Abandon or Embrace: Sea Level Rise and Coastal Populations

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By now both sides of the story are painfully clear: 1) we are responsible, 2.) the planet is responsible. And then there are the skeptics. Either way sea level rise has been getting a lot of attention lately. However, it seems this polemic argument is very near-sighted. One side trying to raise awareness, the other trying calm the alarm. Each focused on proving a point, which takes time away from the heavy lead times involved in making actionable decisions. Let’s presume for the sake of this post that sea level rise is a fact. Let’s also take the worst case scenario that in the next 100 years due to rapid glacial melt and antarctic dissolution, that we can expect to see up to 4 feet of rise. This calls into question the very identity of coastal populations, 15 of which happen to be the largest cities on the planet (NYC, Cairo, Tokyo, Sao Paulo to name a few). Some of these major cities have already been confronted with the decision to abandon or protect their territories and have begun to enter into a new relationship with the sea.   While this argumentative chatter can and has filled volumes, there are some designers and politicians dedicated to applying physical solutions to what is a very existential threat.

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Prefab + Sustainability

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If you like buzzwords, it’s hard to beat Prefab + Sustainability, maybe throw a “Green” in there somewhere. Honestly though, trends play a critical role in society’s readiness to adopt large-scale transitions. These widely accessible words, thoughts or actions can become influential in politics and economics, which ultimately can lead to convention. This will occur whether or not we like or agree with the branding involved. However, if there are trends that speak to living responsibly and leading a balanced and efficient life, then these trends, at least for me, become much more palatable. Here is a great article entitled “The Marriage of Prefab and Sustainability” by Sarah Fister Gale that discusses the merits of both and why they belong together.

What do you think? Is this simply a smart marketing move, or a valid direction?

 

OK Small!

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The most sustainable square foot is the one you don’t build. As long as we have had materials and the need for shelter, we have faced each day with the intent to do things and make stuff, especially when it comes to tending to our nest. Mostly without much thought regarding actual need or actual impact. Which is why the thought of small architecture is so entertaining. For very little money, just $300 for this small off-the-gird cabin in Vermont, and a little ingenuity, it’s possible to put together a small, responsible space of your own. By adding a few passive solar and wind strategies, you most likely can accomplish a great level of comfort most of the year without mechanical cooling or plugging into the city’s electrical grid. For example, the North wall is a translucent corrugated plastic that allows the cool, indirect light to provide plenty of illumination. The South wall is a solid corrugated metal which prevents this small sanctuary from becoming an uncomfortable greenhouse. If you have a friend who is an architect or designer, ask for a few tips. Most of us are eager to help our friends who find this as interesting as we do.

How small is too small? What’s the qualification, square foot? energy use? Can you scale this approach for a 3 family home? Is this sustainable living, or simply something to do in your spare time, a glorified fort for your inner child? Either way, these images are beautiful. The simplified interior and small pops of color are a great touch. Let me know your thoughts by commenting below.

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Rethink Zinc: An Eco-Friendly Architectural Metal

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mage courtesy of Gail Whitney Karn at RHEINZINK

You may not immediately think of the word “sustainability” when considering metal as an exterior cladding material. This is in part due to the harmful processes by which metals are extracted, fabricated and then treated. This can lead to destruction of local ecology by extraction, factory emissions and byproducts and ultimately depending on the coatings, poor indoor air quality once installed.  For example, some ferrous metals such as the always beautiful corten steel have adverse runoff effects into the local water and air supply. However, Zinc stands in a category all its own when considering its environmental impacts via extraction, production and implementation and is gaining popularity especially in the United States. Besides zinc’s beautiful and unique matte bluish-gray patina, if you’re thinking about using metal cladding for your next, or first,  project here are a few reasons you may want to specify architectural zinc panels.

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Natural Wood Siding With 30×40 Design Workshop

 

Here is a great article by Eric Reinholdt at 30×40 Design Workshop regarding the beauty and responsibility of letting wood be what it wants to be. He maintains a rational, sustainable perspective stating that:

Rejecting this unending cycle of maintenance and accepting weathering as part of a home’s design aesthetic makes good environmental, economic and design sense.

The idea of letting materials “wear in” requires one to suspend their traditional notions of beauty and nobility in architecture and design. What comes to mind when you think of these concepts? Are we too accustomed to “day 1” photography and flashy magazine imagery? Would you or have you specified this process in your projects? Please feel free to leave a comment below.

Go For The Green: 3 Tips On Getting Your Clients Committed To Sustainable Technologies

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Photo © Alessio Guarino

Have you ever gained support for a sustainable idea in a client meeting but ultimately couldn’t get that strategy realized in the project? For any number of reasons such as lack of technical knowledge, budget constraints or project schedule, the leap between pitching an idea and getting it built is a challenge to many architects and designers. This is almost always the case, even in more established design firms with a sustainable focus. However, it is even more difficult for smaller practices and start-ups trying to convince clients of their expertise without projects of their own exhibiting these technologies. In this post I’ll outline 3 tips on getting your clients to commit to sustainable technologies so that you can convert potential technology into measurable results.

Today, sustainable technologies such as heat recovery, smart sensitive lighting control and efficient fixtures for restrooms and kitchens are being implemented everywhere as base systems in large commercial projects . The residential market is better than it ever has been in adopting similar strategies. But still a staggering number of projects that could implement these strategies don’t. Why? By now most of us, including our clients, understand that in order to create a positive impact on the planet, implementing sustainable strategies is a must and will ultimately be a measure of our success. So if we all agree, then why are we running into so many road blocks when it comes time for commitment. Let’s look at three sure-fire ways to super charge your presentations and ensure success in folding sustainability into your next project.

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Harvesting Dew Droplets with Minimal Technology

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A simple and affordable strategy to harvest water (up to 25 potable gallons per day) from naturally condensing dew droplets may finally be upon us. Designer Arturo Vittori is responding to the needs of millions of people in regions where clean, safe water is not readily available. People in some parts of Ethiopia spend a whopping 40 billion hours per year searching for safe, potable water.

The beauty of this design is in it’s simplicity. A woven lattice work of juncus stalks with a polypropylene mesh stretched on the inside aide in the collection of condensed water. Literally bringing potable water to people “out of thin air”. If you’re interested read more in this article from the Smithsonian.

Will technology like this last in the desert? How long until this becomes a commercial application available for the home? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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