Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Baltimore Design Conversation: August

Click on image for a larger version.

After a busy season of design conversations—including last month's big event at Artscape with Karin Bacon—the crew is taking a break in August to enjoy the lazy days of summer. But that doesn't mean we can't still drink beer together...

Please join the Design Conversation group at our usual time and place:
Wednesday, August 4th
The Windup Space, 12 W. North Ave.
Around 6:30 pm

Instead of a forum of speakers this will be an informal happy hour and a great chance to hang out, swap design ideas and stories, and put in your two cents regarding future topics for design conversations.

And if you've ever wanted to get more involved with the Design Conversations—or with D:center Baltimore—this is the perfect time to come and talk. Hope to see you there!

Friday, July 30, 2010


Tater the terrier.

My husband and I adopted a dog from a local shelter in May and the little guy likes to walk. A lot. So twice a day I traverse the half mile from my home to Druid Hill Park, where we climb the switchback paths through the wooded terrain. What an amazing place. The forest smothers the sounds of the city and suddenly you are surrounded by the hum of nature. The park is 745 acres. It was purchased in 1860 from a landowner named George Buchanan, and developed into this lustrous playground of streams, lakes, playfields, and a zoo. Druid Hill Lake, built in 1863, is the largest earthen damned lake in the country.

Today, many of the features of the original park are overgrown and forgotten. Three Sisters Lane leads you past a deep, sunken section where kudzu and grapevine cover everything, including what once was a section of landscaped park with three manmade ponds. This was where sea lions would play. The effect of all that overgrowth is ethereal, like a house that's been closed up and its possessions shrouded with sheets. I have yet to master taking pictures while controlling a puppy, so I turn to another photographer...Here are some images taken from the Web site Monumental City.

Stairs to nowhere.

Some kind of a well?

A fence surrounds one of the ponds

The "Forgotten Fountain"

Monday, July 26, 2010

Street Art

Paused to snap some shots of Gaia's street art along Franklin Street in Baltimore. He put work onto one of my favorite facades, The White Coffee Pot. (Photos taken with my phone, so excuse the quality.)

Also on the White Coffee Pot Building, this beautiful silhouette. Don't know who did it:

On the corner of Park and Franklin, another Gaia piece:

Around the corner on Park, remnants of Baltimore's former Chinatown district.

And these images I snapped because I liked them.

Metal rods cover a broken window.

What a gorgeous wall, framed at the top by dripping paint.

For more images of Gaia's work, click here for his Web site and here for his Flickr site.

And on the graffiti front, a new work appeared a few months back under the 83 near my home. This is on the corner of Clipper Mill and Falls Roads in Hampden.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Baltimore Design Convo Comes to Artscape

(Click on image for a larger version.)

This Saturday D:Center Baltimore brings the latest installment of the Baltimore Design Conversation to Artscape.

Please join us for Design Conversation 21: FESTIVALS

Saturday July 17th 2010
Charles Street Garage (across from the Charles Theatre) - 1714 N Charles Street
7:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Beer and wine will be available for sale.

Design Conversation 21 will feature Karin Bacon. Bacon began her career as Festival Director for the City of New York, where she originated citywide celebrations such as the New Year’s Eve fireworks in Central Park and July 4th in Lower Manhattan. She went on to produce celebrations, parties, and promotions for audiences as diverse kids at the Bronx Zoo and celebrities at Studio 54. Since forming her own company in 1981, Bacon has created a broad range of events for clients from the worlds of fashion, architecture, finance, media, retail, entertainment, and real estate, known for their theatricality, imagination, and high production values.

Design Conversations are open to the public and are loosely curated by volunteers around a series of topics related to design, art, architecture, and cities. They are made possible by the support of the Baltimore Community Foundation and D:center Baltimore.

Questions? ben.stone@gmail.com | www.dcenterbaltimore.com

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Great Humanitarian Design Debate


It's getting heated on the Fast Company Design Blog. Writer Bruce Nussbaum wrote a piece on July 7th that asked: Is Humanitarian Design the New Imperialism?

His answer: Yes. Nussbaum called out organizations like Project H Design and One Laptop Per Child for being pie-eyed, misdirected, and crass to the needs of local populations. He compares this new direction in design to the Peace Corps:
"Are designers helping the 'Little Brown Brothers?' Are designers the new anthropologists or missionaries, come to poke into village life, 'understand; it and make it better—their 'modern' way?"
Emily Pilloton (who I interviewed on this site) is founder of Project H Design and she took exception to the piece, particularly the part where Nussbaum criticizes American-based humanitarian designers for going abroad when so many issues face them at home. Ironic in light of Pilloton's latest move. Read her response here.

And if this topic interests you, check out the blog post I wrote this spring for Metropolis about the humanitarian design debate.


Nussbaum RESPONDS to Pilloton.

Susan Szenasy of Metropolis JOINS the debate.

And Change Observer follows the many posts the resulted from Nussbaum's original inquiry.

Is it Soup Yet?

A postcard of Paris's Les Halles, circa 1920.

That's the question one of my editors asked when I was running late with an assignment. The implication: have all the research components for your article come together finally and transformed into an actual story? (The underlying implication: hurry the f*&k up).

Lately, I've been thinking about this magic moment of transmogrification when it comes to cities. When do the disparate ingredients of planning coalesce into something altogether different and whole? In a biography on James Beard, writer Robert Clark describes why Les Halles, that famous Parisian market, was so popular in the 1920's:
"Part of the wonder of Les Halles was the sense that it was less a collection of vendors than a full-blown organism whose life came not from any conscious effort but through the transcendent totality of its constituents."

Urban planning is a very conscious effort at changing place. Planners often apply ideas like recipes. Put a mixed-use development here, a highrise there, a new zoning overlay across the river; try to recreate the hub of New York city or the civic order of Portland. Like cooks, they can adhere to their favorite chef. Some cook from the book of Jane Jacobs, some from the book of Robert Moses, some from Andres Duany, others from Le Corbusier. etc. etc.

But what turns those urban planning ingredients into—as Clark so aptly describes it—a transcendent totality? In the case of Les Halles, it was the "constituents." The people. Les Halles symbolized the vibrancy of French culinary culture and it was imbued with the passion of the vendors sharing their livelihood and the customers who believed in those products. The people engaged in marketing at Les Halles believed in its value and as a result it became vital.

Interestingly, a similar public market in Portland, Oregon in the 1900's failed to achieve such success. Beard grew up in Portland and Clark describes how a thriving farmers' market was relocated into a civic structure at the prodding of political power brokers. The new market never achieved the same vibrancy as the original and it closed leaving Portland without a public market. They built it; the public did not come. The "constituents," many of whom were not aware of the political machinations that led to the market's move into a new building, sensed the place was off nonetheless and simply stopped going there. The most important consideration in the planning process—the end user—was not considered and the project failed.

That said, even some of the best intentioned plans can fall flat. It's hard to predict human behavior, to understand why a street with all the right ingredients comes alive with the "messy vitality" of urban life (a la Lewis Mumford) or does not. Some recipes sing, others are inedible. Why? I don't profess an answer. Any thoughts?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

New on the Web

Yolande Daniels’s Tea Cozy on the grounds of the Evergreen Museum. Photo: Will Kirk

wo posts of mine went live on other sites yesterday.

First, there is my monthly Letter from Baltimore blog column on the Metropolis Web site. I write about an exceptional sculpture exhibition at Evergreen Museum & Library that invites architects to make site specific work. Read more here.

Herfra til Evigheden, translated as From Here to Eternity, is a Danish housing collective

The second is my first article for editor Julie Lasky at Change Observer. Titled "New Visions of Home," it is a continuation of my research into thoughtful, universal design for residential housing around the world, particularly as it relates to our needs as we age. Read more here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


The casting call poster for Downfall.

Oh boy. And we thought the bad real estate news couldn't get any worse. ABC has taken it to a whole new level.

Tonight the network premiers its newest primetime game show: Downfall. Contestants compete on the roof of a 10-story building in downtown Los Angeles for up to $1 million in prizes. If they fail, those prizes are tossed from the roof to smash below:

"Fabricated facsimiles of all prizes will be placed on the largest conveyor belt ever seen on TV with a pile of cash at the end ranging from $5,000 to $1 million. In each round, players will try to answer all the questions before their prizes and cash go over the edge, off the roof, and sent crashing 100 feet to the street below."

Executive producer Scott St. John told The Hollywood Reporter: "Downfall is a new, hybrid, high-stakes field game show where fearless contestants have to fight and focus hard to keep their winnings from falling off the side of a building."

"Winnings" include people. Like your wife, who could also go over the side in a "controlled fall."

This works because stuff and people are expendable, right?

Considering our economy has taken the proverbial fall off the cliff—owing in large part to the uninformed, unregulated financial risks taken with our real estate—it seems perverse to air a show on a skyscraper that is centered around unmitigated greed and destruction. How about a game show where contestants save shit from the landfill instead?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Rise and Fall (and Rebirth) of an Architecture Firm

My latest feature, out this month in Architect, is about CSD in Baltimore. The firm closed last fall after 62 years. The question the article hopes to answer: How could one of Baltimore's oldest and largest architecture firms suddenly collapse?

Ed Hord remembers Sunday, Sept. 6, 2009, as a particularly sunny day in Baltimore. The senior principal of design firm Hord Coplan Macht (HCM) was at home when he received a phone call from Tom Spies, then the senior vice president of CSD Architects. Hord and Spies were practically neighbors—in business and in life—with offices blocks from one another and homes in the same bucolic neighborhood north of the city. HCM and CSD were not exactly competitors, but they did share a healthy rivalry; over the years, Hord and Spies had developed a kinship in the small pond that is Baltimore architecture. When Spies said he needed to talk, Hord told him to come right over.

They sat outside under a Japanese Snowbell tree as Spies unloaded his news. CSD, he explained, was in deep trouble. Hord, like most of his peers, had had no idea just how bad things were at the 62-year-old firm, one of the largest in the region. He’d had an inkling that business was down. There were significant rounds of layoffs over the previous months—all cataloged in the Baltimore Business Journal—but who hadn’t had to jettison staff to survive the downturn? HCM itself had needed to lay off good people. Then there were the rumors about revenues. “We had heard that their ratios died, but we had heard that about a lot of firms,” Hord recalls.

The rumors turned out to be true. CSD’s cash flow had atrophied, leaving a seriously unbalanced ledger sheet. Revenue projections for 2009 were anemic—just $7 million, down from $15 million the year before—while fixed overhead remained high. The company was, to quote CSD president David Dillard, about to “hear the sound of metal on metal.” That could mean only one of three things: bankruptcy, a merger or acquisition, or something else altogether.

It was this third option that Spies wanted to discuss with Hord. READ MORE HERE.

Conflict Kitchen

A new restaurant in Pittsburgh will only serve food from regions of the world that are on the outs with the U.S. The first iteration of Conflict Kitchen is Iranian, with a facade designed by Pablo Garcia and graphics created by Brett Yasko (including the wrappers, pictured below).

The menu is Kubideh:

The facade, graphics, and menu will evolve with each country. Next up: Afghanistan.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Finding Language

I am reading a new book by Robert Richardson called First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process. Richardson culled Emerson's lectures and journals to glean his thoughts on the writing life. Emerson never wrote a specific piece about writing, but his private journals offer a thoughtful commentary.

Emerson felt strongly about word choice, believing it to be the writer's job to tether new words together in order to explain life. He bemoaned lazy language and the mindless repetition of fashionable phrases (think today of overused words like "green" "eco" "innovative"). True writers, he said, "pierce this rotten diction and fasten words again to visible things."

It was this passionate search for the right language that helped Emerson coin so many popular phrases. "Hitch your wagon to a star," for example. The origin was architectural, used to describe the moon-powered tide mills that were grinding meal near his home. The phrase is abstract, but accurate, and it requires the reader to draw his own conclusions.

"In good writing every word means something. In good writing words become one with things."

Emerson's home near Concord, Mass.

The same can be said for architectural language, which is expressed in form rather than words. The vocabulary of a building is constructed, decision by decision, much the way an essay grows, first in words, then in sentences, then in paragraphs. Each builds off the other to generate the whole. If one word is out of place, if the author takes liberties and wishes to hear himself expound rather than write to the truth, the work fails. How many times has a building read as "wrong?" Something about its composition just isn't legible. And then you see the fissures. The authorial hubris that demanded that fenestration; the meek mirroring of another great work; the appropriation of tradition now out of context.

It is this last item that particularly vexed Emerson. He points to religion as an example of lazy language that leans too much on the past.

"If I were called upon to charge a minister, I would say beware of Tradition: Tradition which embarrasses life and falsifies teaching. The sermons that I hear are all dead of that ail. The preacher is betrayed by his ear. He begins to inveigh against some real evils and falls unconsciously into formulas of speech which have been said and sung in the church some ages and have lost all life. They never had any but when freshly and with special conviction applied. But you must never lose sight of the purpose of helping a particular person in every word you say."

Emerson is also very generous. He believed in the contemporary writer's capacity to create prose "freshly and with special conviction" and reminded young writers that the masters they so admire were once like them:
"Meek young men grow up in libraries believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote those books."
Believe in your ideas, he tells us. Give them grounding and wed them to the appropriate language. Young architects today could learn a lot from Emerson.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tomorrow Night! Design Convo

Jonathon Borofsky's Male/Female outside Penn Station.

Design Conversation #20: Public Art (part 2) happens this Wednesday evening at the Windup Space.

Panelists include:

Angela Adams, Public Art Administrator, Arlington Cultural Affairs

Cathy Byrd, Executive Director, Maryland Art Place

Jann Rosen-Queralt, Baltimore City Public Art Commission

Wednesday June 2nd 2010
The Windup Space - 12 W North Ave @ Charles Street
6:30 pm - 9:00 pm

Design Conversations are monthly events held the first Wednesday of every month at the Windup Space (12 W. North Ave.) at 6:30 pm. These events are open to the public and are loosely curated by volunteers around a series of topics related to design, art, architecture, cities, and anything else that is on your mind. Cash bar and A/V hookup available.

Design Conversations are made possible by the generous support of Baltimore Community Foundation and D:center Baltimore.

This one is being curated by Ben Stone. Questions? ben.stone@gmail.com | www.dcenterbaltimore.com

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Baltimore Street Art

St. John (2010). By Gaia.

My latest "Letter from Baltimore" post for the Metropolis Web site profiles street artist, Gaia.

Baltimore, like most urban environments, is lousy with graffiti. The culture of tagging is well established here. Street art, though, is just starting to take off. In the last few years, wheat-pasted posters and hand-painted imagery have been popping up on abandoned buildings, sidewalks, and light poles. These works of art—and these are art—evoke the likes of Banksy and Swoon, with subject matter that arrests us in our daily travels and reminds us to again see and question the city we occupy. READ MORE HERE.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Material Girl

Felt Bag designed for the ICFF booth

Congratulations to Inna Alesina, industrial designer and teacher at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and her students for taking the editor's pick at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair this weekend. Inna and her students were selected as one of just four colleges and universities to have a booth at ICFF and of those four, they were selected as the favorite. This year's ICFF Editors Awards Committee was quite distinguished: Arlene Hirst, Anniina Koivu of Abitare, Jessica Johnson of Azure, Stefano Casciani of Domus, Sam Grawe of Dwell, Gilda Bojardi of Interni, Chantal Hamaide of Intramuros, Susan S. Szenasy of Metropolis, Benjamin Kempton of Wallpaper*.

Alesina, who is the co-author with Ellen Lupton of the new book Exploring Materials: Creative Design for Everyday Objects, worked with students to make basic materials from scratch. It was a low-tech approach to understanding the true nature of material. For the bag pictured above, student Sunny Chong made her own felt. Here's how she explains the process:

The felting process requires pressure, water, and friction to transform wool fibers into a compact nonwoven textile. According to the legend of Saint Clement and Saint Christopher, the men packed their sandals with wool to prevent blisters. At the end of their journey, the movement and sweat had turned the wool into felt socks. We packed wool with water and soap in large zipped bags and attached it to the car seat. After several days of driving while sitting on this bag, the wool got felted. This process can create any flat object. We chose to show a bag as an example. This project is about journey-made objects: the two saints travelled by foot, we travel while sitting on our butts. The result can be very similar.
Click here to read what writer Michael Silverberg of Metropolis had to say about the exhibition.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

As You Like It

On a bulletin board in my office I've tacked a postcard given to me by a good friend several years ago. Blue and black block print on heavy card stock, it was produced near Stratford-on-Avon in England where my friend sometimes travels. The front includes a quote from Shakespeare's As You Like It.

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

It is Shakespeare at his pastoral best. Safe from the perils of urban life, those in exile find redemption in the natural. "Here, the corruptions of life at court are left behind in order to learn the simple and valuable lessons of the country," explains one literary guide to the work.

Escape to the woods for enlightenment. Retreat to the country.

I am reading a new memoir from a talented writer and she describes leaving New York post 9/11 and heading for the hills, so to speak. A simpler life away from the city. A place to slow down and mine the inner world.

I live in one of a cluster of modest stone homes built in the 1840s to house workers for the then-thriving mills of Baltimore. Back then the nearby Jones Falls River rushed from its source in the mountains of western Maryland, down through the plains and over the geologic break called the fall line, creating rapids before ultimately emptying into the Patapsco River. A few industrious men created a mill district along the banks, capturing the mighty flood to drive the equipment inside their factories. They fabricated cotton sailcloth for the famous Baltimore Clippers, the speedy and nimble ships that outwitted the British during the War of 1812. My street is named for the mill race, the canal created to divert the water to the mill wheel.

Now the Jones Falls is a polluted trickle, damned and rerouted, covered in places. A red sign on its shoreline reads "Danger. Polluted Water. Keep Out."

Today I took a walk to watch the water. There is a platform, built by a developer a few years back, that allows you to sit perched at the water's edge, hovering over a horseshoe-shaped waterfall. The manmade grabs my attention first. The graffiti on the benches, the plastic bottles bucking about in the water's froth, a mylar balloon—long deflated—caught in the branches of a tree.

Then I hear the birdsong. And see a flash of red. A cardinal. Upstream, a male and a female duck move with the current, floating side by side like an old married couple taking a stroll. Across the falls, a gray bird suddenly distinguishes himself from the concrete retaining wall behind him. His head is white and black, and he looks like a small heron of some sort. The bird is rapt, staring at the water. He looks like he might be stalking something and then, suddenly—was it five minutes, was it 15?—he takes off in flight and follows the river downstream.

The yin and the yang of rural and urban. Nature spoiled by man. This is no pristine wood, this is no pastoral sanctuary. The public haunts of man are everywhere; the corruptions that Shakespeare illuminated are palpable. There is something valuable, though, in not retreating from that. I could seek my Walden, but for now I stay rooted here intent on learning the lessons to be found by not running from the city.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Design Convo #19: Streets/Art Part I

Click on image to see a larger version.

Next week is the return of the Baltimore Design Conversation, held every month on the first Wednesday at the Wind Up Space. This go round is being curated by Fred Scharmen and the topic is Streets/Art. Fred has invited guests to look at aspects of public art that occur outside and between the institutions that have traditionally supported art in communities. On hand will be sculptor and performance artist Jonathan Taube; activist, artist, and facilitator Paulo Harris; and street artist, sculptor, and painter Andrew Pisacane.

This will be the first in a two-part look at how public art impacts cities. The second part of this conversation will take place at June's Baltimore Design Convo to be curated by Ben Stone.

At the event, Paulo Harris will unveil his design for the Nurture Form Community Bench:

Below is an image of Jonathan Taube's Over There, installed on a median in Baltimore in 2009. It's fabricated from steel, Stucco, and faux finish banana peels. Here's what Taube has to say about it: "This plop sculpture consists of a replica of a 'blast wall,' a modular concrete barrier that is commonly used in contemporary military conflicts to protect against bombings. Able to withstand the force of an explosion, this section is mass-produced, easily transported, and quickly assembled into a wall. However, a massive pile of banana peels attempts to topple the wall."

See you next week!

Design Convo :19
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
12 W. North Avenue
6:30 - 8:30 pm

As always, this event is free and open to the public. Special thanks to the Baltimore Community Foundation for its support of these conversations and to The Wind Up Space for being our gracious host.

For those of you not yet familiar with the Design Conversation or D:center Baltimore:

D:center Baltimore is a new organization composed of a broad cross-section of disciplines and individuals invested in improving and encouraging design—in all its iterations—in the Baltimore region.

Each month the group hosts a Design Conversation at the Wind Up Space in Station North. The event is a casual gathering that is free and open to the public. It is supported by the Baltimore Community Foundation as well as the hard work of a core of dedicated volunteers. Each Design Conversation is curated by an individual or a team of people and is organized around a theme related to design, architecture, community building, urban planning, and city life. (For a list of upcoming themes visit the D:Center Baltimore blog)

Local and national participants are invited to address the evening’s theme in order to stimulate a dialogue among audience members. Since it launched in 2008, the Design Conversation has spurred creative projects across the city through a number of collaborations born at the event. It has also stimulated a recognition of shared interests and existing projects around the city and the country.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What is Natural?

Image from Azure's May issue on food and design.

On Earth Day last week I got a press release about a hotel in Baltimore planting a rooftop garden for its restaurant. The release extolled the value of food coming just feet from the kitchen (There is this competition, isn't there, to see how close we can get to a food source? How about inches? A garden cultivated in the diners' very table so he may pick and toss a salad at will.) Up the street from my home, a group of young adults adopted a vacant lot from the city and cleared it for a community garden. In the mail, my copy of Azure magazine arrived with a cover heralding The Urban Farm (and featuring an exceptionally well-heeled, chicken-wielding couple who look ready for brunch in Park Slope more than a day in the fields.)

Why has urban farming so captured the imagination of the American city?

Part of it is social. There is the benefit of putting hands in soil, turning an unused plot into a food-producing garden, and living in such close proximity to food.

Part of it, I believe, is our understanding of and belief in nature. The urban farm is reintroducing a natural state back into the unnatural, manmade chaos of the city. Or so we think. Americans have long held conflicting views of the city and the rural, believing the latter to be the more pure state. My father, William Evitts, explains this much better than I ever could in an essay published in Urbanite magazine titled "Reclaiming America's Stepchild."

Illustration by Cornel Rubino for Urbanite.

But what is "nature?"

William Cronon is an American historian specializing in environmental history and in the book Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, he challenges our notions of the natural. Cronon contends that humans have prescribed a rather narrow definition to what is natural and what is not. Simply put, he says that "nature" is largely a human idea. "Far from inhabiting a realm that stands completely apart from humanity, the objects and creatures and landscapes we label as 'natural' are in fact deeply entangled with the words and images and ideas we use to describe them."

When traveling inside the deep rainforests of the Amazon, or to places seemingly uncontaminated by man, "we cannot help experiencing them not just as natural environments but as cultural icons[...]we turn them into human symbols, using them as repositories for value and meaning[...]."

Man is seen as the contaminator—he creates things like chainlink fence and nuclear power plants. He can save himself, we believe, by becoming more natural. More farms, less ugly fencing. But remember that man is also organic. Man IS nature. So how is the chainlink fence any different from, say, an anthill? Both are structures created by living organisms meant to parcel space.

An actual anthill and a home design based on anthill form.

There is the truth of nature—the way its matter functions, the laws of biology and physics—and then there are the ideas we ascribe to it. We will defend the pristine landscape against development, but will fight like hell to eradicated the infectious disease. "It is in some sense 'natural' that very large numbers of human beings should die from epidemic disease each year, and yet this does not prevent the vast majority of people—to say nothing of the entire infrastructure of modern medicine—from trying to resist that fate," Cronon writes.

And what of farming? Manipulating the earth to realize crops is not "natural" in the purest human definition. Farming is a human invention.

In truth, nature is not this pristine, undisturbed state that exists in perfect balance save the meddling interference of man. Nature is both the truth of pure matter and how it functions and the ideas man brings to it. Again from Cronon:

"Yosemite is a real place in nature—but its venerated state as a sacred landscape and national symbol is very much a human invention. The objects one can buy in stores like The Nature Company certainly exist in nature—but that does not begin to explain how they came to inhabit some of the most upscale malls in modern America. The bomb that exploded over Hiroshima could hardly have been more material, expressing as it did some of the most fundamental laws of matter—and yet it also could not possibly have existed without the human ideas that describe those laws and applied them to this very particular piece of technology, to say nothing of the use to which that technology was put."

Like the bomb, we can manipulate matter and ignore its consequences (global warming). We can proselytize the pristine at the expense of finding true solutions to the state of the natural world today (dogmatic preservation and environmentalism). Or we can decide to question our concepts of nature and work towards a better, more clear-eyed future based on both human reason and natural process.

Friday, April 23, 2010

PARA-Project's Attic

Somehow I missed the profile on this rehab by PARA-Project when it first appeared in Metropolis magazine in February. A 450-square-foot attic transformed. An incredible use of natural light. The divider wall pictured below? Made from recycled cardboard tubes. And I love the bookend of the open window on one side and the bookshelf on the other.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Energy Systems

Above: Energy Roof design by Coop Himmelb(l)au

I've written here and elsewhere about a project called The Plant, where a group of us envisioned a building that could plug into an urban city system and repair both broken social fabric and infrastructure. The idea is to see how a building can help create energy systems for entire blocks and neighbors can feed off of/ fuel one another.

This is why the Energy Roof caught my eye.

"Energy Roof" is a design concept developed by Wolf D. Prix of Coop Himmelb(l)au. He presented this design over the winter to a group in Perugia, Italy. The idea is that the roof would serve as canopy along Via Mazzini in the center of Perugia while also creating the entry point to the archaeological underground passage that leads you through the history of the city. The structure would also produce energy:

COOP HIMMELB(L)AU developed the design of the roof with the goal to generate energy for the city. While the orientation of the west wing is optimized in relation to solar radiation, the east wing captures wind. The roof consists of three layers: the energy generating top layer, the structural layer in the middle and a layer on the bottom as a combination of laminated glazing and translucent pneumatic cushions. The top layer includes transparent photovoltaic cells to generate electricity and shade the sun. The orientation of the individual cells is generated and optimized by a computer driven scripting program. Furthermore five wind turbines that are placed inside the structural layer are generating additional energy. Both the roof and the underground passage are energy self-sufficient.

This is the way of energy efficiency in urban planning. Imagine going beyond mere buildings and creating mini ecosystems and micro-infrastructure for entire streets, blocks, and communities.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Screen shot of the homepage with an image from Brooklyn taken by Yalda Nikoomanesh.

The new Web site is live. Still working out some kinks and still uploading content. I'm also figuring out if/how this blog will incorporate into the new site. But here it is: eedickinson.net.

The image on the homepage rotates each time you click on it. Some very talented photographers—Yalda Nikoomanesh, Seth Sawyers, Fred Scharmen, Leslie Furlong, to name a few—have been gracious enough to let me use their images. I'm loading more every day...

And why Dot Net? Cause I let my domain names lapse for 3 days and someone in Japan snagged my Dot Com. Not nice.

Saved by droog

The first half of every year brings the onslaught of furniture and interiors shows, from January's interior shows in Cologne and Paris, to April's Milan Design Week and next month's International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York. My favorite thing to emerge so far is the project Saved by droog, which premiered in Milan last week. Every month some 500 companies in the Netherlands go bankrupt, prompting Dutch design collective droog to wonder: where does their stuff go?

So they started amassing stuff at auctions and liquidation sales—everything from furniture to handkerchiefs—and they acquired over 5,000 objects. Then they invited 14 artists to reconsider these items and create new objects.

Below is the Daily Handkershief by Studio Makkink & Bey

900 plain handkerchiefs are ready to be embroidered with selected articles from 30 days of news from around the world. You pick the news you want.

A simple folding chair...

...was transformed by designer Marian Bantjes. They were "manicured" by nail artists using polish.

The guiding manifesto behind Saved by droog:

we need a new design integrity.

we redirect creative energy.

we redefine the lifecycle.

we create ongoing value.

we start with what's easily available.

we want sensible innovation.

we redesign until we find an owner.

we care about where it goes.

we invite everybody to participate.

we celebrate the new owners.

we enable you to share.