Passing Cloud: A Journey in the Sky

In truth, this concept design is much closer to science fiction than next year’s great innovation.  Nonetheless, I can say quite confidently that I am not the only person to dream about floating around the clouds. When flying, I always enjoy the moment the airplane first peaks above the clouds and the sun bursts through the windows. The vast expanse of clouds, rising up like fluffy towers, is always an amazing site to see.

New York designer Tiago Barros took his days of staring into the sky and created a beautiful, cloud-like balloon concept. To me, the design, known as Passing Cloud, seems like the meshing of hot air balloons and blimps to create what could be called a floating form of transportation. Occupants are given the opportunity to look out at the world around them and experience the sky from an unobstructed vantage point.  While the Passing Cloud may at first glance be just another designer’s daydream, the concept may also serve as one of the greenest, though probably least practical, forms of transportation.

Passing Cloud is composed of a series of heavy duty balloons that have been connected so as to aesthetically mimic a free forming cloud. The balloons are contained within a stainless steel structure covered in tensile nylon fabric. In this way, the entire series of balloons forms one complete floating unit. The fabric is strong and durable, able to handle large gusts of wind and to move with the air currents.

It ought to be apparent that the Passing Cloud is not meant to be an efficient mode of transportation. Those intending to ride should be prepared to enjoy the journey and put any future plans on hold for the duration of the trip. Once in the sky, passengers would simply sit of the surface of the structure for the entire trip. There would be no set landing time and no precise destination. Once in the air, the Passing Cloud is at the whims of the wind as to where and how fast it will travel.

The design would have no fuel, no motor, and thus no pollution emissions. Withstanding the obvious holes in the engineering and physics behind the concept, the design is a simple idea that shows a youthful creativity and inspiration. The beauty of the Passing Cloud is the experience of the world that it would impart to its passengers and not the place you are trying to get to.

The passing Cloud plan was submitted by Tiago Barros to the Van Alen Institute and the Depatrment of Cultural Affairs of New York for the international “Life at the Speed of Rail” competition. Considering most of the designs at the competition were of high speed rail networks, the Passing Cloud certainly stood out. Though not honored, the design must have been inspiring to see.

Tiago Barros via Dezeen


The Great Decline: Global Fisheries

The world’s oceans, which encompass more than two-thirds of the global, are continuing a rapid decline that began just a few decades ago. Fisheries are dwindling and the world’s largest ecosystems are falling apart as global fish fleets remove far more oceanic wildlife that the seas can provide. Existing conservation laws and restrictions exists, but are too easily ignored or only selectively enforced. The cause of this destruction is as simple as it could possibly be: nearly one billion people rely on the ocean as their primary protein source and tens of millions more derive all their income from fishing. It is a futile struggle to tell these populations to look elsewhere for food when the resources of the oceans seem so plentiful, but overfishing will only end badly. Since the 1980s, global seafood catches have continually declined in the face of technological advancement and larger fishing fleets. Relentless overfishing will only aggravate the existing scarcity, preventing any chance the oceanic ecosystems have of recovering. Every year, these fisheries will provide fewer resources to the people that rely on them.

Foreign governments that ought to be seriously addressing the sustainability of their food sources are often prone to contribute to the problem. Enormous subsidies are given to fishing fleets with the intent of increasing their ability to fish despite declining returns. Agencies such as Oceana contend that the elimination of these subsidies would be the single greatest action in the effort to prevent overfishing and restore the world’s fisheries for future generations.

The following figures are as presented by the Oceana report, Oceans in Trouble
Key Findings of Recent Fisheries Related Research:

  • Scientists project the collapse of all species of wild seafood that are currently fished by mid-century.  (B. Worm et al., 2006)
  • 90 percent of all the “big fish” – tuna, marlin, and sharks – are gone. (R. Myers et al., 2003)
  • It is estimated that 85 percent of the world commercial fish populations are fully exploited, over-exploited, depleted or recovering from depletion. (SOFIA 2010)
  • Of the top ten species that account for about 30 percent of the world capture fisheries production in terms of quantity, six correspond to stocks that are considered to be fully exploited or over-exploited (anchoveta, Chilean jack mackerel, Alaska pollock, Japanese anchovy, blue whiting and Atlantic
    herring). (SOFIA 2011)
  • Globally, fish provides more than 1.5 billion people with almost 20 percent of their average per capita intake of animal protein, and 3.0 billion people with at least 15 percent of such protein. (SOFIA 2010)
  • Fisheries subsidies also have been found to support illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. A recent study estimates the cost of illegal and unreported fishing alone at US$10–23.5 billion per year. (D. Agnew et al. 2009)

EU Specific Findings:

  • According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), European Union countries comprise the third largest global fishing “nation” behind China and Peru. In 2009, EU countries caught more than five million tons of fish and employed more than 140,000 people as fishers.
  • Spain accounts for 25 percent of fisheries employment in the EU. Spain, Greece and Italy combined account for 60 percent of fisheries employment. (European Commission 2010)
  • The EU is responsible for 4.6 percent of the world’s fisheries and aquaculture production, making it the fourth largest producer worldwide. The EU’s top three most fished species are Atlantic herring, sprat and blue whiting, which comprise 30 percent of all EU catch. (European Commission 2010)
  • In Europe, 63 percent of the fish stocks in the Atlantic and 82 percent in the Mediterranean are over-fished. A recent impact assessment by the European Commission concluded that if the status quo is maintained and fishing continues at the current rate, only nine percent of European fish stocks would be managed at sustainable levels by 2022, despite the commitment by countries to manage all fisheries sustainably by 2015. (European Commission 2011)

Source: Oceana

Rooftop Hydroponic Greenhouse

Imagine going to the supermarket and purchasing lettuce that was grown less than a mile away.  Imagine if that lettuce was grown upstairs?  Imagine how fresh that lettuce would be! New York based company BrightFarms LLC, a rooftop hydroponic greenhouse building company, aims to make those imaginings a reality.

The company is pitching their services to supermarket chains, hoping to convert vacant market rooftops into farm production. BrightFarms would handle the labor and farming expense, including greenhouse design, construction, planting, and harvest while supermarket partners would sign a 10-year contract agreeing to purchase the produce grown on their rooftops.

Because of the proximity of produce production to the place of purchase, crops will be chosen based upon taste and nutrient content rather than the ability to withstand travel across the country.  BrightFarms plans to grow salad greens, herbs, and vine crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash.  The company’s hydroponic and greenhouse methods mean that plants will be grown year-round.  Additionally these methods ensure less water, energy, and space usage than industrial agricultural systems.

Though the first greenhouses won’t be in production until 2012, BrightFarms has consulted on a demonstration greenhouse at Whole Foods.

Edible Manhattan via GOOD

Progress and the Yangtze River

National Geographic’s Rivers and Life is a four part program focusing on the changing character of four of the world’s most important water ways; the Rhine, Amazon, Nile, and Yangtze Rivers. Each of these waters is being changed by human development and changing environmental conditions. They also provide a case study of the effects on local ecological systems as well as the populations that rely on them for food and water. Communities cannot survive long if the waters on which they rely fail them and environmental change may cause such failures to come faster than we can possibly prepare for.

(Source ChinaHighlights)

The Yangtze runs through the heart of China, 6000km from the plateaus of Tibet to the shores of Shanghai, and is the key to the country’s survival and prosperity. The powerful waterway has a love-hate relationship with the Chinese; the river is the most trafficked river in the world but its annual flood have killed over 300,000 people in the last century alone. Mega-engineering projects have been put underway to control the massive water flows and to protect the populations downstream. Projects like the Three Gorges Dam generate enormous quantities of hydroelectricity and control the river, but the impacts on river environments are catastrophic. Rising water levels upstream of the dam have forced more than 2 million Chinese citizens to flee their homes and the lives they have known. Downstream, the rivers banks are being eroded at alarming rates and the sediment that once restored then is trapped behind the still waters of the dam. In particular, the river delta in Shanghai is receding due to the millions of tons of silt that fails to pass through the Three Gorges Dam.

Three Gorges Dam ( Source Fotopedia/Flickr )

The mentality of changing the land and controlling rivers through engineering projects owes its roots to Europe and much of its recent history to the United States, but the work of engineers in China is a revolution. Rapid economic growth and the focused resources created by the communist regime have allowed China to build at a rate that surpasses any in human history. To China’s government, progress knows no limit and will stop for nothing and no one, not even the Earth itself, but it would be foolish to believe the Yangtze is willing to cooperate.

The river provides the water and natural nutrients that sustain the world’s largest population. Like many rivers around the world, the Yangtze keeps its flood land fertile by depositing sediment, making for rich farmland and ideal for rice production. But just as the river gives, it takes away with a brutal vitality. The energy driving sudden floods is great enough to destroy one town after another. The damage of a 1997 flood left thousands homeless and cost an estimated $30 billion. In this light, it is not unreasonable for the government to respond by damming the river to control its flow to prevent such catastrophe from destroying so many lives again.

Headwaters (Source Imgur)

The damming of the Yangtze began in 1994 with the approval of the Three Gorges Dam. Few argue that the dam will fail to control the flow, but many opponents to the project have raised the alarm regarding the dam’s location along a seismic fault line. Dams on fault lines pose two major risks: firstly, that if the dams fails as a result of an earthquake, populations downstream will be simply wiped out without warning, and second, that the weight of water trapped behind the dam will exert such force on the earth that many geologists argue an earthquake is exponentially more likely to occur. Engineers assert that the dam will withstand a 7.0 earthquake, but we cannot fully understand how the soil will behave under these conditions. Also, it is already estimated that so much water is trapped behind the world’s dams that the earth is more asymmetrical (and thus changing its inertia), causing the rotation to slow (slightly) much like an ice-skater coming out of a tight spin. As the largest dam in the world, the Three Gorges Dam will certainly add to this effect.

Ultimatly, the dam has achieved its goal of taming the wild Yangtze River, preventing major flooding and providing a boom to commercial traffic. Also, small upstream towns have been turned into bustling metropolises; places that were once isolated are now connected to the modern world and powered by the dam’s generators. But to praise such progress as triumph is to ignore the loss. To date, 13 cities, 140 town, and 1,300 villages have been washed away by rising waters. The communist government has to do little more than reclaim the land from the Chinese citizens that are renting it; there is no private land ownership in China. Though the government has put millions of dollars into efforts so save important building, many historic, architectural, and cultural lands now reside on the river floor.

Dafosi Yangtze River Bridge in Chongqing City (Source Wikipedia)

The Chinese are quickly learning another lesson from their rapid progress; that industrialization is synonymous with pollution. Water and air pollution from transportation and factories is unprecedented in these newly formed cites. The populations producing the pollution are threatening themselves as well as smaller communities that still rely on the Yangtze’s waters to drink, cook, and fish. Most residential sewage, shipping waste, and manufacturing waste is dumped into the river untreated. More than 40% of all China’s waste ends up in the Yangtze. The presence of the Three Gorges Dams only exasperates the problem by preventing waste from readily flowing to the sea. The conditions look grim as polluted water accumulates with no hope of being washed away as it once was. In other words, the problem will continue to worsen as long as the dam exists.

The Yangtze is a dying river. Aggressive industrialization and the Three Gorges Dam have enabled unprecedented growth and unstoppable pollution. The fish are dying off; previously staple food sources are dwindling and many species are on the verge of extinction. The river’s future is in question and only time will tell its fate. Of course this isn’t an isolated incident. Rivers around the world are being dammed and the energy they produce is being praised as green and clean. In reality, this is an oversimplification. The only way large rivers have ever been able to cope with human pollution is by flushing themselves. Dams remove that one natural mechanism.

Daning River  (Source Heiberg)

Perhaps China has stumbled upon a new form of population control: destroying the homes, killing the food, and polluting the water supply of its central vein. The Yangtze River cannot take much more before it will cease to provide life to the Chinese altogether.

Respect the waters of life.

Source: National Geographic – Rivers and Life, Yangtze River

Dumpster Living

Have you ever thought about living in a dumpster?  Me neither.  But sculptor Gregory Kloehn of Berkeley, CA, thought it would be a great idea!

Kloehn, who received his MFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, CA, has created a one-person livable home inside of a dumpster.  That’s right.  And believe it or not, his little place is rather chic.  With a toilet, running water, hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, an upstairs lounge, and an attached grill, Kloehn has made this little space livable, even luxurious!

In an era when small, practical homes are increasingly becoming the norm among the eco-conscious, this little dumpster studio appears to fit right in with the times.  But would you really want to live in a space where standing without watching your head is downright impossible?

No matter, Kloehn’s concept is an interesting one and, if it catches on, could usher in a new wave of smaller than small homes.


O’Hare Airport’s Honey Producing Apiary

It’s a plane!  No, it’s a bee!  O’Hare Airport in Chicago is now the first US airport to house a beekeeping operation on its vacant land.  The O’Hare apiary is 2,400 square feet with 23 beehives, expected to produce 1600 pounds of honey this year.

Starting in May, the Chicago Department of Aviation partnered with community group Sweet Beginnings to produce the apiary.  Sweet Beginnings, an offshoot of a local economic development agency, uses honey to create skin products sold under the brand name Beeline at Chicago area Whole Foods.

Common in Germany (since 1999), airport apiaries can be helpful in monitoring air quality.  Honeybees are particularly sensitive to air contamination.  Making 2 pounds of honey requires bees to visit 15 million flowers, traveling 150,000 trips between the hive and the field to gather roughly 6 pounds of nectar.  As the bees do their work they pick up air contaminants that have settled on the flowers they visit.  Their honey serves as a concentration of all these pollutants and is therefore a great sample of the pollution in the area.

But this project benefits more than just the bees and air.  It is also a site for employment of formerly incarcerated adults.  Sweet Beginnings offers full-time transitional jobs, training ex-inmates in caring for bees and hives, harvesting honey, and making honey, candles, and lotions for the Beeline brand.

The O’Hare apiary actually appears to serve four main purposes with great benefits for all involved.  It is: 1) growing quickly diminishing bee populations which pose a great threat to agricultural production, 2) finding a use for vacant airport land that cannot be developed due to crash-landings, 3) testing air quality with minimal strain on resources, and 4) employing ex-convicts who have difficulty finding full-time work in our current economy.

Let’s hope that the airport apiary movement keeps growing throughout the United States!

TreeHugger and Beeline via GOOD

Greencycle 2: A Tricycle To Fit Any Need

This design, known as the Greencycle 2 or G2, was featured in the top 20 picks from the 2011 International Bicycle Design Competition. The Greencycle 2 boasts some creative features that allow the tricycle to serve a variety of functions above and beyond moving from one point to another. The key to the Greencycle’s sustainable character is environmentally friendly composite bamboo that composes the frame. Bamboo is a renewable resource that is available all across Asia.

The designer utilized research to determine how to best address the needs of potential users. The intent of this effort was to create a design that would be practical and culturally relevant. Such design features include:

1. Turning a bicycle into a tricycle. The extra wheel offers stability for the user and the capacity to carry greater loads than the average bicycle. The base created by the two rear wheels is also ideal for handling larger loads which would inevitably topple a conventional bicycle.

2. The capability to convert the vehicle into a two wheel configuration style when the surrounding environment demands greater agility and careful negotiation.  The two wheel configuration is better suited for avoiding rocks and holes and for navigating crowded streets than the three wheel configuration.

3. The splayed rear design offers the option of additional attachments. The user can customize the G2 to fit his/her unique needs without significantly rebuilding the vehicle. Such attachments include a detachable passenger seat to allow for additional cargo space and a wheel barrow for loading goods that doubles as a trailer for carrying goods.

4. The S-frame shape, in lieu of the traditional diamond frame shape, makes it possible to free up space for loading and unloading.

5. Extra strength to handle demanding use. The G2 includes a strong central frame that functions as a base for attachments, such as a people carrier. The wheels are reinforced and include double front spokes to slow down wear. The front end of the G2 includes a reinforced steel fork that is made to withstand heavy use.

Yanko Design

The Future of Urban Farms

Imagine growing food in a discoteque?  Well, that’s what Netherlands-based company PlantLab is doing, minus the dancing and pulsing beats.  PlantLab uses red and blue LED lights to grow their crops indoors.  Plants only need a small percent of the full light spectrum and PlantLab makes use of this knowledge to the fullest.  While too much light can cause dehydration, less light within limits can actually speed plant growth, leading to higher crop yield.

The PlantLab facility is certainly more than just disco lighting.  The building is climate-controlled, allowing its owners to plant in any season, and uses constant plant data feedback to control light, temperature, carbon dioxide, humidity, and other environmental factors.

The most obvious fault of the PlantLab project is its high costs.  LED lights and climate control sensors are not cheap, and setting up the entire system is certainly no dance in the dark (pun intended).  Scaling this model would require a great deal of financial backing, not the easiest thing to come by in today’s economy.

Additionally, LED lights, like the plants they are growing, need energy too;  perhaps not the most sustainable nor passive method of plant cultivation.

Still, PlantLab is looking to expand to a commercial growing center.  And as for the taste of these disco plants,  “They’re great,” says co-founder Gertjan Meeuws, “They’re better than we’re used to.”

Hopefully PlantLab can find a way to make this project commercially viable so that we all might partake of their groovy plants!

PlantLab via Good

Kenyan Elephant Orphanage

Many of nature’s most amazing creations have been devastated by poaching and the expansion of human populations. Africa’s elephant population is certainly a case and point; adults are targeted and killed for their ivory and meat, leaving their young vulnerable and unprotected in the unforgiving sub-Saharan landscape. I recently read an article from National Geographic about how keepers at the Nairobi nursery of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust have taken it upon themselves to care for these infants as they grow into the planet’s largest land animal.

Photograph by Michael Nichols

The Nairobi nursery is celebrated as the world’s most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation center. The nursery rescues orphaned elephants from across the country and hand-raises them until they have developed past milk dependence. According to NatGeo writer Charles Siebert, “once healed and stabilized at the nursery, they are moved more than a hundred miles southeast to two holding centers in Tsavo National Park. There, at their own pace, which can be up to eight to ten years, they gradually make the transition back into the wild. The program is a cutting-edge experiment in cross-species empathy that only the worst extremes of human insensitivity could have necessitated.”

Photograph by Michael Nichols

The orphaned elephants that are fortunate enough to end up at the nursery are looked after by keepers clad in bright green coasts and white safari hats. They spend their days in the Nairobi National Park, playing like a gaggle of school children. Despite the tragedy of their pasts, the elephants are able to recover thanks to the care provided by the nursery and the instinctive community support that characterizes the species. It is sad to consider how human development has decimated one of the planet’s most advanced species. The African elephant once roamed the continent in great herds, tracing out prehistoric migratory routes. I wonder if these routes are still ingrained in the specie’s subconscious or if they have been lost forever as the land they once traveled is striped for farming and development. It appears that despite ever dwindling populations, the elephant cannot escape its greatest threat, humanity.

Photograph by Michael Nichols

The work of the Nairobi nursery plays a vital role in counteracting the otherwise negative role humanity has played in the young elephants’ lives. The nursery is run by a dedicated staff that has worked to learn what is best for the individual animals. Every night, a keeper will sleep in each elephant’s pin, feeding them when they demand to be fed. During their days in the bush, the keepers and orphans are sometimes visited by a group of wild elephants. The keepers keep the milk-dependent orphans close for they would not survive without the nursery’s care, but those elephants over 5 or 7 are free to go off with the wild herd. Some will return to the nursery in a few days while some will leave for good. I imagine the keepers feel like parents watching their children head out into the wild world.

Source: National Geographic

Photographs: Nichols Photography at NatGeo

Synthetic Urban Tree to Clean the City Air

When the folks at SHIFTboston decided that they wanted to develop a synthetic urban tree to address urban pollution concerns, they called on Parisians Mario Caceres and Christian Canonico. The design, as described by SHIFTboston, should could serve the air filtering and de-carbonization functions of a tree without the necessity to provide soil and water to keep the system alive. The end-goal of the design is to enable cities to offer the environmental benefits of trees in areas that are otherwise unsuited to support tree growth.  Mario and Christian have shown a knack for innovation and creative thinking in previous SHIFTboston competitions and the pair certainly did not disappoint with their newest conceptual design.

Know as Treepods, these giant glowing structures can help filter CO2 from the air while remaining independent from the city’s power grid. The energy required for the air purification process in provided by solar panels that cover the top and any energy generated by children playing on seesaws around the tree’s base. The CO2 filtration process would take place in the branches of the Treepods through a “humidity swing” process which would release oxygen as a biproduct.

The structure would be composed almost entirely of recycled plastic bottles. Given that the structure would be transparent, you would naturally have to install thousands of LED lights so that it would glow through the night.

It would appear that a good deal of thought went into the generation of the Treepod design, but like most similarly outlandish conceptual designs, it will probably never be built.

SHIFTboston via Inhabitat

The Eco-Friendly Gardener

While gardening is generally a green activity, there are ways to make gardening even greener:

Remember that there really is no need for gardeners to use those plastic plant containers that usually end up in landfills. Instead, try using biodegradable pots that are actually better for what you’re growing. Some seed-starting pots can be dropped in the ground and forgotten. They are 100 percent organic, and they allow roots to grow right through them. More and more gardeners are using these kinds of pots, and the added benefit to you is that your new plants will avoid the shock of being moved from the pot to the soil.

Gardeners can be even more eco-friendly by making smarter choices with our lawn-care power equipment, which is responsible for 5 percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions. When buying new equipment, choose electric over gas-powered machinery. Electric ones create less pollution, even when you account for the energy needed to power them.

Here is one of my favorite flowers, for anyone who is interested.

Name: Astilbe, Astilbe x arendsii.
Flowers beautifully in late spring and early summer.

Description: This perennial grows in clubs with a height range of 12 to 48 inches and a spread of 12 to 24 inches, depending on the particular variety. The low-growing, dark-green foliage has compound leaves. Some varieties have bronze foliage. Flower spikes of tiny lavender, peach, pink, red or white flowers grow above the foliage. Deadheading doesn’t encourage more flowering.

Planting instructions: Astilbe can be bought in containers from early spring through the summer. If you’re going to place the plants in the ground, it is important to plant before late summer to ensure that the plants will be well-established before winter. Apply mulch after the ground freezes.

Use: Astilbes grow well in shaded areas. They are available in a wide range of sizes, so they can be used in a variety of perennial borders.

General culture: Astilbes should be planted in sites that have fertile, moist, well-drained soil. While the plants will tolerate morning sun, this perennial thrives in the semi-shade. During the dry periods of the summer, the plants will require watering. These vigorously growing plants can be dug and divided about every three years. Fertilize them in the early spring and again during the fall with a high-nitrogen fertilizer.

The Asian Long-horned Beetle

States have stepped up enforcement on stopping the eastward march of a destructive species, the Asian Long-horned Beetle, also refereed to as the Chinese Beetle. The beetle, first found near Detroit in 2002, has been spreading eastward, laying waste to tens of millions of trees, and spurring nervous environmental officials to set traps, educate the public, and take strict measures to try and halt its march before the beetle reaches New England.

Asian Long-horned Beetle

In New York, state officials are handing out tickets to people violating the state’s ban on moving untreated camp wood more than 50 miles from its source. This regulation was imposed along with other limits on lumber companies to stem the spread of invasive pests such as the destructive emerald ash border.

Emerald Ash Border

With the step up of enforcement, New York is following the lead of states to the west, including Indiana, which has battled the pest now threatening New England. The imposed quarantine, also meant to thwart the Asian long-horned beetle, generally limits wood to be packaged and labeled logs that have been heated and dried to kill the bugs.

Kevin King, director of the Division of Plant Industry at the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, said that inspectors are doing spot checks of logging trucks, sometimes piggybacking on State Police truck safety enforcement.

The Hotel in a Sewer Pipe

You are probably not going to helped by a bellhop  at the Dasparkhotel in Germany. Don’t count on a plush lobby or room-service either.  The brainchild of Austrian Andreas Strauss, this hotel is comprised of re-purposed concrete sewer pipes that have been closed in with a simple door and back wall and placed in a grassy park. Each room comes equipped with a double bed, a small storage space, and a desk-side lamp. I guess you’ll have to look elsewhere when it comes to showering and locating a toilet.

The hotel is not just unique in its structural choices; Andreas Strauss’s open-to-the-public, semi-outdoor, pay-what-you-want Dasparkhotel is minimalist travel taken to another level of creativity. Knowing that concrete is a fairly porous material and a terribly poor insulator, I think I prefer to sleep in a tent than one of the structures. Nonetheless, I must applaud the ingenuity and creativity that went into project.

Dasparkhotel via DVICE

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

Juno: NASA’s Jupiter Spacecraft

NASA’s mission to Jupiter just got a bit greener: a solar-powered, wind-mill-shaped spacecraft.  The robotic explorer, Juno, is to become the most distant probe ever powered by the sun. Juno comes equipped with three semi-trailer-size solar panels for its 2 billion-mile journey into the outer solar system. Juno will be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Friday morning aboard an Atlas V rocket.

Jupiter, a planet several NASA spacecraft have studied before, is so large that it could hold everything else in our solar system, aside from the sun. With this probe, scientists hope to learn more about the origins of the giant gas-filled planet.

Southwest Research Institute astrophysicist Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator, said it’s important for people to understand that “NASA’s not going out of business.” Bolton explains that we need to know where we come from and how the Earth works, so space missions need to keep running.

NASA’s long-range blueprint will have astronauts reaching an asteroid by 2025 and Mars around a decade later. It will take Juno nearly five years to reach its target, five times farther from the sun than Earth. There has yet to be a spacecraft powered by solar wings travel as far as Juno will.

Each of Juno’s three wings is 29 feet long and 9 feet wide, which is necessary given that Jupiter receives about 4 percent as much sunlight as Earth. The panels, folded in for launch, extend from the craft much like the blades of a windmill.

At Jupiter, located nearly 500 million miles from the sun, the panels will provide 400 watts of power to the probe. While it is orbiting around the Earth, the panels will generate nearly 35 times as much power.

Juno will circle the planet for at least a year, sending data back that should help explain the composition of its insides. Each orbit will last 11 days, for a total of 33 orbits covering 348 million miles.

The Juno spacecraft will also carry with it 3 Lego figurines in the likeness of Galileo Galilei, the Roman god Jupiter, and his wife Juno. According to NASA‘s website, “The inclusion of the three mini-statues, or figurines, is part of a joint outreach and educational program developed as part of the partnership between NASA and the LEGO Group to inspire children to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

When  the Juno spacecraft has finally  completed its mission in 2017, it will dive into Jupiter. NASA doesn’t want it to crash into Europa or other moons, possible contaminating them for future generations of explorers.


Infinite MPG: Which Bicycle to Buy

Thinking of switching your car in for a bicycle but don’t know which bike to purchase? Here is a brief list of bicycles to help you figure out which bike you need to help you get from point A to point B in a greener fashion.

These bicycles are listed in relation to their intended use:

Road bicycles are designed for traveling at speed on paved roads or surfaces. Road bicycles are also referred to as racing bicycles, and are designed for speed and competitive road racing. The frames are lightweight, the tires are high pressure, and the bike is equipped with minimal accessories. These bikes are generally less comfortable than other types of bicycles, but the design makes for a faster and more responsive ride. Two types of road bikes are commuter bikes and city bikes.

Commuter bicycles are always a popular choice. Designed specifically for commuting over short or long distances, well-equipped commuter bikes usually feature front and rear lights for early morning or late evening commuting, as well as a carrier rack, full fenders, and a frame with suitable mounting points for the attachment of various load-carrying baskets or panniers.

City bikes are also a common choice for people looking to commute to and from work in the city. These bikes are able to handle the rough-and-tumble of urban commuting. Similar to a mountain bike in its gearing, the city bike has a strong yet lightweight frame construction. The tires are heavy belted to withstand road hazards commonly found in the city, such as broken glass and potholes.

Mountain bicycles, also known as all terrain bicycles, are designed for off-road cycling. The bikes include sturdy, highly durable frames and wheels, wide-gauge treaded tires, and cross-wise handlebars to help the rider from making sudden jolts. Mountain bikes usually feature some type of suspension system, either a coiled spring, air, or gas shock, and hydraulic or mechanical disc brakes.

Hybrid bicycles are a mix between the mountain and racing style bicycle. The frame is light, with medium gauge wheels, and derailleur gearing. The hybrid tires allow you to ride comfortable on trails and paved surfaces. These bikes have a high number of gears and upright handlebars. If you expect to only use your bike on city roads then go for a road bike, but if you want the capability of riding down the street and jumping on a trail then a hybrid is right for you.

Cruiser bicycles are heavy framed bicycles designed for comfort, with curved handlebars, padded seats, and balloon tires. They are most popular of beach-side boardwalks where the trail is flat and smooth. I would not recommend trying to ride a cruiser up any kind of slope because it will get pretty difficult pretty quickly. These bicycles are meant for slow and casual riding.

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