en esta competencia internacional de diseño para un centro educativo para NOA (the Nature Observatory of Amazonia).  Que oportunidad mas asombrosa diseñar para el liderazgo global en la educación sostenible en la jungla más grande del mundo!  Por favor, déjanos saber si decidan participar y cuéntenos como les va!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Did I get your attention?  Good.  Read this.  Remember the last 8 words
(use them both literally AND as a metaphor for your LIFE)  
Share this post and act accordingly... 
so you won't have to worry about me calling you any of those names.

Now that you've read it, "ignorant" is off the list (you can't be ignorant once you have the knowledge).
...but you can be stupid and not think about the knowledge you've been given.  
You can also be lazy and choose to ignore what you know by choosing not to utilize the power that you have to make a difference.  

Don't do that.  
Be the change!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Technological Turn of Events!

In a fascinating turn of technological events...

cue the return of the Post-It note: back in full force and then some!

Hurricane Design Proposal

I love when your everyday artist becomes an architect.  I've always said that something many architects and designers lose is their ability to relate with real people and to create solutions that are outside of the proverbial "box."  So when I saw that Dionisio Gonzalez created an idea for hurricane-resistant homes on the shores of Dauphin Island, I was, needless to say, giddy.

These are unbuilt, hypothetical structures but they are a great theoretical project that begs a few important questions.  Why simply continue to rebuild temporary structures each year that become devastated at the first hurricane of the season?  Why waste time, materials, energy, and memories that these people lose forever, on a seasonal basis?  Why not think bigger?  Why not consider alternatives that could be a permanent addition to the lives of these people and the shores that they call home, live from, love, and respect?

I am no often one to say "build on the beach," or "try to be more permanent than nature" because neither of these are usually in line with the sustainable principles that I hold dear, but to design something permanent means less waste.

I don't know if Gonzalez's structures would work structurally.  I don't know if the transparent material could be protected from the wind and debri nor if the concrete and steel could withstand the rising tides and crushing waves.  But I do know that if no one ever tries then nothing will ever change.  These people who live from the sea will continue to build and will continue to lose cyclically.  So I sincerely appreciate Gonzalez's effort to open the conversation about designing for permanency that lasts beyond just the next sucker who will buy a property, or 'til the end of a season for a big box store.  T

his conversation isn't just about Dauphin's about the way we build all over the world.  Can we utilize our resources?  Can we build to respond to our environment?  Can we build things that last like the pyramids and the Parthenon?  Or will we continue to turn our nose up at nature, only to have her strike us back down?  When we design with the environment in mind, we design with ourselves in mind.  Maybe that's how we need to begin to re-focus the way that we propose the changes.  When most people realize it's about them, they are more likely to pay attention and to take some stake in an idea.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Young People: Changing the World with Brilliant Minds!

Suvir Mirchandani, a 6th grader just a year ago, didn't procrastinate his mandatory science fair project and then make his parents do most of it the way that I pretty much remember my science projects going.  Instead, Suvir chose to USE his brilliant mind.  He chose to really look at sustainability and everyday life and wondered how he could make the best of some daily resource.  In this case: ink.

Suvir's project, aside from winning the fair, calculated the amount of ink utilized by different text fonts, and proved that the typeface Garamond (which is not an option at present on Blogger or I'd be using it starting today), utilizes 30% less ink than Times New Roman.  He applied this information to figures he found regarding the yearly U.S. Government spending done on printing costs, to find that a simple switch between the two, similar, fonts, could save the government, and therefore the tax-payers not just a little bit, but MILLIONS of dollars each year.  He mentioned the fact that Chanel perfume costs approximately 1/2 of an equal amount of ink for printing.  Garamond, a thinner, lighter font than TNR, could, essentially also cut down on the paper use, given that it takes up less space horizontally per line.

Suvir didn't make that his science project this year in 7th grade, however.  Instead, having made a point (a multi-million-dollar point, at that!), he moved on to a project that allows disabled computer users to navigate the web solely with their eyesight and brain power, utilizing an electrode-based headset to measure "focus" and eye-tracking to gage which link the user would like to open in order to navigate.

And that's just one year in the life of a 15 year old who is already changing the world with his ability to design projects that give us real results.  Great work, Suvir!  You've inspired full-grown adults, and I hope we all can learn from you that our ability to change the world is stymied only by the glass ceilings that we build for ourselves.  Great work!

See the full story and video with this young genius here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Looping technology at your musical fingertips!

The first time I remember hearing about "looping" technology for music, I was in college.  A popular musical artist, at the time, was on stage in our university gymnasium and looped his voice to perform a song.  My fellow students had begun screaming at him calling him a lip-sync artist before he screamed profanities back at them and tried to show them how it worked.

Years later...what once seemed like either lip-syncing or black magic is now something everyone can do with just the tap of a finger (and some musical talent).  It brings a whole new meaning to the term "one man band."

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Homelessness. Housing. RealTalk.

Granted...many of these are not currently in safe and habitable conditions...but they COULD be.
We have to re-evaluate waste.
We have to reuse and revitalize what we have.
We need to help those who have not.

The country has a wealth of people, information, opportunities, good...
we have to start utilizing these in smarter and more efficient and more positive ways.
Otherwise...what are we all doing here?

Wifi Trees...perspective.

We should probably plant some more trees.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

One man's trash...

I love when people find unique ways to re-use or re-purpose things.  Here is another awesome list of ways to do just that ("up-cycle")!

I'm particularly fond of the ladder bookshelf (1) and the spoon lamp (5).

The piano bookshelf (10) is breathtaking as it's both aesthetically pleasing and purposeful!

Making a broom out of an old soda bottle (3) is brilliant and I'd like to try it and see if it just flings stuff everywhere because of it's elasticity.

I have a personal connection with bikes of all sorts, so that one (13) gets me as a decorative piece..too cute!

I also really enjoy the Closet/Shelves out of folding chairs storage (2).  My only concern there is if you want to use those chairs... LOVE the idea, they are stored when you don't need them and help you store other things, but in practice, it's unlikely that you would take them down and move the clothes and anything on the "shelf" for company.  I feel similarly about the "book"shelves (8)...what if you want to read them?!

The bagel/donut/other hole-y object transporter (14) is awesome!  Now...if only I could find one that isn't full of CDs...!

I LOVE the effect of the hangar divider (17)!  The colors and material are clearly what make this one, in my opinion because of how the light passes through them and brightens the space, giving it energy!

The "pickmaster" (18) is a pretty sweet invention.  Not quite a DIY, since you'd have to find one and buy it, but a great way to re-purpose old plastics

19-21 and 23 kind of confuse me a bit.  I think they are cool but I'm not sure how exactly I would go about making them work the way they are shown.

I love the suitcase-turned-comfy-chair (25) my only question is:  How is the back supported?  Hopefully not against the wall.

I like the pop-tab reuse (28) because who doesn't want something shiny and different?!  But, from experience, they catch on your clothes (and skin-ouch!) so using them can be a bit of a hassle.

29 and 30 are classy little decorations!  I feel like great garage sale finds would be perfect for this style!

Hope you enjoyed these designs as much as I did!  It's exciting to see re-purposed "trash" become something worth treasuring again!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Meet Leo. Leo channels art.

I call myself lucky to know this amazing artist.  I've never seen him with shoes on (and, come to think of it, I'm not sure he ever wears a shirt either).  His hair has been dreaded since I met him years ago.  He is a Colombian transplant living and working in Samara, Costa Rica.  He has his own two-story art gallery apartment and a garden and sidewalk covered in his work.  He dissects barbie dolls and he paints with picasso-like madness.  He twists waste into the most precious and beloved jewelry, decoration, or souvenir of this place that he now calls his home and his inspiration.

He is Leo.  He is art.

Here's an old video taken of Leo speaking about his shop and his art, with some images of his works and of our town.  I can't express what a genuinely kind and free-loving person Leo is. He has a brilliant mind and an even more brilliant ability to express it with his hands and tools and paints.  He also has a really simple and pleasant way of explaining his art, what it means, and where it comes from.  There's always something to learn from artistic minds not only about their media but about life!

If you can't get enough, you can check out his facebook page:

He's also been mentioned in various travel books and blogs like Fodor's and LonelyPlanet!

The New Union Station, DC

Union Station is going to get a facelift of sorts.  After nearly 100 years of service, Washington D.C.'s Union Station is going to get a grand renovation worthy of the beauty that it already has.  The existing soaring barrel-vaulted ceilings will be difficult to trump, but HOK's studio has done a brilliant job with their design, maintaining the beauty and structure of the existing and renowned station with multiple levels of shops, restaurants, and a sort-of indoor promenade that is perfect for people-watching.  It even houses a cinema on the lower level, along with access to the D.C. metro system connecting the city.

The new renovation is going to replace the existing train shed, providing more space, better lighting, and a lot of beauty (And who doesn't want more beauty?)!  What's great is that this isn't just any old beauty, but in a concrete jungle, it will be a garden-of-Eden-type beauty with off-set undulating roofs that are glazed to not only allow light to stream into the station but will, equally importantly, provide views to the outside.

These views are going to highlight the green roofs that HOK chose to help with rainwater retention to decrease water runoff (that carries pollutants and garbage to river ways, ponds, and eventually to our oceans when there is heavy rainfall and the existing engineered water treatment system overflows).  Green roofs can also be a wonderful form of thermal insulation both to retain heat or cool air, which is especially important in the temperate D.C. climate which has all four seasons.  Additionally, studies have shown an increase in productivity, health and happiness as well as decreases in anxiety, stress, and tension.  Don't believe me?  Google Search: "studies of green spaces on human brain."  You'll be hard-pressed to find one of them that talks about the detriment to human activity, psychology or sociologic behavior that green spaces have (here's your friendly reminder to return to nature)! 

Kudos to HOK for finding a way to be green and utilize their sustainable ideas as a teaching tool.  Too often green roofs are implemented and people don't even know about them.  How will people grasp their impacts in a real way if they never know they are experiencing them firsthand?  I maintain that "knowing is half the battle" so educating people by giving them visual access to how their spaces function is a wonderful design contribution not only to Union Station as a piece of art, with its inspirational free-form, but also as a functional and educational space for its travelers, visitors, staff, and other users.

and be sure to click on the slideshow to see some of their great images
*Thank you to LP for the find!*

Monday, February 24, 2014

Imaginative Reuse vs. "Real World" Destruction

What could you do with 10 million dollars?  A heck of a lot more than tear down a perfectly good bridge that spans the water gap between the city of Buffalo, New York and it's towns to the south.  The problem is, the bridge functioning as a vehicular traffic option is detrimental to the waterfront rehabilitation that the city has taken on full-tilt in recent years, and I'd have to say it's a good thing!  Because of the ideas of sustainability, access, and care for the environment, people, and community, there has been a huge push to regenerate and rejuvenate brown field sites and even to re-imagine inventive ways to change the city layout and infrastructure.

With the ideas to do just that, the Buffalo Skyway has recently come into focus...a towering bridge connecting the city to the "southtowns," it has some of the best views of the Niagara River and surrounding areas but no one gets to see them unless there are daredevil drivers!  The estimated cost to demolish the bridge is about $10 million and the reality is, the bridge is perfectly stable and poses no threat to life safety but to the ongoing project of revitalizing the city of Buffalo.  To destroy a perfectly good structure would be, in my humble opinion, completely irresponsible, wasteful, and unintelligent.  That's why I'm glad that Ed Steinfeld, a professor at the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning (and also the director of the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access [aka IDEA Center]) challenged his student s to re-imagine the Buffalo Skyway.  It looks like he gave them free range and they took it: giving unique, fun, and exciting ideas to create genuine and fascinating proposals for the overpass that tie in with the city mission for the greening and taking back of the Buffalo Waterfront.

The student designs clearly stem from activity-based themes to get people actively involved in their city and region which is an important part of the urban design scheme as it stands.  In many of the proposals students not only utilize the horizontal functionality of the bridge, but opt to use its verticality as well, creating a completely new look, feel, and function for the structure!  It's an exciting project and I'm really happy they let the university students have a whack at it.  Sometimes in the "real world" people say "have fun in architecture school while you can because the things you do could never be built."  I disagree.  The reason they can't be built is actually because people in the "real world" think that everything has to be the done the traditional way with the typical design goals and themes...but what I'd say to that is, revitalizing the waterfront is ANYTHING but typical.  What is typical is how it got to this point in the first place:  A bunch of "real-world-ers" not designing past their own moment to design and build, and a society that became complacent when structures were abandoned and waterways and parks were left to fall by the wayside.  If you want something more for your world, you can't continue to do the same old stuff...make the future different.  Listen to the "pie in the sky" ideas and find a way to make them work.  I'm fairly certain that $10 million on any of these students' ideas would bring a whole lot more revenue to the city of Buffalo over time than another abandoned or demolished structure that will no longer serve any purpose...we have enough of those already in our "real world."

Check out the designs and let me know what you think!  I was personally intrigued by the Active Skyline and SkyPlay.  The four seasons seemed like a really nice feature for the skyline, too, especially as a sculptural element in the night shot.

What's a beautiful way to say "rock stacking?"

While I ponder how to find the words to explain how elegant this art form should just check it out.  This young man was inspired by humans throughout history who have found a connection to their surroundings and an inner peace through balancing rocks.  The beginning of the video on vimeo is really the best part because it not only gives you some "how to" secrets, but it also allows Michael Grab to explain his inspiration and why he continues to stack.  Pretty amazing artwork via nature and human history...Enjoy.  Share your own stacks by commenting below!  I'll do the same and let you know how I fare!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Real Life Town for the Aging (with Dementia)

As a person who gets "dementia" or at least, has witnessed it firsthand in her Grandmother, a woman diagnosed VERY young with a disease that is not well-understood yet, even within medical and scientific circles, you could say the topic interests me as a designer. 

In graduate school we had a project aimed at squeezing as many program spaces as possible, and at the time seemed unnecessary, at least in the scope of the exercise, and yet...there was something real about it.  I remember thinking...older people are young people in bodies that don't work the way they used to.  They still think and feel and do and desire like they always have.  I designed a balcony that allowed the elderly and rehabilitation patients to oversee both indoor and outdoor spaces on the site.  They could watch the street, the park, the people going about doing their shopping or traipsing around the city visitor's center...but they didn't have to be in the limelight if they didn't want to, and the reality is, a lot of dementia patients can't be in the limelight and they can't be on their least not for long. 

It all depends on the stage of dementia, and the scariest and most fascinating thing is how quickly they can go from fully functional and "normal" or "like they used to be" to completely blank:  Traveling 50 years into the past in the blink of an eye.  If ever there was any science to time-travel...this might be it!  What this means, though, with an aging population is a massive increase in the number of people who will likely suffer from dementia...having grown up in a society where health, food, exercise, and well-being have drastically changed because of the way that we produce food, how we work, and how we live, as well as how long we live (I've always wondered if cancer, for example, always would have claimed as many lives centuries ago if people had lived long enough to develop it).  No matter the science of the brain, the fact still remains that there are lots of people out there suffering (or enjoying) their dementia, and that means that design has to take some steps to serve them!

There are plenty of studies about gardens and outdoor activities being related to dementia treatments, but I just saw the first real-life equivalent to my graduate school project: Town Square for the Aging (I'd only add, that it's specifically for the aging who have dementia, and there is no city visitor center where they have to stare out of their space, they actually get to live in it).  In some ways, it reminds me of the National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY...where you can go to (mini) Wegmans and buy any product they have and go to a checkout to pay with the air-change out of your pockets...except it's bigger.  It's more likely to be equated with The Truman Show, where the whole world is a feigned reality as a weird social experiment focused on one person...except in this real-world 2014 example in Holland, it's about a community of people, and most of them wouldn't remember for very long even if they were to notice that they are the stars of a least not long enough to escape the show.  And the great thing is...they probably won't want to!  If they can have visitors, enjoy the outdoors, eat and do activities that they are capable of, all in a secure environment, I don't see why they would be too bothered by the fact that their surroundings weren't quite the same as their old reality.  But, reality isn't exactly the same as their "old reality," I guess it's a pretty good attempt at designing for dementia.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Global Climate Change

People around the globe are becoming more concerned with our climate each day.  I sincerely believe that good design can make a difference.  Whether it's designing better motors that run off of solar power, or the design of people-friendly, walkable cities...there are innumerable ways that already exist to begin thinking about designing to make the world a better, safer, and healthier place by respecting and purifying the environment that we have mistreated and countless more than have yet to be discovered.  Take a look at this video and check out the organization's website for more info...then GET TO DESIGNING!  There's plenty to be done.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Hamburgers...Going green...but not the first!

Great news out of Hamburg, Germany!  The city officials have released plans to "go green" converting main motor vehicle byways to pedestrian zones (Fußgangerzone) and bike zones.  This will connect the city in not only a more beautiful and natural way, but also in a way they hope will help adjust their city's rising temperature (up 9 degrees in the last 100 years -- and for the nay-sayers, yes, they still have cold harsh winters, and if you want to understand global warming better check out this post).  If they have problems with "roadkill" like many other vehicular-laden cities of the world, this is also likely to decrease the animal deaths and restore habitats otherwise cut off from their food sources by massive highways and speeding cars (you've probably heard of the very famous Autobahn).  Decreasing high motor-traffic in dense zones will also improve air quality by lessening gas emissions that cause smog and nasty pollution that we otherwise breathe.  Hopefully less motor vehicles will also mean less traffic, making for a drastic difference not only in the air of the city center but also on a more global scale (as we must recall, we are all connected)!  Once again, Germans are leading the way not only in research and innovation but also in implementation!  Great work, Hamburgers!

It would be unfair, though to say the Germans were actually first to have and implement these green ideals.  Years ago I recall learning about a city in Brazil that was aiming to do JUST that.  I remember the mayor or governor saying something to the affect of "some people are in denial or are against the idea, but like anything, most of us just don't like the change part...once it's done...they'll come around." The city was called "Curitiba" and while wondering if it ever fulfilled its promise, I needed do nothing more than put "Brazilian green city" in a search to have it pop up with thousands of hits.  I guess it worked!  The mayor I remembered seeing in the video years ago was Jaime ("Jamie") Lerner, an urban planner, who believed that cities could be the solution to problems instead of the cause of them.  Since the 70s, Curitiba has gone from being below the average Brazilian income per capita to being 60%+ above it.

How did Curitiba do it?  A number of things, almost all associated with sustainability, in fact.  One of the amazing things is that they made it not only environmentally sustainable by increasing their parks, planting over one million trees and creating legislation to protect the environment, but they also made their city socially sustainable!  They take environmental sustainability so seriously, that they created means for their economically deprived to better themselves and their financial situations by helping environmentally;  bus fares and food can be bought in exchange for recyclables and waste.  This keeps the city clean AND fed.  In fact, an entire garden is completely maintained by children who live on the streets.  They have also introduced a university specializing in sustainable development at a low fee to encourage citizens to become educated in the phenomenon that has made Curitiba the great city it continues to become, and even takes older buses and makes them into schools on wheels to teach the community in their perspective areas.

It didn't happen overnight, and, as Mayor Lerner said, 'sometimes change isn't easy,' but it's WORKING.  Which means that with some good people, positive energy, and desire to better a city...ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!  I'd have to say my Green Cities winner would be Curitiba.  Not only have they strived to make themselves better, but they have also reached out to the world in multiple venues including a 2007 conference with leaders from around the globe to encourage them to make changes in their own cities to have a global effect.  When 99% of your citizens want to live there, and 70% of citizens of NEIGHBORING cities do're doing something right!  Let's take the example of daring to change for the better into consideration.  The best part?  You don't have to be the "guinea pig" because we already have proof that it works!

In case you want some more examples of cities "pushing the envelope," you can see some more examples here!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

In case of "solar spill"...

Chestnut Avenue...where there used to be Chestnut Trees...

So you know that old joke, that's not really a joke, about (sub)urban sprawl that says "they name things after what they cut down or destroyed in order to put it there?"  Maple Elementary School, Walnut Street, Sweet Woods Terrace...and the like...

Well, Milan is putting a whole new twist on this old joke, and it's brilliantly awesome instead of being funny!  It's the new Bosco Verticale: The Vertical Forest, an apartment complex whose facade is a plethora of trees and plants, already pre-tested to withstand the wind loads at different heights of the building.  So with all of the vertical surface area they're actually going to have more plants now than the building footprint ever could have held...and THAT'S a pretty good twist worth repeating!

Something to Consider in the year 2014

Dream-Designs In Your "Grown-Up" Home

Did you ever try to design your dream home?

As a child, I built forts like it was my job.  I remember using blankets and cushions, pool towels and deck chairs, anything that could and would allow me to make a little sanctuary of fun and creativity was  going to be claimed and utilized for fort-awesomeness!

What about as an adult?  Do you still want a trap door or a secret room or lair like Batman?  I do.  What about a rooftop garden to lounge in?  Or a slide from your second story bedroom down into a pool?  The list of amazing ideas we think of as kids goes on...and SOMETIMES those same kids get older and don't forget.

Here's a list of some cool designs that are possible if you just take the time to think them through and do some planning!  Get older, but never "grow up!" Use that imagination!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Where there's white, there's room for GREEN!

Here's a really awesome study on how to determine locations for new green spaces in the concrete jungles!  Analyzing actual space utilized by vehicle traffic in snowy conditions, the writer was able to determine where unused space could become green space.  And who doesn't want more green space?  Since cars don't turn on 90 degree least not yet, it's a genius proposal worth considering!  It reminds me of Cerda's plan for Barcelona where he created chamfered corners to maximize efficiency for the transportation of his time, the automobile and the tram!

Image credit to