On October 1st, the U.S. Department of Energy unveiled the winner of the 2011 Solar Decathlon at West Potomac Park in Washington D.C., bringing together innovative solar-powered prototype residences designed and built by international student teams from universities and colleges. This year’s champion, the University of Maryland’s WaterShed house, excelled in a variety of then ten metrics used to judge the houses including affordability, energy balance, hot water, and engineering.
It might be the latest trend in creative modern eco-office design or, more likely, it’s a tongue-in-cheek reminder to avoid letting work take over your life. In the typical modern office with row upon row of geometric cubicles, the closest a worker might get to nature is a small potted plant, a faraway glimpse out a window, or a rainforest background on his or her computer. But a new installation in downtown Denver quite literally breaks down this man-made environment in an effort to promote outdoor activity and a connection to nature during the workday.
Toy Cities. Our friends at Planetizen tell us that Avondale, AZ had urban planner James Rojas over for a playdate of sorts. Citizens who took part in this re-visioning session got to use pipecleaners, Legos, blocks, and other assorted toys to build their ideal version of the city. According to Rojas, this bottom-up community planning method breaks down barriers and allows people to exercise a degree of creativity not often found at the typical charrette.
Food Oases. Streetsblog questions the much hyped notion of the “food desert”: is it media myth or reality? It seems that urban areas aren’t always as lacking in food stores as they seem, at least depending on your definition of supermarket. Even the USDA, who recently debuted their new food desert locator, might be a bit confused about what constitutes a food desert. (In fact, the web application says that a part of Dedham, MA is a food desert. Maybe they don’t count the Star Market that’s right near that Census tract…)
Suburban Swan Song. Slate’s architecture columnist Witold Rybczynski has penned an obit of sorts to that symbol of suburban sprawl, the McMansion. He posits that when the recession is over people will be in the mood to buy homes again, but that they may be hesitant to purchase a behemoth of a building that costs a lot to heat and cool.
Green Alert. Inhabitat takes a look at the latest in the green roof trend in the form of sloping roofs on townhomes in the City of Brotherly Love. It seems that the historic Center City has a new (and almost LEED certified) infill development called Bancroft Green. The high-end homes here sport some nifty plant covered roofs as well as geothermal heating and herb gardens that capture storm runoff and spaces designed specifically for bicycle storage.
Nature’s Benz. LA Autoshow reveals a radically green Mercedes-Benz concept called Biome– it’s made of organic fibers, powered by the sun, and releases pure oxygen into the air! The system behind this model is called “Mercedes-Benz Symbiosis,” in which vehicles are seamless part of the ecosystem.
Facebook’s Exodus. According to the New York Times, Facebook is moving out — of the office clusters in Palo Alto — and into an insulated 57-acre corporate campus in Menlo Park, California, which is to be renovated by San Francisco-based Gensler. About 2,000 workers, including Mark Zuckerberg, will be moved in within next 10 months. These young 20-somethings don’t want a sleek corporate office, but something idiosyncratic and soulful, which the new campus aims for.
Code Green. Crain‘s reports that the New York City Council continues to green up the city’s building codes. A trio of bills looks to “create more energy-efficient roofs.” While the first bill requires more reflective and less heat-absorbent roof materials, the second removes building-height limitations from solar thermal equipment and electric collectors and the third bill will add heat and power systems to the list of allowable rooftop structures.
Well-spoken Vowell. Chicago magazine talks to Sarah Vowell about Chicago — and a little New York — architecture. “It’s what I do for fun: Go see buildings. I like architecture because it’s so nonverbal,” she said, and then goes on to discuss her personal relationship with the Carson Pirie-Scott Building. Vowell recently finished her new book on Hawaii called Unfamiliar Fishes.
Block by Block. Brooklyn-based illustrator James Gulliver Hancock is attempting to draw All the Buildings in New York in quite beautiful pen and ink sketches like the one above. Watch a video of the artist explaining his inspirations, style, and how a chained up wheelchair is architecture after the jump. (via Gothamist.)
Green Boom. Blair Kamin takes a look at the sustainability of two billowing icons in Chicago and New York. Studio Gang’s Aqua Tower is going for LEED certification while Frank Gehry’s New York tower will not seek the USGBC’s approval but claims to be green nonetheless. Kamin notes the importance of such moves, saying of Gehry: “What he, in particular, does–or doesn’t do–can have enormous influence, not simply on architects but on developers.”
Trolley Boom. NPR has a piece on the explosion of streetcars across the country with planned or completed systems in over a dozen cities.
Bike Boom. Cycling advocate Elly Blue discusses a new study on Grist stating that bikes deserve their own infrastructure independent from autos. And not just a striped bike lane, Blue notes, but separated lanes called “cycle tracks” like one installed along Brooklyn’s Prospect Park West.
Soane Boom. The Independent reports on a planned renovation to the Sir John Soane Museum in London, that architect’s treasure trove of antiquities and architectural memorabilia from across the world. Plans include opening up a new floor that hasn’t been open to the public since Soane died in 1837.
Our friends at The Feast bring us news that molecular gastronomy guru Ferran Adria plans to build a campus for his elBulliFoundation that’s reminiscent of a Dr. Seuss fantasy. Adria aims for this complex to be ultra sustainable, with a goal of zero emissions.
Wondering what you might expect to find inside these whimsical, Wonka-esque structures? So were we. We hear that the current plan calls for an archive and brainstorming space (yes, brainstorming). Even more exciting, there will be “coral-like ceramic caverns” for the foundation’s chef-scholars to work in.
With a kitchen this crazy, we can’t wait to see what culinary creations are sure to follow.
Where one architect might see an incinerator, Bjarke Ingels, principal at Dutch firm BIG, envisions a ski slope. Ingels has been fond of the mountain typology and he hasn’t been all that subtle about it, giving projects names like Mountain Dwellings and emblazoning Mount Everest on the side.
In his latest competition-winning proposal for Copenhagen, BIG takes the concept one step further, with a mountain you can actually ski down.