Friday, May 9, 2008


The Portable Light Prototype at work.

With U.S. infrastructure failing on a grand scale (The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates it will cost $1.6 trillion to begin fixing the problem), it's interesting to see the rise of "pico-infrastructure." Think of it as infrastructure on a smaller scale. Designers are creating small-scaled, personalized systems that can be used by individuals in communities that have no services or in disaster areas where service has been interrupted. So rather than rely on a larger system that may not function effectively (or that may not exist at all, depending on where you live), you are empowered to resolve the problem yourself.

Take the lighting system created by Sheila Kennedy of the Boston firm Kennedy & Violoch Architecture. Her Portable Light Prototype is a small, lightweight mat with solar cells capable of capturing sunlight to fuel a solid-state lighting system. The mat absorbs solar energy during the day and emits light for up to 8 hours at night.

Eric Olsen, an architect in San Francisco, just won the Next Generation Design Award for his Solar Water Disinfecting Tarpaulin. Inspired by Kennedy's light design, he created a pleated mat that can easily collect water and then use the sun's ultraviolet rays to disinfect it within several hours. Imagine the possibilities in dry climates with limited drinking water, or in a disaster area where potable water is at a premium. Imagine if the residence of Myanmar had something like this right now.