SticKs: A Kindergarten in the Park

Appropriately titled “SticKs”, this modern wooden modular structure is French architectural design firm Djuric Tardio’s vision of a miniature kindergarten. Shaped like a modern rendition of the tipi, the designs are meant to be installed in parks throughout the Parisian metropolis. “Why build kindergartens in city parks?”, you might ask. Djuric Tardio created the design in response to a lack of quality kindergartens in Paris, a problem compounded by the city’s prohibitive permitting requirements. Djuric Tardio have proposed building a series of similar three-story low-impact “nurseries,” as the studio refers to them, that will each support the care of up to twelve children.

Each SticK will be built in a park, taking advantage of a public space that is generally unused during the weekday, when the rest of the city is at work. According to the studio’s design, each nursery will include bio-climatic technologies to promote energy efficient climate control. The large windows and spacious rooms will take advantage of natural lighting. The first story of each structure is primarily a reception and kitchen area. The second is used for teaching and play-space. The top of the structure is an open-air terrace for people to enjoy. The simple, low-impact design is intended for easy, low-cost mass-production, and you can certainly argue that the structure would be quite interesting to see tucked away in a city park. On a more poetic note, urban children will be given the opportunity to make some of their earliest memories among these pockets of nature.

Djuric Tardio via Inhabitat

NYC Green Roof

The green roof pictured here sits atop a few low-rise brick building in West Village, NYC. Designed by Caliper Studio,the rooftop greenscape has turned what would otherwise be a tar roof into a beautiful living space. Not only does the grassy  yard dramatically re-character this NYC studio and apartment with it’s modern retrofit, but the green roof greatly improves the energy efficiency of the space.
A plank path adds functionality to the space and leads visitors through a sculpture garden by Roy Lichtenstiens. Two rooftops compose the space and are separated only by the noticeable change in elevation. If I live in New York, I would certainly love to have such a beautiful green space in such close proximity. The green roof adds an entirely new feature to the apartment while reducing the impact of stromwater runoff on the city’s sewer system and of summer heatwaves on the living space beneath. All in all, a beautiful coupling of form and function.

Lugo History Museum: A Collusion of Nature, Industry, and Design

When the minds from Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos imagined the landscape of the Lugo History Museum in Spain, they did not want to see a sprawling parking lot. In fact, they did not want to see a behemoth building either. The designers wanted to achieve a unique and energy efficient structure that would celebrate the landscape while still functioning as a museum. The solution was to go underground.

The museum’s parking lot, along with most of the museum itself, is buried beneath the grassy landscape.  According to the architects themselves, “It may well seem awkward to assimilate architecture into landscape, but this is one of the cases in which we would like to think that the relationship between the two is more than a set phrase. We propose a museum-park or a park-museum, which will be linked to the sequence of green areas in the city, hiding the parking areas underground and emerging in a constellation of cylindrical lanterns scattered throughout a continuous green field.” This approach prevents cars from littering the surrounding views and greatly improves the energy efficiency of the Lugo Museum.

And just because much of the building is underground does not mean the designers are going to let you forget that it is even there: weathered steel structures cylinders contrast the rolling green to create a dramatic site. The steel buildings are reached using a spiral staircase that takes you beneath the ground as far as the subterranean parking lot.

The museum’s Visitor Center is situated on a single floor that is illuminated by the large circular courtyards into which it looks. The museum’s outdoor exhibits are wrapped in a thin metal mesh that can be fashion with solar panels and nighttime lighting. The potential for renewable energy along with the energy efficient construction makes the Lugo Museum a model for green design. It is hard to imaging that the site was one a bustling industrial zone.

All images credited to Fernando Alda. More photographs of this project can be found on his website.

All images credited to Fernando Alda. More photographs of this project can be found on his website.

Via dezeen

In the Desert Mesa of Taos, New Mexico

I recently spent a couple weeks as an intern with Earthship Biotecture in the mesa of Taos, New Mexico. Earthship Biotecture (or, as the builders refer to it, “the company”) is a group that builds environmentally friendly and off-the-grid homes and have been doing so for over 40 years now. The homes focus on innovative use of sunlight, water, and reused construction materials. While the project it based out of Taos, homes have been built in all 50 United States.

As an intern, I had the opportunity to get my hands dirt and actively take part in the construction of a home. During my time, we put in the grey water planters in the front of the home, built a retention wall out of glass bottles and cement, installed metal flashing on the corners of the roof, and applied adobe to the interior of the tire wall. All this work was more or less done without construction equipment, with the exception of a little cement mixer powered by the solar panels, a dump truck to haul dirt, and a backhoe to bury the back side of the house. The construction of the homes intentionally relies on manual labor so that the techniques can be replicated in places with limited access to power, heavy machinery, or developed infrastructure. One of the builders told me about a project in China where all the materials for the entire house had to be carried, by hand, a half-mile up a steep hill to the construction site. The road was too narrow for a truck and even too rocky for a mule.

The coolest part of the experience, aside from the mountain views and a 7-hour hike into the Rio Grande gorge, was the chance to see some of the different homes that have been built over the years and the unique character that each develops. While I do not see the Earthship model as the perfect solution to the energy and housing problems we face, the model does attempt to address the many questions of sustainability that the modern city and suburban sprawl continue to ignore. The homes use water and energy far more efficiently than most homes in the U.S. and at a comparable cost to the buyer. Though built in the desert mesa, not a single Earthship home has air conditioning, and they do not need it. Even when it was 90 degrees outside, it still felt like 70 in the interior room of the homes. The character and utility of the Earthships gives them lasting value. The Earthship design may not be able to eliminate utility bills around the world, but it will lessen the stress that human development places on the planet. At this point, that alone is a monumental achievement.

Villa Welpeloo: A Salvaged Home

There is more to this ultra-modern home than first meets the eye.  Named the Villa Welpeloo, this eco-home is located in Enschede, The Netherlands. The home’s creators went to great lengths to assure that the project made a clear statement of utility and sustainability. While the beautiful design and natural look are sure to catch the eye of passersby, the most significant characteristic of this home is that it is constructed from almost entirely salvaged materials. To decrease the carbon footprint even more, all the materials were sourced within a nine mile radius of where the home now stands. Through a process the architects call recyclicity (rather than the more commonly used term of salvaging), 60% of the exterior and nearly 90% of the interior are composed of reused and repurposed materials. For the construction industry, that is an incredible accomplishment made possible only by the environmentally conscious minds of its creators.

In many ways, the designing and building of Villa Welpeloo was done backwards. The architects started off with a giant heap of scrap materials from local factories and warehouses and then went about building a structure that best utilized the resources. The team also used maps from Google Earth to locate any abandoned lots or building near the build site in the hopes of finding reusable materials. The efforts paid off and Villa Welpeloo’s exterior is covered with wooden boards salvaged from 600 cable reels that were heat-treated to better weatherize them and maintain their integrity. The home’s framing is comprised of steel taken from abandoned machinery in an old textile mill; turning old into new again.

The interior design certainly lives up to the goal of sustainability and repurposing by turning old advertising signs into cabinets and broken umbrella spokes into low-voltage lighting. Sunlight provides most of the buildings lighting and walkout decks invite occupants to live both inside and outside of the home. The villa is a beautiful achievement and a perfect example of how reusing building materials can reduce the waste in landfills and our demand for natural resources. Personality and creativity can turn the abandoned buildings of the past into the structures of the future.

2012Architects via Inhabitat

Morerava Cabins on Easter Island

These low-impact Morerava Cabins are nestled on Easter Island and offer an environmentally-conscious retreat on the already remote island. The low-tech structures make good use of simple design strategies, sustainable construction practices, and some prefab techniques. Like any truly sustainable housing, the cabins function on little water and even less electricity, making the most of the surrounding natural resources without damaging the natural environment. While water taps are available, each cabins employs rain harvesters to provide the majority of the water needs. Solar batch water heaters offer a low-cost alternative to burning imported fuel.

Easter Island is a land of very scarce natural resources. To protect the islands local resources and to avoid damaging the native flora and fauna, the cabins are initially built on the Chilean mainland. The structures are then carefully placed on piers (any moisture damage to the floor system during transport can compromise the lifespan of the cabin) and transported to the island. Because of the moderate climate in the region, there is no need to insulate the cabin walls. This cuts down on construction costs and dramatically increases the eco-friendly character of the buildings. Plus the lightweight frame, the exposed scissor roof, and the zinc steel roof add a certain rustic elegance that all cabins should employ.

Nine cabins currently reside on Easter Island. Each is intended to accommodate six people and due to some clever design work, occupants can enjoy a comfortable level of privacy despite the small space. As an enthusiast of responsive design and a proponent of cookie-cutter solutions, one of the coolest characteristics to me is how the cabins work with their surrounding environment to provide light and control climate. Glass panels are intentionally positioned to eliminate direct lines of site into the residential space while still providing adequate indirect light. The windows provide cross-ventilation and maintain the livable interior climate. Offsets in the roof allow hot air to escape while preventing rain from entering the space.

These cabins are a beautiful example of sustainable design put into practice. They take advantage of the natural resources available (rain, sun, and warm temperatures) and curb the dependence on imported fuel and electricity generation: low-impact at its finest.

AATA Associate Architects Via Plataforma Arquitectura

From Old Roads to Solar Parks

A lot of environmentally conscious architects and designers find inspiration in the pursuit to repurpose and recycle old ideas. The Colombian firm Jaramillo-Azuero Architects (J-A) has come up with a concept design that could repurpose a series of archaic Italian viaducts into a series of beautiful parks all linked together. The particular stretch of highway, known as the Autostrada del Sole, is set to be decommissioned once a new modern route has been built. The design and layout of these parks will allow them to serve as educational models of sustainable energy as well as a location for research into future sustainable systems.

The design was featured (and won 3rd place) in an international design competition known as “Solar Park South”, a completion which sought to find a new use for the obsolete viaducts. The cost to demolish and remove the viaduct system would be nearly 40 million euros and the competition’s organizers asked designs to rethink the aging structure. The rules of the competition emphasized “ the creation of a space for testing the production of energy using renewable sources, the search for and successive application of new sustainable technologies, and the implementation of measures focused on integrating the Park within the surrounding territory through the upgrading, fruition and valorization of landscape.”

J-A’s proposal includes a wave-powered rail line, sustainable energy research facilities, and beautifully landscaped parks. The driving principle behind J-A’s design is the importance of public education in the formation and implementation of sustainable energy systems. Technology can reach greater and greater heights, but it won’t matter if people do not understand the importance of changing their lifestyles so that they respect and maintain the natural environment around them.

The Autostrada del Sole (A3 Salerno – Reggio Calabria Highway) is a relatively remote section of highway between Scilla and Bagnara and skirts along Italy’s Sicilian coast. The stretch of road consists of several remarkable viaducts built during the 60s and 70s and has been slated for decommission for over a decade now (of course the roadway will continue to be used until the new highway, composed largely of tunnels and designed to improve the safety of travel, has been completed). Until that time, designers have the opportunity to explore ways to repurpose the viaducts. The amazing views of the countryside and the dramatic Sicilian coast should make the viaducts a perfect destination for travelers.

According to J-A, “Among all known renewable energies the most efficient and the only one of its kind capable of regenerating infinitely producing “zero environmental harm” is EDUCATION. This type of energy is an inexhaustible supply of knowledge that spreads from person to person covering vast extensions of area resulting in massive social, environmental and economical progress.”

Read the competition’s rules for yourself and you’ll get the gist pretty clearly; be bold and creative, be sustainable and energy conscious, and be beautiful. What truly sets the J-A proposal apart is the importance of education in the pursuit of sustainable living and energy generation. Only through widespread public education can we hope to decrease our impact on the environment. Of course it is science and human development that has so devastated the world’s ecosystems and it will take decade’s worth of re-educating the public before we can hope to start heading in a sustainable direction. With the right focus and support, these old viaducts could become an important location for environmental research and education. I’m sure I’m not alone in believing that would be a far better outcome than watching the structure turn into a giant pile of rubble.

Shipping Container Architecture: Contentainer

Old shipping containers are becoming a more and more popular feature in modern architecture. I cannot confidently say whether this is done in the spirit of reuse and recycling, if the containers offer a cheap building material, or if they simply make for good attention grabbers. The Indonesian firm dpavilion architects has certainly put their supply of shipping containers to good and creative use. The building shown is titled Contertainer, and is “an amalgam of two words: container and entertainer. From its outer look, at a glance one can see an architectural form made of several brightly painted containers–red, yellow, blue and light green–in attractive position and composition, thus forming a contertainer.” You get the idea pretty quickly that the people at pdavilion are trying to make a statement with their work. The firm’s manifesto begins with a strong but simple statement: “Architecture is Dead.”

The Contentainer, located in Batu, East Java Province of Indonesia, is meant to be a place of social gathering and contains a clinic and library. The architects describe the driving motivation behind their project on dpavilion blog:

“Along with the development of Indonesian towns and cities, aside from the rise of wealth, there is also a widening gap between the haves and the have nots. The have nots get more and more marginalized, their access to educational and health care services becomes more obscure, due to the increase of related fees. Such is an effect of global economy system, which mechanism is akin to the law of the jungle. This contertainer is a social attempt to entertain lower class people through free library access and health care service, so they would be able to have a better living quality amidst the fast-moving world.”

The message of the blog begins with the very practical and meaningful discussion that I would expect from a professional company, but very quickly it changes to the abstract kind of description that I always find interesting yet often nonsensical:

“A container has dynamic nature, it moves and shifts, yet it also transformed into static, unshifting architectural being. To force a container to remain still, is seemingly against its dynamic nature. Yet the designers celebrate its dynamic form through a twisted, non-linear composition. This is enhanced with supporting columns placed uncongruently, making the contertainer enjoys its dynamism.”

“The contertainer is also a parody, the dichotomy of architecture as a place for activities (which considers human scale) and as expression (expressing emotion and  the will of artist), the contertainer exhibits containers of goods as containing human beings. We may ponder upon this: how important is human being for architecture? How un-important is human being for architecture?”

If I were to design a building that looked like this and was asked to explain why I chose to do things as I did, I’m sure I would disappoint many in the architectural design community by responding that “I though it looked cool that way.”

dpavilion via TreeHugger

Postal Service’s Green Roof

The largest green roof in New York City now resides on top of the U.S. Postal Service’s Morgan Processing and Distribution facility in midtown Manhattan. Completed in December of 2008, the 2.5 acres of dense green vegetation have had a significant impact on the efficiency of the building as well as set an example for the country’s largest city. The advantageous characteristics of the green roof, also known as a living roof, have decreased the storm water runoff by 75 percent during the summer and 40 percent during the winter. This characteristic greatly reduces the impact of urban development on receiving waters and streams, lessening the strain on already threatened ecosystems.

The natural insulation created by the living roof has allowed the building to remain cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, saving the U.S. Postal Service $30,000 each year in otherwise wasted energy costs. This green roof remains the largest in New York but with these kinds of financial incentives one can expect this sustainable and energy efficient practice to gain popularity. Of course, green roofs require a greater initial investment as well as a stronger building frame to support the additional weight, but they are believed to last 50 years before substantial repairs are necessary. Traditional tar roofs usually have to be repaired or replaced in less than 25 years. Add on the energy costs of these roofs which act like ovens in the summer and heat vents in the winter, the logical choice should be apparent.

Vertical Garden Wall

Designed by Architect Jose Maria Chofre, the vertical garden pictured was installed on the six story exterior wall of a newly constructed children’s library in San Vicente de Raspeig, Spain.

The vertical garden  uses cubic containers filled with substrate felt held in by two metal grids. One grid is on the outside and the other on the inside of the wall. For planting and maintenance, the containers can be reached via corridors built into the rear. The plants are watered by a metal structure built upon the deposit of concrete.

You could basically consider the structure to be a living wall or green wall. Though it serves a more decorative than functional role in the build’s structure as a green roof, the vertical garden is certainly comparable in principle. Varieties of small flowers and herbs compose the upper layers of the vertical garden. Ferns grow near the bottom of the garden and ivy climbs up the sides. This is one of the only ever-changing walls you will ever find.

This really is a beautiful example of innovative architecture that attempts to challenge our traditional expectations of development.

A Bird Village On Your Roof

This is quite a unique idea. Dutch designer Klaas Kuiken has created red clay birdhouse shingles that can become part of a home’s roof. I’m curious about how the heat of the sun could effect the living potential of the homes, but the concept is elegant all the same. Having a home clustered with these clay birdhouses doesn’t do much to make up for the loss of natural habitat but it certainly promotes an environmentally conscious attitude that I can appreciate. Conservation and preservation is always the most effective and responsible approach, but any effort is better than none. Plus, these birdhouses are the kind of thing that people are bound to notice and to comment on. That kind of interest is always a perfect starting point for larger kinds of progress and projects. I would be really excited to see someone with an entire village of these red clay birdhouses on their roof. That would serve as a very natural alarm clock of chirping every sunrise.