Friday, October 26, 2007

Sustainability and Materials

As you all begin to propose material dimensions of performative or geometric strategies, it's useful to think about sustainability at that level as well. For instance, the New York Times is reporting on Co2 and concrete:

Cement and Pollution From Making It: "As cement plants emit 5 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, the main cause of global warming, making cement means making pollution."

How can we reconcile the potential negative effects of certain material manufacturing and production processes with the desirable ecological effects that all of you are expecting from your systems? If some properties of concrete whether plasticity or weight or some other factor are identified as desirable for performative reasons for instance, we must not only consider the use of other materials and the effect of that selection on the geometry and performance of the system, but we would also have to evaluate a proposed alternate material and its ecological effects as well.

Regardless, this fact about concrete is interesting and certainly demands a finer and more intricate set of geometries when developing the prototype systems into more robust material formations. Surely this speaks to the need for all of you to declare how you will define and evaluate the issue of sustainability within the work.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Matsys Variations

Some nice material/structural/computational explorations by way of matsys:

Definitely worth looking at. There are some interesting mapping and computational techniques, intriguing material issues and prototype structures ranging from inflatable pneumatic enclosures to cellular/modular gradient structures to circle packing patterns with local hierarchies.

"Design Probes" and Building Skins

+ Philips Electronics carries out a lot of research into design that will eventually be significant to mainstream living and business by way of Design Probes that look into specific areas. One such project that will be highlighted during Dutch Design Week is Off The Grid: Sustainable Habitat 2020. This project explores the integration of electronics and biochemical functionalities into building, in order to deal with cities that will continue to grow unchecked. The goal here is to outfit buildings with “skins” that act to harness air, water and light.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Agriculture. Biomass. Energy

The New York Times reports of some measure that are designed to increase the effectiveness and potential of green measures enacted in China. There are some great examples of local feedback loops, the relationship of agricultural production and energy production, etc. For those of you who have read William McDonough's book Cradle to Cradle and have some interest in this waste=food notion, it is an interesting read.


How to Cool the Globe

NYT Op-Ed piece on alternative mean of reducing global temperature...


As wind power gains popularity, the synchronized movements of windmills dotting large expanses are a pretty awe-inspiring sight. Artist Christoph Ernst takes the visual display a step further by installing colored LEDs in the wind turbine blades.
The innovative public art project he calls Windmove began last night, 22 October, and will light up fields outside of Berlin through the end of the year, 31 December 2007.
Spinning at speeds of up to 220 km/h, the lights transform into kinetic strips of color. Ambient, industrial music by Andre Unruh of Einstuerzende Neubauten, an experimental band out of Berlin, accompanies the installation, making it an audio-visual show.
For you cynics, there's no reason to fret about the effects on sustainable energy as extensive studies showed no decrease in efficiency of the wind turbines.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Nobel text

From the Nobel committee's announceement last week. full text available at:

"Indications of changes in the earth’s future climate must be treated with the utmost seriousness, and with the precautionary principle uppermost in our minds. Extensive climate changes may alter and threaten the living conditions of much of mankind. They may induce large-scale migration and lead to greater competition for the earth’s resources. Such changes will place particularly heavy burdens on the world’s most vulnerable countries. There may be increased danger of violent conflicts and wars, within and between states."

Why Hay Is Fabulous (And Halting Erosion In Iceland)


It may seem too simple to be true, but to combat the spread of so-called “erosion escarpments” or rofabards (see above) Icelandic farmers have turned to spreading cut-up hay to halt the slow creep of desertification on the island. And so far, it seems to be working.

This sustainable practice has developed from what seems to be a happy accident during the seventies, when originally farmers wanted to get rid of unusable hay bales, which were then wrapped in plastic. Birds, attracted to a chemical component in the plastic, pecked holes in the plastic, allowing the hay to dampen and become unusable.

The farmers took the useless hay up to the highland pastures, chopped it up and left it at the foot of the escarpments. The wind blew and soil anchored around the hay amidst the escarpments and encouraging vegetation to take root – and hay also gradually transforms into soil and becomes another rebuilding constituent. (Parallels to no-tillage champion Masanobu Fukuoka’s documented usage of randomly-spread hay, done after harvesting to further enrich the soil, is something that certainly comes to mind.)

More at

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Drought-Stricken South Facing Tough Choices

Worst-case analyses indicate that Lake Lanier, the main water source for Atlanta, could be drained dry within four months.

"For the first time in more than 100 years, much of the Southeast has reached the most severe category of drought, climatologists said Monday, creating an emergency so serious that some cities are just months away from running out of water."

Carbon Neutral UNESCO resort in Libya

Foster's office is developing a carbon neutral resort in Libya in conjunction with UNESCO
"In an area the size of Wales centered on the Greek ruin here, the younger Qaddafi, a group of wealthy Libyans and a bevy of consultants are planning a carbon neutral green-development zone, catering to tourism and serving as a model for environmentally friendly design, they say.
The plan will protect Libya’s fantastic Greek and Roman ruins from haphazard developments as it protects the coastal ecosystem, one of the last remaining natural areas of the Mediterranean. Waters off Libya are the last remaining breeding grounds for a number of Mediterranean species, environmentalists say. The idea is that as Libya opens to the outside world it will not become “like the Spanish coast,” said the project’s financial adviser, Mahmoud A. Khosman. (It will also be a good investment.)But the intention is clearly broader than that. “They want to show the world that Libya has turned a corner, that they can fit into the modern world,” said George Joffe, a research fellow at Cambridge who specializes in the region. "

Monday, October 15, 2007

Radical Cartography

Not sure if you guys have seen this site...some interesting ways of thinking about maps and data.

Hydrogen Economy

One more post from Treehugger: Relevant to all groups interested in alternative energy market arrangements, especially emerging or not-yet-fully commercial design concepts and markets.


At this link is a 9-page conceptual design paper outlining a prospective hydrogen economy: one based primarily on solar and wind power. The paper's authors are Greg Blencoe of Hydrogen Discoveries, Inc. and Dr. James G. Blencoe of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The technical underpinnings of the paper are: 1.) a valveless fueling system that uses magnesium hydride to safely store hydrogen inside fuel cell-powered vehicles; and, 2.) Hydrogen Discoveries' piping system, which was designed to overcome the problem of embrittlement and leakage problems that ordinary steel pipes face. The intention is to overcome the "last mile" problems of safely distributing and dispensing hydrogen fuel, and, in this case, of reclaiming and recycling the Magnesium carrier media for continuous re-use.

Nanostructures and power generation

Another post from Treehugger on electricity-generating fabrics made with nanofibers. The post deals with the technology in a military context, but other applications are possible.

wearable batteries

Recyclable Rustling

Penalties have increased in New York for "recyclable rustling", or the use of a truck or van to steal bundles of recycling off of the street. The Times reports that prices for scrap metal, paper, and containers have soared due to strong demand for recyclables in Asia and other developing regions. An interesting local tie in to some of the global issues we've been looking at:

Sunday, October 14, 2007

China's Three Gorges Dam

The controversial Three Gorges Dam in China that is set to be completed in 2009 may bring a bigger environmental problem to Yangtze River.

Sunday Times Roundup

Two tidbits from this weekend's Times:

First is a graphic published to describe the distribution of the 1,000,000 trees that are planned to be planted in New York in the next several decades. NYT

Second is the latest article in a series on environemental issues in China - an interesting profile on a Chinese environmental advocate and the issue of water pollution on one of the most famous of Chinese lakes. NYT

Friday, October 12, 2007

How Bad was Summer's Arctic Melt?

arctic sea ice loss

Just How Bad Was this Summer's Arctic Melting? (TreeHugger)

World moves into the ecological red

LONDON (Reuters) - The world moved into 'ecological overdraft' on Saturday, the point at which human consumption exceeds the ability of the earth to sustain it in any year and goes into the red, the New Economics Foundation think-tank said.

Just an interesting tidbit.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Energy Hunt

NYT article on the difficulties in extracting energy from remote areas.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Piezoelectric Concept Backpack

This is a simple application for an interesting power-generating technology.

"Shoulder straps made of polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), a strong, flexible material that feels similar to nylon, are piezoelectric, which means that an applied stress generates an electrical charge (just like when you rub your feet on the carpet and shock your baby sister). Converting otherwise wasted, ambient energy into electrical energy, there's virtually no difference in the feel or characteristics of PVDF versus normal nylon. Now, all the rubbing of your backpack straps on your shoulders could finally be put to good use and you can leave heavy batteries and bulky chargers at home."


Structural Riff in Norway

Snøhetta’s architects were acquainted with Tensairity, but had envisioned Tubaloon as entirely inflatable. “At this point, we thought of many more cable stays and support masts than we ultimately ended up with,” Teas notes, adding that achieving their desire for effortless buoyancy frustrated them: “It was going to be tough to get a big, saggy balloon to ‘poing’ up the way we wanted it.” Pedretti, who then came to Oslo, promised that Tensairity would eliminate any need for masts.

Michael, check out who the project architect is from Snøhetta.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion

OTEC, or ocean thermal energy conversion, is an energy technology that converts solar radiation to electric power. OTEC systems use the ocean's natural thermal gradient—the fact that the ocean's layers of water have different temperatures—to drive a power-producing cycle. As long as the temperature between the warm surface water and the cold deep water differs by about 20°C (36°F), an OTEC system can produce a significant amount of power. The oceans are thus a vast renewable resource, with the potential to help us produce billions of watts of electric power.

Read more at:


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Water Cube Fuses Energy Efficiency With Bubble Architecture

China's Bubbly Aquatics Center is scheduled to be completed this month. The building's ETFE cladding allows more light and heat penetration than glass, translating into a 30% decrease in energy costs. The structure itself is based on unique, lightweight construction, which makes it eco- and earthquake-friendly.

Inventing a City on Sand Dunes

WIDE ANGLE travels to the royal headquarters of the United Arab Emirate of Ras al-Khaimah as HH Sheikh Saud solicits top European architects (Snøhetta and OMA) to carry out his grandiose dream of a new capital city in the middle of his desert kingdom. The documentary follows a Norwegian architectural firm as it makes its bid to design the capital's master plan, immersing viewers inside an unfolding drama in which agents of East and West struggle to arrive at an architectural vision both worlds can embrace -- and one that will ultimately fulfill a Sheikh's bold dreams.

Arctic Melt Unnerves the Experts

Today's New York Times explores the science of arctic melt.

Andy Armstrong/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Retreat A photograph taken in August from an icebreaker research cruise in the Arctic Ocean, about 600 miles north of the Alaska coastline.

Socially Responsible and Eco Friendly food

The New York Times on the booming eco-friendly, fair trade market. Major corporations are rushing to meet the growing demand for food products that adhere to social and environmental standards.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Wave Farm

Portugal builds the world's first commerical wave farm.