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.

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

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

Vase and Lamp: A Living Table Lamp

This table lamp concept by Miriam Aust beautifully joins the functionality of a lamp and a vase. Known as the “Vase & Leuchte” (which translated from German to Vase and Lamp), the design is an eye-catching yet simple centerpiece. Composed of a clear glass vase, the lamp is filled with water, aquatic plants, and a waterproof light bulb. The effect of the aquatic plants being lit up from below the water’s surface has a curious appeal. I would not be too surprised if the light is intense enough to damage the plant roots, but perhaps they are hardy enough to handle the exposure.

Miriam Aust and fellow designer Hanna Krüger work together at Wird-Etwas, a group that follows a motto that reminds me a lot of my high school physics classes:“Something emerges from something” or in German: “Aus etwas wird etwas“. The designers write: “Everything new that we create as acting people in a certain social context refers to existing materials, objects, and ideas of this world….The emerging is always reference to the existing.”

The next question is naturally, how does the “Vase and Leuchte” relate to the Wird-Etwas motto. Well, the aquatic plants growing inside the vase are warmed by the lamp’s light while still allowing some of the light to disperse into the surroundings. The contrast of the light with the shadow of the roots acts to highlight the plant’s appearance. The form and fragility of the plant is clear to the viewer. I believe the lamp asks passers by to look at the plant and its slow growth. The plant becomes the center of attention rather than a decoration in the corner. Then again, my affinity for plants makes me a pretty biased observer.


Stickwork – Natural Art

Truly living art is a rare accomplishment, by branch-bending expert Partick Dougherty has made it a central part of his life’s work. I’ve collected a variety of pictures that represent just a sample of some of Dougherty’s many masterpieces. While sifting through pictures, I cannot help but image the childhood fantasies that might have inspired the works. He has fashioned human-sized nests houses by meticulously weaving living trees into the shapes he sees. The plants are carefully and thoughtfully shaped into huts, cocoons, water pitchers, and people. Describing the artwork as cool does not give justice to the years worth of time and attention that must go into each creation.

After decades of traveling the world and perfecting his craft, Dougherty’s portfolio now boasts over 200 beautiful and living sculptures. The world calls it art, but he merely calls in “stickwork.” Check out the natural creations and get a glimpse into this man’s imagination.


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

IVy Solar Car Breaks the World Record

The “IVy,” the fourth solar car built by the Sunswift team from the University of New South Wales in Australia, has beaten the world record for the fastest solar car in the world with a speed of over 88km/h (about 55 miles per hour). Solar cars fit into a special niche of transportation technology that, rather than finding an energy source that can force a one ton vehicle down the road, is determined to redesign the automobile to run on incredibly low amounts of energy.

The IVy is more likely to be considered a solar panel on wheels than a car, but there is no denying that this thing moves. And most amazingly, this solar electric car runs at 1200 watts, about the same energy demand of the average toaster, microwave, or hair dryer. Imagine your morning commute consuming the same amount of electricity as preparing a couple Pop Tarts. Then again, can anyone tell how you get in this thing?

The solar car was designed and built entirely by students, is powered only by the silicon solar cells, and produces about 1200 watts under sunny conditions. The IVy is Sunswift’s fourth solar car project (hence the play on Roman numerals) and though Sunswift’s cars are usually driven by students during competitions, a professional race car driver took control for the team’s world record attempt. Judges from the Guinness Book of World Records were present at the moment the solar car speed record was beaten and have awarded the Sunswift team their official certificate. Even if this car wasn’t a record beater, the compact and futuristic design is cool enough for me.

Check our Sunswift’s website for more details about this and past projects.

Sunswift IVy via Physorg

Redesigning the Plastic Bottle

The use of plastic bottles, containers, and utensils has become a serious pet-peeve of mine because these products perpetuate the clearly flawed idea that we have an unlimited supply of plastics. The concept of disposable products, which is incredibly popular in the United States, is the absolute antithesis of sustainability. While SOME plastics CAN be recycled, as discuses in The Thing About Plastics…, the vast majority of plastic food products are used one time before ending up in landfills. Even when plastics are recycled, the chemical breakdown in the material means that every subsequent reuse produces a material of poorer quality. Our careless use and waste of plastics is a hallmark of the unsustainable lifestyle we have created for ourselves.

A product design student by the name of Andrew Kim came up with the redesigned plastic bottles shown here, called the Eco Coke Bottle. It would be foolishly Utopian of me to even hope that people will stop using disposable plastics before the end of the cheap energy age. So instead, it would be cool to see companies redesign the way they package and transport their products in order to reduce the carbon footprint (by that I mean the amount of fossil fuel used to get the product from the production location to the consumer).

The key features of Kim’s square bottle design are that the flattened sides should improve the efficiency of transport and the collapsible bottle, the efficiency of recycling. By making the bottles easier to stack, Kim believes he can decrease the carbon footprint of the plastic bottles. The square bottle design would require a massive redesigning of bottling and distribution centers. Also, the reason that bottles are cylindrically shaped is to allow for the even distribution of internal pressure (caused by the carbonation) and thus the least amount of material is needed. On top of that, the soda bottle is as iconic as it is functional. Basically what I am saying is that neither Coca-Cola nor Pepsi plans on changing the shape of their bottles any time soon. Nonetheless, Kim certainly did an impressive job in completing his product design, taking full advantage of Adobe Photoshop’s capabilities. I thought his design was the real deal when I first saw the square bottles.

Source Design Fabulous

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.

WaterSpace’s Floating Studio Flat

In light of rapid population growth and the inevitable overcrowding of cities, a British company known as WaterSpace has put together a design that turns houseboats into stylish and environmentally conscious studio apartments. Living in a decked out home like this, you might even forget that your home is floating on water.

With WaterSpace’s Floating Studio Flat design, each boat will function as a one bedroom apartment equipped with bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom. The top level of the boat will even be made into a sun deck for those who would like nothing more to sit and relax. The WaterSpace team has created the initial layout of each boat, but they really want to customers to take an active role in the final design of their floating home. Add-on options include solar panels and a wind generator to provide power to all the boat’s electronic energy needs. The creators assert that these renewable energy sources should make the boat energy self-sufficient.

While the Floating Studio Flat is currently little more than a concept design, WaterSpace estimates that each boat would cost around 80,000 UK Pounds (roughly $128,000). Of course the final price would depend on the added features, energy systems, and interior furnishings. Maybe someday soon there will be a real market for these home, but I don’t see many people docking their homes along the Manhattan waterfront just yet.


Living on the Rolling Master Plan

No one should be too surprised by a architectural concept design that falls outside the realm of practicality. When I first came across Konrad Milton and Carl Jägnefält‘s Rolling Master Plan, my eye was first caught by the beautiful scenery that comprises the backdrop of each photo. The design was inspired by the Norwegian town of Åndalsnes, which is a very popular tourist destination in the beautiful summer months but is otherwise a very quiet and uneventful place. Based on the idea of seasonal tourism, the Rolling Master Plan is designed as a collection of rolling building that travel via existing rail networks all across the countryside.

The design won third place in an open international competition, the proposal of which was to design a new master plan. Judging by a this press release, the creators of the Rolling Master Plan actually seemed quite surprised by the recognition that their entry has received:

“We are really happy that the jury took our proposal seriously, its not only a good proposal which we are very proud of, it ́s also fully doable, says Carl Jägnefält one of the two founders of Jägnefält Milton. The jury was impressed by the Swedes proposals that did not propose new city blocks, public squares, boardwalks etcetera, but instead focused entirely on the existing rail road network and created something unexpected from it.”

Source: Jagnefält Milton via TreeHugger

Recycle Paper into Pencils

Here is an idea for an in-house paper recycling tool. Known as the P&P Office Waste Paper Processor (they could probably work on finding a catchier name), this compact design concept is intended to turn used office paper into a product that is always useful around the office: a pencil. Now all those worthless memos and letters can be put to good use again instead of just crowding your desk.

The act of turning an already processed material or product into a completely new product of better quality or a improved environmental value is refereed to as upcycling. For all intents and purposes, it is a form of recycling, but the distinction of upcycling is the emphasis on the improved quality from initial to final product. Turning tires into rubber mulch for playgrounds or melting varies types of plastic into one blend are easy examples of downcycling because the final products are of lesser longer term quality or value.

The internal functions of the paper to pencil device are kept under raps. While recycled paper composes the largest quantity of material used by the device, graphite, glue, and electricity would also need to be supplied for the pencils to be made.

TreeHugger via YankoDesign

Plus-Energy ILEK Home

This concept house from the University of Stuttgart is one of the most high tech off-the-grid homes I’ve come across. Designed by the Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design (ILEK), the design is covered with photovoltaic cells and solar thermal systems that generate power and hot water for the home. The ILEK home won First Prize in the architectural planning competition “Plus-Energy House with Electromobility” issued by the German Federal Ministry of Transport, Building, and Urban Development. The home showcases innovative and stylish implementation of sustainable design, energy use, and the recycling of materials when the home has reached the end of its life. The key feature of the concept home is that it will generate enough power for two electric cars, all the devices in the home, and enough extra energy to sell electricity back to the power company for a profit (hence the name Plus-Energy).Technically, a home that sells electricity to the power company isn’t off-the-grid, rather the home would make money by selling money into the power grid instead of paying for the electricity it uses. Also, since the design makes no mention of rainwater harvesting, the home owner would still need access to a well or city water.

The ILEK “demonstrates the potential of actively coupling energy flows between the emerging fleet of electric vehicles and our built environment. This concept is architecturally embodied through a striking glass showcase in which all of the core technical systems are laid out prominently to form a full-scale living display.” The interior of the ILEK home is designed to most efficiently use the energy available. “A glass-clad energy core serves as both an architectural interface and a building systems hub between the mobile and immobile living spaces of the occupants. Extending from the garden side of this core is a compact two-storey volume housing the private living areas, while on the street side a large open frame serves as a showcase for the public, providing real-time information about the house and its electric vehicles through a dynamic interactive display system.” By using natural light and extremely efficient insulation, the design eliminates the need to pay for gas or electricity. The entire home would be modular, which means that no foundation is needed and since the home generates more electricity than it needs, you can transport the home to any empty lot (as long as there is substantial sunlight) and live there. To power the entire home, it would need to be a lot of direct sunlight. Solar panels are easy to maintain, but individual cells don’t produce very much electricity. Most importantly, the panels will generate practically no electricity on a cloudy day.

It’s not very practical to try and live off-the-grid if you are still going to depend on two electric cars. There is a reason that most off-the-grid homes are built in the middle of nowhere. If you are going to live without depending on modern conveniences and energy consuming electronic devices, it is best to live in a utilitarian home that actually does so. The design of the ILEK is interesting but I’m curious how usable the home would be. A flat roof would have to be built pretty strong to hold a foot of snow (which would also cover the solar panels). Nonetheless, I’m impressed by the design. A research prototype of this futuristic and sustainable home is planned for exhibition in mid-2011.

Source: ArchDaily

Power With A Time Limit

The people at Yanko Design have once again come up with an attractive (albeit over-engineered) design that is environmentally conscious and energy efficient. The Ring Socket essentially builds a simple timer into an electrical outlet so that the use must determine for how long they plan on using power. Once the timer has counted down, the outlet shuts off and prevents any more current from passing through. The current usage (standby, in use, and overload) from a Ring Socket that still has time on its clock is indicated by the color of the illuminated ring (taking advantage of the colors green, yellow, and red along with the meanings that have been so engrained in us by traffic signals).

Every effort should be made to conserve energy. While the Ring Socket takes a sophisticated and technological approach to the issue, means of energy conservation can be quite simple. By flipping off surge protectors while they are not in use or unplugging appliances that are only on for five or ten minutes at a time can have an impact on the energy efficiency of a home. You can read about Vampire Energy to get a fuller understanding of just how much energy is waste by appliances when they are still turned off.

The Ring Socket design takes a different approach to energy conservation because it is not a do-it-for-you piece of technology. Instead the Ring Socket make the user think about how long they intend to use an electronic device and thus how much energy the activity is consuming. Most importantly, the electrical connection is turned off automatically instead of relying on the user’s attentiveness to turn on and off. It is no stretch to say that people can be distracted or inconsistent. And if you are using a device and need more time, turn the ring right and give yourself another hour or too. This level of effort and attention could be considered inconvenient, but I believe it would be more accurate to say that our lifestyles, when it comes to energy use and conservation, are very lazy. No one should be complaining if they start to see their electricity bill decline.

Source: Yanko Design

Nomadic Plant Solves Water Pollution

The Nomadic Plant is a futuristic, water pollution fighting cyborg with an important message of environmentalism. Designed and built by Mexican artist Gilberto Espaza, this innovative robot carries a bed of plants and microorganisms on its back. The design is inspired by the interdependence of natural ecosystems.

Here is how it works: A microbial fuel cell supplies the electricity needed to power the cyborg’s mechanical functions and sensors. When the Nomadic Plant senses that it is running low on fuel, it begins searching for polluted water. The bot sucks up the dirty water and feeds it to the plants and microbes growing on the bed on its back. As the plants and microbes naturally filter and drink up the water, they provide nutrients to the Nomadic Plant’s microbial fuel cell, essentially recharging the cyborg’s batteries. This nutrient replenishing allows the fuel cell to continue to generate electricity and keep the Nomadic Plant alive, moving, and cleaning up the world’s polluted water sources.

Espaza reports that the purpose of his creation is not to solve water pollution problems but instead to show how thinking outside the box can lead to new and sustainable systems to address environmental issues.

Plantas Nomadas, via SlowBuddha