Brutalism Balls

Image credit: Louise Samuelsen

Are you the type of person to stop and ogle a mid-century structure or admire the stark brutalism of a concrete wall? If you also have a sweet tooth, these Danish sweets might be just the thing for you.

Danish born designer and goldsmith Kia Utzon-Frank is not a baker by trade, but she began making  flødeboller because she could not find the treat in the UK. As an artist, she couldn’t help but elevate them. The meringue and almond paste balls are covered in cocoa, and decorated with ingredients including charcoal, black sesame and cocoa butter to mimic the texture of concrete, granite or marble. She now runs a Kufcakes Geometric Flødeboller Masterclass at the London-based art center Barbican, and will be hosting a brutalist-edition on March 3rd, 2018.

Source: Mashable and KUF Studios.

Vacant Lots to Garden Plots: Restoring Urban Biodiversity

Many homes in Baltimore are being demolished due to high vacancy rates. Ecologist Chris Swann uses the empty lots to plant wildflowers. Photo Credit: Patrick Semansky, Associated Press.

As urbanism pervades the world, open spaces and the biodiversity they provide are beginning to dwindle. Curtailing sprawl is often touted as an answer to protecting biodiversity outside the city, but Chris Swann wants to also protect the biodiversity within the existing urban context.

Swann—an ecologist and professor from the University of Maryland—studies what plant species work best for ecosystems in urban spaces and, in a recent experiment, he sprinkled wildflower seeds across vacant lots. He is specifically looking for plants that can survive in the soil of recently demolished homes in Baltimore, where vacancies are on the rise. Though the lots are only “temporary prairies” because they will likely be redeveloped soon, Swann hopes the boost in plant life will reduce runoff and attract other organisms. Swann’s project is uniquely scientific; not many have studied what works to restore balance to a city’s ecosystem. Other cities have begun utilizing small plots of land for gardens or mini parks, despite the lack of research surrounding what they should be planting.

Yet, all green spaces are not created equal. Providing more green space in an urban landscape can not only pose an ecological challenge but also economic and equity challenges. Property values increase near parks and open spaces, oftentimes inducing a development surge that brings a risk of gentrification. Laying the groundwork for a fully furnished park is a costly endeavor for the city; the City of Minneapolis cited the cost of a park as $481,333. In contrast, one of the cheapest types of wildflower seeds costs just $231 per acre.

Swann’s experiment to seed wildflowers in vacant lots will not only help answer the question, “what do we plant” but also “can we afford it?” If wildflowers grow well in infertile soil, they could become a means for urban biodiversity that is more economical and thus, more equitable. Creating prairies in vacant lots could prove a small step towards creating a better habitat for all creatures residing in urban contexts.

Sources: CityLab, City of Minneapolis, Holland Wildflower Farm, University of California at Berkeley

A Film Camera for the 21st Century

Image Credit: Reflex

Analog photography is getting a revamp. The first Single Lens Reflex (SLR) film camera designed since the 1990s was successfully backed on Kickstarter at the end of 2017. The project, simply titled Reflex, is on track to be available for sale in August 2018.

In many ways this camera takes everything back to the very basics: it requires one to manually focus the lens and advance the film. However, a few key features make this film camera a massive leap forward compared to the Pentax K1000 bodies still found on eBay. The Reflex team was determined to create as flexible and modular a tool as possible.

First, the interchangeable “I Plate” lens mount allows photographers to use lenses they already own from brands like Pentax, Minolta, Canon and Olympus. An interchangeable film back means changing from color to black and white film is easy, or from a fast film to a slow one. Bluetooth connectivity, while it might seem gratuitous on an analog camera, will allow photographers to quickly take notes on their shots as they compose them, and log their settings for future reference. Finally, Reflex is determined to allow open source development for their camera using 3D printing so individuals can create their own accessories.

While the price point will likely be comparable to an entry level Digital SLR, revived interests in almost-obsolete mediums like vinyl LPs have shown that people are willing to invest in keeping older formats alive. With the flexibility and the promise of open source development that Reflex offers, it’s hard to imagine they won’t have some enthusiastic adopters.

Source: Reflex Kickstarter and The Guardian.

Space Graffiti

The fluid and much discussed space between vandalism and art has now entered Earth’s orbit in the form of a large mirrored ball. Rocket Lab, a New Zealand company determined to “…remove barriers to commercial space,” launched what is essentially a massive disco ball into orbit on January 21st, 2018. Humanity Star, composed of carbon fiber and reflective panels, will orbit Earth every 90 minutes for 9 months until it enters Earth’s atmosphere and is destroyed. Until then, it can be tracked online via Rocket Lab’s website, and will be the brightest, flashiest object in the night sky. 

However, like many artists and visionaries seeking to make their mark, Peter Beck and Rocket Lab didn’t seek permission before launching Rocket Lab. Astronomers have voiced concerns, as the bright object in orbit could interfere with research they are completing on actual stars. Those researchers see the satellite as nothing more than space graffiti. Others see Beck’s satellite as another encroachment on public space, the night sky being one of the few landscapes available to almost anyone, anywhere.

That universality was exactly the goal of the minds behind the Humanity Star. They simply hope Earthlings take a moment to look up and consider the space around them and their responsibility to Earth and its people.

Source: Rocket Lab and Dezeen.

Building Inter-generational Communities: The Tiny House for Older Adults

Keeping up with the needs of a large home can be difficult for seniors. In fact, providing smaller, more manageable spaces for older adults could be the difference between entering a care facility or maintaining independence. Bill Thomas, a renowned geriatrician, created a tiny home for older adults that he says prolongs independence and counters ageism.

The first Minka-style tiny home for older adults stands on the University of Southern Indiana’s campus in Evansville, IN, where 67 percent of the population are under 50 years old. Although the house was built for older people, the structure appears very modern. The modular design provides residents with both affordability and accessibility; because of the compact and interchangeable parts, the home can adapt to people with different needs or disabilities. The home costs just $75,000 to build.

No one lives in the first tiny home currently; it serves as a prototype. Thomas hopes that the homes inspired by the prototype will one day will serve to keep elders integrated in society, instead of segregating them in nursing homes. It’s no secret that Baby Boomers and Millennials have wildly different worldviews, and both can be quick to blame the other for social problems. In a time of increasing political polarization, mixing of different generations may be exactly what our cities need; a tiny home village for older adults on a college campus could be a great start to humanizing the people often seen as the other’s enemy.

Sources: American Fact Finder, NPR, Changing Aging, Minka

The Olympic Challenge

Image credit: Pawel Kopczynski

Countries worldwide vie for the honor of hosting the Olympic games, seeking the international spectacle and the economic incentives. This year’s host, South Korea, has invested heavily in upgrading their transportation network and resort architecture in Pyeongchang. With the opening ceremony taking place on February 9, 2018, the conversation now turns to how the province will utilize the new infrastructure moving forward.

Even in densely populated former Olympic cities like Atlanta and London, deciding how to deal with multiple large venues following the close of the games is a challenge. These structures require constant maintenance, and if left unused are quick to deteriorate. The Olympic Complex in Athens—constructed for the 2004 Summer Olympics—is now best known for being essentially a ghost town. Pyeongchang province has a population of only about 45,000 people and bases its economy heavily on tourism. As of now, the arenas for speed skating, hockey and curling lack a specific use after the Olympics and Paralympics conclude. As for the 35,000 seat pentagonal arena that houses the Olympic torch, the plan is to demolish it after the closing ceremony after having been used a total of four times.

Source: Quartz and Reuters.

Nihon Noir: The Metabolism Movement in Photos

Image Credit: Tom Blachford

Photographer Tom Blachford’s series ‘Nihon Noir’ calls to mind futurism, science-fiction, film noir and yes, the 1982 cult classic film Blade Runner. Blachford was inspired by the Metabolism movement era architecture in Japan, and his images showcase its unique intersection of architecture and infrastructure.

Metabolism was a post-war movement brought to the international stage during the 1960 Tokyo World Design Conference. The designers behind the movement organized their vision into a manifesto entitled Metabolism: The Proposals for New Urbanism, which described a design ethos focused on meshing mega-structures with organic shapes. The most prolific member of the movement, Kenzo Tange, worked as a designer, architect, and urban planner until his death in 2005.

The images Blachford created were designed to showcase a neon futurism, and the buildings he featured were chosen because they combined brutalism and the principles of organic growth—the essence of this post war architectural movement.  “Though these buildings are from the past,” he said, “they appear as if they have appeared from the distant future.  My intention is for the viewer to ask not ‘where’ they were taken but ‘when.”

Source: Dezeen

Cityscapes by Drone

Photo Credit: Jeryl Teo

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)—popularly referred to as drones—stand poised to revolutionize many industries, offering surveyors, historians, geographers and other researchers an opportunity to see above and inside structures and places that were previously too difficult or hazardous to access. UAV videography was used extensively in assessing the infrastructure and architectural damage after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Photography, a field already known for exploring in dark corners and far reaches, is now using high-quality drone cameras to document amazing cityscapes from above.

While aerial photography is not new (the first aerial photograph was taken from a balloon in 1858) drones are making it more accessible than ever. As more and more pilot photographers are taking to the skies, the interest in the images they have created on platforms like Instagram has skyrocketed. Architect and author Eric Reinholdt believes drones will only become more important in architectural photography, especially as video is used to tell the story of a building or site. Drone footage could also be used to evaluate sight lines and topography.

Even as they grow in popularity, more restrictions and regulations are being drafted to limit their use. Drones are banned in all National Parks, and their use by professional photographers can be considered commercial use and may require registration with the FAA.

Source: The Guardian and ArchDaily

If Ebenezer Howard Had an Apartment Today

Image Credit: Carina Romano

Ebenezer Howard, the urban planner known for Garden City Movement, desired for city-dwellers to leave the slums of the inner-urban area and experience the clean air of a rural space. His ideals were focused on improving city-life, but his philosophy has arguably impacted the interior design strategies of today, as evidenced by Liz Sparacio’s loft apartment.

Natural light radiates from the windows in Liz’s living room, illuminating the tall ceilings and rustic brick walls of what was once a textile factory in Philadelphia. While the large windows and the brilliant view of the Philly skyline harken to the outside, it is Liz’s aesthetic choices that evoke the natural world and its potential for human engagement. Her loft includes not only dozens of plants, but art and spatial design echoing the activities that take place outside—namely, hanging one’s legs off of a wooden tree swing. Just as Howard advocated for activity centers in cities, Liz has intentionally created mini “activity centers” in her home.

In Garden Cities of To-morrow, Howard writes, “human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be enjoyed together.” If he were here today, perhaps he would beckon the beauty of nature into our homes instead of beckoning the people out. Perhaps a houseplant (or two) or a space with natural light pays homage to the man who desired an integration of landscape and human interaction.

Sources: Garden Cities of To-morrow, Apartment Therapy

Japan’s Reusable Housing Revolution

 

Photo Credit: Nate Berg

Japan’s population is aging, and is expected to reduce dramatically in the next 50 years as younger generations have fewer children. The population is also concentrating itself more than ever in urban areas, leaving many smaller communities with a growing vacancy problem. The tradition of replacing homes with new construction every thirty to forty years is only amplifying the growing problem.

Companies like Sekisui House and Daiwa House have succeeded in a market that demanded prefabricated housing on a near constant basis. Now, they must learn to adapt and are for the first time beginning to offer renovated or “refurbished” homes. New companies are also entering the market, specializing in the modernization of existing structures. Younger people are looking for simple, affordable homes close to work and family.

Younger families, who may not have the money to purchase a new prefabricated house, are becoming more and more likely to select a refurbished home instead. A 39 year old father of two noted that “the renovated home located close to my parents’ home has much higher value than a newly built home that is far away.” This is a clear reversal from the Japanese attitude towards housing that saw homes completely losing their value within thirty years.

As the population of Japan continues to decline and shift to urban centers, communities are going to have to get creative about reusing structures. One looming challenge will be in addressing failing structures, considering how many prefabricated buildings were never intended to live longer than 40 years.

Source: The Guardian

Colorful Vault Ceilings

Photo Credit: Deyemi Akande

Gothic cathedrals are generally discussed in the context of structure, yet the Gothic cathedrals of Britain are equally spectacular in ornamentation. The cathedrals’ vaulted ceilings were often decorated with religions iconography and heraldry. The ornamentation in St Albans Cathedral was refurbished in 1951-52 by Jane Lenton, replicating a 15th century shield. The red and white roses are associated with the Houses of Lancaster and York. Heraldry is prominent in Gothic churches, found on stained-glass windows, floor tiles, doors, and vaulted ceilings. The presence of theses shield often tells a story of patronage.

Source: Society of Architectural Historians

Approval for David Adjaye’s Library and Events Complex

Image Credit: Dezeen

David Adjaye has won approval to design a “micro village” in Florida’s Winter Park. The Winter Park Public Library and Events Center is replacing an existing civic center with David Adjaye’s cultural building on a new site near Martin Luther King Jr Park. The center includes three pavilions with vaulted red walls. The library building will have circular skylights to bring daylight into the reading areas. The buildings—raised on a platform—will help shape communal outdoor space.

Source: Dezeen