Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Same Handed Design

Metro Health Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan is a LEED registered facility that includes same-handed design in the rooms. Patient rooms look out onto the green roof below.

I've been traveling quite a bit these days and staying in different places. One of the challenges of leaving a familiar space is that you have to relearn basics, like where the light switch is located, or where the toilet paper rolls resides. Seems small, until you're fumbling about in the middle of the night or dropping a glass on the floor cause there's a table next to your bed at home. Simple tasks—locating silverware and plates, tv remotes and dishsoap—can add up throughout the day. I realize how habitual a daily routine becomes. We function without thinking, knowing intuitively where things go.

One of the things cropping up in interior design, especially in the healthcare field, is the idea of same-handed rooms. In most buildings—like hospitals and hotels—rooms are mirror images of one another so that they can share a wall of internal infrastructure, such as plumbing. It's cheaper that way. In same-handed facilities, however, every room is exactly the same. So when a nurse moves from one room to the next, all materials and supplies are located in precisely the same spot. There's no need to relearn or remember where you are.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Subway Poster Art

This morning on the F train from Brooklyn to Manhattan I noticed the above poster. It's part of a series created for the Freelancer's Union. Besides the great yellow of the background, it caught my eye for its Bauhaus feel mixed with a modern day DIY hand stamping effect. A blog on the Freelancers Union website noted that the font spreads apart in the word "mobilize" suggesting an action to the word, a literal movement across the page.

The queen bee of the Freelancer's Union (sorry, couldn't resist), is Sarah Horowitz. She founded the organization in 1995 and has been working to bring independent workers healthcare and retirement benefits, among other things. There's a brief but interesting Q & A with her here where she talks about the rise in freelance work in this country and how, increasingly, companies hire contract workers versus staffers. She said:

"The workforce is definitely undergoing a shift. I think that more of the people who do work for large companies are going to be freelancers and independent consultants, and that there’s going to be a boom in entrepreneurship. The American dream isn’t just about a house in the suburbs anymore—for a lot of people, it’s now about doing what they love and being their own boss."

Workplace revolutions, the poster above, and the looming threat of a recession got me thinking about WPA-era art. I found a few for fun:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Publicolor Event in Manhattan

Michael Kors leads a team at last night's Stir, Splatter + Roll event in Manhattan.

I'm stepping in as the editor of Metropolismag.com for the next two months, and have posted my first story on their web blog P/O/V. It's about an annual benefit for the non-profit Publicolor. I stopped by last night and it drew a great crowd of designers, like Michael Kors and Lella Vignelli. You can link to it by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Spotted: A Bike Lane?

Newly painted bike lane symbols on Chestnut Avenue in Baltimore

Baltimore has a new bike lane traversing the city and painted icons are appearing on asphalt all over town. Trouble is, there isn't much of a "lane" to these lanes. In fact, they are right smack in the middle of traffic. Inspired by a recent video posted on Slate titled the Stupidest Bike Lane in America—about a one block bike lane in Los Angeles that abruptly ends in traffic—I went out and took a few photos:

Without car...

With Car...

From the dashboard: drivin' over bikes.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

New York Times Green Issue

Reusable totebag seen in a storefront on 36th Street in Baltimore.

Tomorrow the "green" themed issue of The New York Times Magazine hits the newsstands. I've contributed several pieces, including one about the mounting stress over the environment and our personal responsibility for its downfall (and salvation). I interviewed a few therapists and psychologists about eco-anxiety and one mentioned how we've all become so judgmental about each other's (in)actions on the matter. I saw this bag in a store in my neighborhood. Environmental consciousness has gone snarky. Bumperstickers to follow, I imagine. It's funny, because it not only berates the reader—that person perhaps asking for the plastic or paper bag at the grocery check out—it also makes fun of the bag's owner. Eco-Freak indeed.

Friday, April 18, 2008


It's been a slow posting week because I've been traveling lots between New York and Baltimore. The first trip had to do with a very interesting piece I'll be publishing in the June issue of Architect...more on that later. The other reason is that I'll be jumping into the Web Editor position at Metropolis magazine for a few months while the current editor travels the globe. Look for more blogging by me on that site as well as posts by writers Mason Curry, Michael Silverberg, Jade Change, and more. Click on the heading P/O/V (point of view) on the Metropolis home page. While I'm there, look out for posts from the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, which happens in mid-May in Manhattan.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The City at Night

Lights out: A picture from space during the 2003 New York City blackout.

In the great construction boom leading up to the Olympics, whole swaths of Beijing are being transformed with new residential towers and commercial buildings. Italian photographer Daniele Dainelli has captured these buildings as they rise, photographing them at night while they sit slumbering, unoccupied and in near complete darkness until street and interior lights click on. By using medium-format film, Dainelli is able to bleed in what little light exists to render these hulking structures on film. Mason Curry of Metropolis writes about the photos in this month's issue of the magazine. "The resulting images feel otherworldly, and at times menacing. In some you can barely make out the contours of darkened buildings rising against inky skies, yet you feel their weight. A strange new city seems to be on the verge of awakening—but we'll have to wait until August to see it in the daylight."

From Metropolis' April issue: A tower going up in Sanlitun, Beijing. Daniele Dainelli/Contrasto/Redux

Less than 140 years ago, it would have been the lights at night that seemed otherworldly. We did not have the luxury of seeing cities in full lamplight until the late 1800's when the first electric streetlamps began illuminating France and Britain.

French architect Philippe Rahm reminded an audience at New York's Cooper Union School of Architecture on Friday night that constantly lit cities are a new phenomenon that totally altered human existence. "Paris was completely dark at night until the 19th century," Rahm said during a slideshow presentation of his work. With the invention of the streetlamp, "we erased the night from the city. It allowed people to come out, where before they stayed inside. There was no longer the cycle of day and night. It created a perpetual day," he said.

Rahm has studied how that perpetual day interrupts the natural cycle of human circadian rhythm. The hormone melatonin is secreted in the body by the pineal gland in response to darkness, and is believed to regulate our natural biorhythm and our ability to sleep. Our internal cycle is meant to be in sync with the cycle of the earth. Light pollution, Rahm explains, retards the human capacity to create melatonin. It tricks the body into thinking that it is day when it is night.

Rahm began to wonder about the inverse: if we can create a fake, perpetual day, could we also create a fake, perpetual night? "Modernity perversed the natural cycle," Rahm said. "Can we invent something within this artificial cycle?"

Day becomes night: Diurnisme at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou in Paris, 2007

In his 2007 Diurnisme exhibition, pictured above, Rahm created a false night within a room at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. He used a type of yellow light with a wavelength above 600 nanometers because the body perceives it as true night. "The room becomes a paradox between the visible and the invisible: a night which looks like a bright day," Rahm once wrote.

By creating a fake night, the designer becomes a time traveler of sorts. "Architecture is not only space making. It is also time making. You can jump from day to night and choose where you want to be," Rahm said on Friday.

Rahm has also created actual "night lights" for a promenade in the City of Gdansk, Poland. The rendering is pictured above. From his website:

"The introduction of street lighting in the city during the 19-century was at the origin of one of the most important social and political revolutions of the urban practice and of the form of the city...The street lighting caused new urban typologies (the boulevard for example) but was also the cause of new behaviors, those of the noctambulism, sauntering the evening on the boulevards, dancing in the balls.

Our project is to invent a negative urban standard lamp, producing the night during the day, physically. It's a perverted answer to the perpetual day created by modernity, the Internet, and globalization.

If the traditional outdoor lighting, like a mini-sun, emits a visible radiation of light (artificial electromagnetic radiations of the sunlight), our outdoor lamp emits an invisible and cold electromagnetic radiation, like that emitted by the night sky. Our lighting consists of a diffuser like a mini night celestial vault, cooled by the flow of glycolic water at the temperature close to 0°C. Its surface is black, absorbing the whole of the luminous spectrum...Our body, at 37°C, will lose energy by infrared radiation in direction of this cold vault. A hot body always loses heat to the profit of a cold body. Our outdoor lamps will produce the night...."

The single greatest challenge to offestting global warming may be changing our own behavior and our entrenched perceptions of environment. Many of us have difficulty envisioning a new reality, one that moves beyond what we inherently understand and perceive to be normal. The beauty of Rahm's work is that it reminds us that this "normal" we live in is, in fact, not normal at all. Much of it is wholly fabricated; it is an artificial reality. So why not challenge the very assumptions of this false nature?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Coming Soon...

I'm on the road in NYC this week. There are some new and exciting posts coming soon including a Q & A with Fritz Haeg of Edible Estates and the latest from French architect Philippe Rahm. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Strip Malls Make Me Sleepy

Illustration by Bonnie Ralston, Samuel Sherman, © The Museum of Modern Art 2008.

MoMA curator Paola Antonelli has posted a very interesting article on Seed magazine's website recounting a series of salons held at the museum around the topic of design. The series looked at the links between design and science.

"As science and technology accelerate the pace of society, design has become more and more integral to our ability to adapt to change. Indeed, in the past few decades people have coped with dramatic changes in several long-standing relationships—with time, space, information, and individuality, to name a few. Designers are translating these 'disruptive' scientific and technological innovations by providing thoughtful guidance and a collaborative approach. In order to step boldly into the future, we need design."

"What we're witnessing today is the emergence of a singular design creativity. Taking their cues from sources as varied as nanostructures, biological systems, topography, and cosmology, designers are introducing new areas of study and influence to their field and endowing their objects with new types of functional gradients."

Another interesting group exploring the intersection of science and space is the Academy of Neuroscience of Architecture. They study the ways in which humans respond to their built environment. During a lecture titled "Neuroscience and Architecture," Fred Gage of the Salk Institute in California noted that “the places we live, work and play are changing our brains and our behavior all the time.” In other words, environment impacts our brains and thus our behavior. So how about we stop building so much crap already?

Strip malls make me sleepy and sad.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Architectural Boycott

A model of Steven Holl's Linked Hybrid in Beijing. Eight towers with a mix of residential, commercial, and retail are interconnected via walkways at the 20th Floor.

Criticism over the Chinese government heated up today as protesters in Paris forced the Olympic Torch to be snuffed during its run through the city.

The Olympics have served to rile people around the world over the Chinese government's treatment of Tibet. Perhaps less on the radar is architect Daniel Libeskind's call for architects to boycott building in China altogether. As reported in last week's edition of the Architect's Newspaper, Daniel Libeskind has taken his profession to task for commissions in the country. "I won't work for totalitarian regimes," Libeskind told an audience in Belfast. "I think architects should take a more ethical stance."

As the building and construction industry stalls here in the States, this raises an interesting dilemma for architects looking for work globally. Massive undertakings, such as Steven Holl's Linked Hybrid set to open this year in Beijing, raise questions of how land is procured and how little architects know about the history of a particular site. "It bothers me when an architect is given carte blanche and told there's a great site, build X," Libeskind said. His comments apparently caused quite an uproar in the British Press.

Linked Hybrid under construction.

From Holl's website: "Focused on the experience of the body passing through spaces, the towers are organized according to movement, timing and sequence generating random city-like relationships."

A rendering shows the walkway system.

's William Menking suggests that it is time for architects to consider their role in world politics. "We are not calling for a protest against building in China, or in Azerbaijan, or for any emerging authoritarian dictatorship with an eye on cultural recognition," he writes. "There would be a certain irony in protesting one country's invasions when our own is fighting in Iraq. But it is time for a broader conversation about what it really means for architects to work in the world with eyes wide open."

Baltimoreans can spark that conversation with Libeskind himself when he comes to town for a lecture on April 24th.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The End of Isms: An Evening with Gregg Pasquarelli of SHoP Architects

Brick redefined: To meet an historic district requirement for brick-only facades, SHoP created a computer algorithm that helped develop this undulating brick system for a building in the NoLITa neighborhood of Manhattan. All images (except for the airplane model) are from the SHoP Architects website.

Last night at the Maryland Institute College of Art, New York-based architect Gregg Pasquarelli lectured about the state of architecture and the philosophy behind the firm he co-founded, SHoP Architects. Created in 1996 with his wife, another couple, and one of the couple's twin brothers, SHoP has earned a reputation for unique and thoughtful design coupled with innovative technological advancements. Today, SHoP has an office of more than 70 employees and is managing projects around the globe.

The Dunescape Project created in 2000 through the Young Architects Program at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center transformed the courtyard of the Long Island Museum into a kind of urban beach. The architects used computer programs to develop this form, which is constructed out of cedar.

Inside Dunescape: This view shows the intricacy of the interlocking cedar pieces.

Fundamental to the SHoP philosophy on architecture, is a belief that a firm can embrace both the conceptual side of design as well as the pragmatic, structural side. Why, Pasquarelli challenges, do we believe there to be a distinction between thought architects and build architects? Why not embrace both? "We want to return the architect to master builder while embracing new technology and forms," he says. SHoP advances that idea within their firm, which is set up in the spirit of a studio and includes a roster of employees hailing from a wide range of fields.

SHoP also wants to rid the industry of damaging and limiting "isms." Allowing yourself to be knighted by one of the many isms in architecture—Postmodernism, Deconstructivism, etc. etc—creates unnecessary boundaries and these can lead to the worst ism of them all, according to Pasquarelli: Specialism. "We're the last great generalist profession," he says. "The worst thing we could become is specialists."

To that end, Pasquarelli encourages a rewriting of the traditional client-architect-construction manager relationship. The firm began, early on, to take on variant aspects of their projects and to look to other industries for best practices. They analyzed the way in which cars and airplanes are assembled and began to think of construction as a kit of parts.

In the building below, SHoP designed the structure on the computer and used the computer program to cut and number the variant pieces. They created simplified construction diagrams so that on site, the builders could easily fit the pieces together. 417 parts arrived at the site and every piece, including the metal, the wood, etc, was pre-milled and drilled and marked with specific instructions. At one point, the architects heard a saw and came running out of the trailer: a construction worker had picked up the wrong piece, it didn't fit, and he was getting ready to saw it. They caught the error in time and within four weeks, the building was compete. All of the pieces fit. By rethinking the materials, assembly, and fabrication, they are able to bring projects like this in within budget. "We can use design as a profit center, not a cost center," Pasquarelli says.

From here, SHoP began to take equity stakes in their projects. Pasquarelli believes this is fundamental to the advancement of the architecture profession and that it is the only way to break the cycle of mediocrity that marginalizes design. "In America, if you don't take risk, you are not going to get reward," he says. (There was an excellent diagram including a photo of a butterfly and a monkey's ass to illustrate this point. I wish I could replicate that for you here...)

For the Porter House project, pictured below, SHoP helped purchase this warehouse in the Meat Packing District and create this para-building design to maximize square footage. Again, the facade was fabricated off site and when assembled, it came to within 1/32 of an inch.

By cantilevering the addition and expanding in to the air rights over the neighboring warehouse, they were able to gain valuable floor space.

The building's curtain wall was fabricated from an intricate system of interlocking zinc and windows. It incorporated the latest technology with good old fashioned common sense: Because the architects wanted the facade to have some depth and structure, they wound up with deep ledges outside each window. They called the Museum of Natural History and asked for the angle of repose for pigeons and then tipped the ledges enough to discourage birds. "There's not a drop of pigeon poop there today," Pasquarelli says.

The plans for the zinc curtain wall.

Further Reading:

There's an article in Architect magazine about SHoP's plans for the East River Waterfront. Metropolis magazine also profiled the firm. There is a list of books and articles about the firm on their website as well.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Green Economy

Birth of the Cool by artist James Yamada. Steel, iron, compost, worms. Part of the exhibit Greenwashing: Environment: Perils, Promises and Perplexities.

Yesterday launched the month of green. With Earth Day in April, we're bound to be bombarded with a host of articles and reports about the state of the global ecology.

Last night, Van Jones appeared on the Colbert Report. One of the more articulate people I've met, Jones was the first person who made the connection for me between poverty, race, and the environmental movement. Jones believes we can salvage our cities and save our economy by investing in alternative fuel and training a new generation for jobs that will help society as well as the planet. Jones talked about the concept behind green collar jobs and his non-profit, Green for All, which has the mission to "build an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty." You can watch the video online. And you can hear an incredible speech by Jones that was given in Baltimore last year by clicking here.

I saw something else on TV last night, an ad for Subaru. A serene-looking man dressed in shades of green and khaki wanders through the woods while birds chirp and deer prance about. He tells us:

"You're looking at Subaru of Indiana. It's more than just an auto plant, it's a role model for the environment. There’s zero landfill and nearly everything is recycled. And it’s been designated a wildlife habitat."

He goes on to mention standard all-wheel drive and to suggest that the "neighbors" (meaning those deer) think it is the best car company around. Here is a link to the commercial itself.

From Subaru's webpage. Wait, where are the cars? And the highways?

Also from the Subaru website: Auto Plant. Waterfowl. Deer. Car. Any irony in the fact that most cars and deers meet in unfortunate collisions on highways?

After watching who I believe to be a true role model, Van Jones, it was funny to hear a car company claim to be a role model of the environment. It is an interesting juxtaposition, one that car companies like to make. The Subaru plant, the company tells us, creates zero waste. Unless, of course, you include the very product it produces. This is almost as bad as the car commercial that shows an SUV sprouting from the very earth while a wood nymph dances around it in wonder.

The other thing that car companies love to do is show you all the ways you can be in nature while in their cars. Land Rover is probably the most egregious.

Look! You can scale pristine coastlines!

Why walk when you can drive? Throw it into 4 WD and blast your way to Mont Saint-Michel in France! "Have you ever?" the car company asks. I can just see the Europeans watching the SUV kick up sand on approach to the historic landmark. "Have you ever!" they say.

Can we move towards a more green economy when the current economy co-opts the concepts of green? There's a new exhibit in Turin, Italy, that explores this concern. GREENWASHING. Environment: Perils, Promises and Perplexities includes 25 artists who question our current relationship with the environment and the pervasive and subtle ways in which cultures and countries skew the conversation to support the status quo. "What is at stake in today's constant bombardment of ecological guilt, corporate agendas and political point-scoring with respect to so-called 'environmental issues'?" the exhibition organizers ask. "How can we balance personal responsibility with collective consensus, local with global, or short-term remedies with visionary strategies?"

Public Smog (2004–ongoing); Project documentation, looping Flash animation by Amy Balkin. Her practice "examines how humans interact with their social and physical environment, often focusing on issues of speculation and public access to common resources," according to the exhibition website.

As Van Jones described the possibility of a green economy on last night's show, as he talked about reducing our reliance on foreign oil and training inner city kids to install solar panels and become renewable energy engineers, Colbert suggested that for this to work, the country would first need a president with strong ties to the solar industry.

Ettore Favini's Green is the Color of Money (2007). Digital print on canvas.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Bringing the Outdoors In

Design by Marmol Radziner + Associates. Picture here (and below) from their forthcoming book Marmol Radziner + Associates: Between Architecture and Construction, due out in July from the Princeton Architectural Press.

e wanted to bring the outdoors inside.

Scan any design or architecture magazine and you'll likely find that quote a hundred times over. Most often it refers to windows, as in the homes that offer a thin glass barrier between you and the landscaped outdoors.

Marmol Radziner + Associates develop a relationship between the building and the surrounding trees, creating a sort of zoo in reverse: nature gets to look in on your glass contained cage, as much as you get to look out.

Sometimes the line can blur and the relationship can be more literal. I recently saw a show profiling a Japanese home where the owner built around a natural rock cavern to create an indoor bathtub fed by a natural spring.

But what about an engineered nature? Artists and designers are bringing their own contrived version of nature indoors. One product that's been growing in popularity over that past few years is resin walls encasing natural materials, like leaves and grasses.

Maidenhair fern trapped in a resin panel created by 3Form. Click here to see all of the organics used in their collection.

Two artists have caught my eye for taking the idea of nature indoors to another level. First, there is Mary Temple, a New York artist who paints intricate replicas of the natural shadows cast by a sunlit window. In the homes pictured below, Temple painted trompe l'oeil shadows on the walls for her Windows series. She captured a specific time of day, it seems, using the angle of light and the outline of trees—light and trees that don't actual exist around these homes. The one on the left feels more like high noon, a direct sun hitting the wall head on. The one on the right feels more like afternoon. There's a slant to the angles and, even though it's only the simplest of graying paint, it evokes the sensation of a waning light before dusk. It feels like sun hitting the wall. (Thanks to Marianne for bringing this to my attention).

Temple also likes to transpose urban environments and natural settings. "Much of my work is concerned with environmental perception, whether that environment be a physical structure or as abstract as a psychological impression," she has written. In another series, titled Postcard Skies, she juxtaposes the homes in her Brooklyn neighborhood against the open sky of the American Southwest, where she lived before coming to New York.

For the website Re-Title.com, Temple wrote about her inspiration for the Postcard series:

"I’ve combed the blocks around my apartment in Williamsburg, enjoying and recording the idiosyncratic artistry with which people have distinguished their homes from the ones on either side of them. It wasn’t long until my perception of the buildings expanded and I saw them as anthropological surrogates for the residents. Removing the windows from the photos seemed to allow the buildings to breathe, and their façades looked like bright open faces posing for a snapshot. I obliged. Perhaps they’d like to travel? I described what I know—the Grand Canyon, Coyote Springs, Oak Creek Canyon, Prescott Valley, Granite Dells. They agreed, having always wanted to see a bit of the Southwest."

Then there is Dutch designer Nienke Sybrandy. Her tree branch shadow curtain has been getting lots of play on design websites, like Apartment Therapy. Sybrandy uses ASCII-code, the code for computers, to create the outline of her tree. So in this case, a natural element is rendered "real" on fabric using the computer language that would represent that natural element on a computer. Makes your head spin a bit, doesn't it?

Shadow decorations are appearing elsewhere, like in those wall stickers that are popping up in design stores. I like to think of these as the gateway drug to actual wallpaper. Ferm Living offers birds, branches, and flowers that you can affix to your wall:

A hydrangea shadow growing out of your baseboard...

There's also an interesting reminder in their collection that the "outdoors" coming inside doesn't necessarily mean nature: