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