Saturday, April 30, 2016

Three places to live and/or work that may change your mind about sustainable architecture

Although not everyone in the US Congress seems to have gotten the memo, in this age of impending global climate change people all over the world are seeking out new and better ways to live sustainably--and it's a very hot trend in contemporary architecture. Here are three visually striking examples you may find game-changing.

8 House in Copenhagen
Built in the shape of a figure 8 (if viewed from above), Bjarke Ingels' 8 House is a mixed-use development in a southern suburb of Copenhagen, Denmark

The biggest innovation is the designer's idea to create an intimate kind of urban environment by "stacking the various ingredients of an urban neighborhood into layers," (Wikipedia) so the development's walkability and convenience is greatly enhanced. Other sustainable features include the strategic use of the "heat island" effect, and green roofs.

8 House, when under construction: the reason for the name becomes clear.
Everyone has an interesting view in 8 House.
Evening waterside view of 8 House.
O14 Tower in Dubai
Dubai is a product of its rulers' particular vision: wealthy from oil, but focused on making itself "cutting edge" in many ways, while the oil wealth lasts and can be used to build something more sustainable. Interestingly for a place literally built with oil money, there seems to be considerable support for sustainability in recent projects (could these guys please have a heart-to-heart with the Koch Brothers?). 

The 22-story O14 Tower's structure is specifically designed for the desert climate of Dubai, with a 16"-thick outer facade covered with circular perforations. The holes provide light and air, but the rest of the "exoskeleton" acts as protection for the windows, and a solar shield. A one-meter gap between the facade and the building inside also provides passive cooling because creates a chimney effect in which the hot air rises.

RUR Architecture's innovative design for the O14 Tower creates a visually striking building with many practical features.
The holes provide access for more than light and air, when needed.
This view of O14 Tower under construction gives an idea of its scale.

FTP University in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Another example of innovative design that is much more literally "green" than our first two designs is the FTP University, now under construction in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (all the images are renderings, because the project isn't finished yet). 

Designed as something of a sustainable answer to the flat landscape and vertical buildings that dominate the city, the FTP University buildings are supposed to appear as "an undulating forested mountain growing out of the city of concrete and brick" (Vo Trong Nghia Architects). It actually will create more greenery than it is displacing as it is being built. 

An "undulating forested mountain" is coming to Ho Chi Minh City. 
It almost looks as if the forest has taken over--but looks can be deceiving Down below the "canopy," the humans will still hold forth.
Down under the trees it will be cooler and quieter. What a great place to study for one's final!

IMAGES: Many thanks to World Landscape Architect for the 8 House-under-construction image, and to E-Architect UK for the images of the courtyard and waterside view. All three photos of the O14 Tower are courtesy of Inhabitat. The renderings of buildings for FTP University are courtesy of Vo Trong Nghia Architects, designers for the project.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Will it float? Yes, it will!

Last week's Artdog Images of Interest showed photos from the island of Manhattan, when it flooded during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The post closed with a look at the way climate change flooding predictions are challenging city planners to consider creative new approaches.

The Ultimate Flood-Proofing: Floating One of the intriguing ideas I encountered to "flood-proof" a city was to make it float. This is scarcely a new idea. Villages all over the world have been built to float, for practical reasons. Take Ko Panyi, Thailand, for example.

The fishing village of Ko Panyi is mostly built on stilts in Phang Nga Bay, but it does have a floating football pitch.
Halong Bay Village, Vietnam, does them one better: the entire village floats. Here's a great view from Getzel Photography.

No stilts for these hardy fisher-folk: they've built their village to literally float.

And it would be rude not to also mention the Uru People of Peru and Bolivia, who have hand-made 42 of their own islands (not to mention homes and boats and lots of other things) in Lake Titicaca from the local totora reeds.

The creative and resourceful Uru people build their own islands, homes, and very striking boats from the local totora reeds. 

Contemporary Innovations
Today's architects and planners are taking that idea in new directions, with new technology. Here's one example: a floating house on the Thames River by Baca Architects.

This house was specifically built to spare the damage of flooding on its flood-prone lot. 

Another example of an approach to sustainability that embraces the advantages of floating architecture is the Science Barge by Groundwork Hudson Valley.

Groundworks Hudson Valley has produced The Science Barge, a floating greenhouse and demonstration project in sustainability that is paving the way.

Visions of the Future:
Swale, the Floating Food Forest actually is a not-so-far-future concept: it's supposed to float into New York City this summer! The project's website is a cornucopia of creative sustainable ideas.

Concept rendering for how Swale Floating Food Forest will look in New York Harbor this summer (well, we HOPE the smog isn't that bad!).
Concept rendering for an interior view of Swale Floating Food Forest.

Blue 21 is a futuristic floating city concept that incorporates flood-proofing, sustainable architecture, and locally grown food.

Floating city "Blue 21" is an ambitious and comprehensive design from Delta Sync of the Netherlands. They have many other cool projects on their website.

IMAGES: Many thanks to P. Transport, for the photo of Ko Panyi, Thailand. The magnificent photo of Halong Bay Village is courtesy of Getzel Photography. The photo of an Uru island is from the website Places to See in Your Lifetime, and it includes a lot more great images of these amazing constructions. 
The informative video about Baca Architects' amphibious house on the Thames is courtesy of YouTube, via Inhabitat. I found the striking night image of the Science Barge on a page by EcoFriend, which does not seem to be online anymore! :-( The "outside view" of Swale Floating Food Forest is courtesy of PSFK. The interior view is from the Project's own website.
The Blue 21 floating city image is courtesy of Inhabitat, which offers a slideshow of other views, too. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

When was the last time you did this simple, eco-friendly thing?

It's always a good idea to plant trees!

But better if you do the research! Know which trees are native to your area, and seek out the best of those to suit your space and purpose. 

Make sure you plant things that help sustain the local wildlife! Otherwise, it's almost like you're planting something plastic!

IMAGE: Many thanks to "Ecoisms" for the quote and to EskiPaper for the photo of the forest.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Is your city flood-proof? More creative approaches needed!

Today's Artdog Images of Interest focus on the flooding of Manhattan that happened during superstorm Sandy in 2012. It's part of this month's ongoing focus on the environment. Let's take a look at what happens when a city is unprepared.

The Plaza Shops of Manhattan, after Hurricane Sandy in 2012
Construction sites didn't fare well either. This is the Ground Zero site in 2012.
Commuter nightmare: still-flooded South Ferry subway station in lower Manhattan, a week after Hurricane Sandy.
Recent thinking among some city planners for coastal cities around the world is that the floods will come. Old-style thinking calls for building higher levees and praying a lot (ask New Orleans how that worked out). 

More creative approaches, however, are calling for flood-conscious building--that is, knowing the floods will com, but being ready for them. An article reposted on Arch Daily from ArchitectureBoston calls it taking a layered or tiered planning approach.

Manhattan flooding predictions from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Will they be better prepared next time?
How can cities proactively plan to minimize flood damage? Avoid building in floodplains (What an idea!). Reclaim "buffer" wetlands to mitigate storm surge. Build so lower levels are flood-ready, and place more vulnerable parts on higher levels. Making some parts of the city "floatable." These are just a few of the more creative and environmentally savvy approaches proactive planners are trying.

IMAGES: Many thanks to for the photo of the flooded Plaza Shops, to NBC News for the photo of Ground Zero, to The Atlantic for the flooded subway picture, and to Kat Friedrich for the apocryphal map from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Space Station DIY: Where to start?

That's no moon . . . 
I needed to create a space station. 

I had a cast of characters, the makings of a plot, and a big-picture concept of how my universe had turned out as it did. 

But now it was time to get down to creating the habitat space station on which my characters would live.

Where does one start?

One goes back to the 1970s, I discovered. That was the era when I first learned the concept of a "space station," much less that people were seriously thinking about how one might actually build one someday. 

My earliest book on the
subject, with a great
John Berkley cover!
I was a college kid when I went to a movie called Star Wars, for the scandalously high price of three dollars per ticket. My then-boyfriend Pascal (now husband of 37+ years) and I went back to see it over and over again, as often as we could afford to (pre-video tape--but then, I've already admitted I'm older than dirt). 

I didn't know it when I was bankrupting myself at the movie theater, but just a couple of years earlier a bunch of rocket scientists and other geniuses had gotten together at Stanford University for the 1975 NASA Summer Study, to try and figure out how it might be possible to build a space colony. 

They came up with something the shape of a bicycle wheel, with mirrors mounted on the hub. Artificial gravity was to be created by centrifugal force inside the outer ring. Being scientists, they didn't call it a doughnut or wheel-shape, but a torus. It is still known as the Stanford Torus.

This is Donald E. Davis's rendition of the exterior of the torus.
According to Wikipedia's article about the project, it was based on earlier ideas proposed by Wernher von Braun and Herman Potocnik. The concept was known to science fiction writers, but the scientists really got going on it in 1975.

The idea of using centrifugal force to create gravity in a wheel-like structure also was suggested in the 1957 Russian film, Road to the Stars, which is fascinating to watch. Indeed, we're still speculating on some of the same things they did, and a lot of the speculation doesn't seem to have changed all that much. The entire 49-minute opus is available for viewing on You Tube. If you have time, take a look.

In 1957, Pavel Klushantsev's film Road to the Stars included a space station with a torus of sorts, that produced artificial gravity.
If you look at the list of contributors to the 1975 Summer Study, it really did take a village to work out the myriad of details to arrive at something that might actually work. It's now all freely available online

Although it's been used in many movies, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Elysium, the "classic" Stanford Torus isn't the only prototype space station shape from which the would-be sf author can choose, however. In upcoming posts from this "DIY Space Station" series, I'll look at Bernal and Dyson Spheres, the O'Neill Cylinder, and Bishop Rings.

IMAGES: Many thanks to TurboSquid for the picture of the Death Star, and to Abe Books for the cover art for Colonies in Space. The wonderful Don Davis painting of the torus, NASA Ames Research Center (ID AC76-0525), is now in the public domain. I got it from Wikipedia. The image of Klushantsev's proto-torus design is a screen-capture from Road to the Stars, as seen on You Tube.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Sun-Moon Mansion in China: Solar Powerhouse

The solar power sector of the energy market is growing by leaps and bounds--but nowhere faster than in China. Whether you see this as a positive or negative trend, it is changing the face of solar power generation.

The Sun-Moon Mansion is billed as "the biggest solar energy production base in the world," and was conceived as the headquarters of a solar energy production area that could parallel Silicon Valley as a source for development. It's certainly the most visually interesting power plant I've seen in a while. Here are some more views: 

IMAGES: The opening image of the Sun Moon Mansion is from an Eco Friend article, "Sustainable Solutions to Make Cities a Better Place to Live." The others are from the Inhabitat slide show about the place.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

How Science Fiction Impacts Environmental Awareness

The first-edition cover of Frank Herbert's
Dune, by John Schoenherr.
I am a member of the Dune generation. 

Yeah, I know: that marks me as Older Than Dirt in 2016. Published in 1965 (I read it in 1973, at age . . . young adult), it changed both science fiction and (along with the 1962 book Silent Spring) the environmental movement

This was mostly due to author Frank Herbert's depiction of the complex ecology of the fictional planet Arrakis, a world so complex, fascinating and challenging that it became a "character" in its own right. And yet, as intricate and realistic as the depiction was, we only ever saw ONE environment on Arrakis. It was a "desert planet."

Richard M. Powers created the cover for
the first edition of The Word for World
is Forest, by Ursula K. Le Guin.
Similarly, Athshe, in 1972's The Word For World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin, is a tree-covered world. The plot is grounded, once again, in the ecology of the planet--but there's only one kind of ecology. 

It's a common theme in science fiction: a one-ecology planet. Now, sometimes that's not unwarranted: not much difference between poles and equator on Venus, for instance, or on Jupiter's "ice moon" Europa.

But it's a simplistic view, and a very far cry from the true nature the Mother of Us All, which could be described as a "water planet," but also a mountain planet, a plains planet, a desert planet, a forest planet, and many other kinds of ecology. 

Every earth-ish science fictional world, from Hoth to Arrakis, owes its origin and vision to someplace on Earth.
Earthrise: This is the "most influential environmental photograph ever taken" (Galen Rowell), a view of Earth rising over the moon on Dec. 24, 1968 by astronaut William Anders. It changed how many people thought of earth.
To my mind, there's no reason to think any other earth-like planet with an atmosphere humans find breathable will be any less complex and extraordinary in its own way, but few sf authors seem willing to "world-build" to quite that extent.

Partially, I think that's because spending a lot of energy on multiple environmental settings may not serve the story (and that's what comes first). 

The planet Sergyar is almost a character
in the latest book of Lois McMaster
Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga
It also may be because many sf stories are set in sterile, artificial city or space-based environments. These are all too much like many "nature deprived" lives in the contemporary Western world. Not coincidentally, it's that part of the planetary population which produces most of our science fiction. "Nature deficit disorder" leads to nature-divorced book settings? Well, maybe. 

But it's refreshing to me when a book with a more sophisticated ecology for its exoplanets arrives. The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold is an example of a more scientifically complex vision; indeed, one of Bujold's frequent themes is an exploration of the effects of a given environment on the societies that grow up in it. 

Our view of worlds continues to evolve, in astronomy, but also in contemporary life, and science fiction (one, of course, being the mirror of the others). I only hope that as our own planet changes around us, we in the science fiction community can once again influence thinking about the complexities and beauties of environments, in powerful and constructive ways.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Wikipedia for the first-edition cover art for Dune and The Word for World is Forest, and also for Earthrise. Many thanks to Amazon, for the cover image of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, cover art by Ron Miller, based upon a concept by author Lois McMaster Bujold; cover design by Carol Russo Design

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Now, THAT's Yard Art!

These are "Supertrees." They are part of the fascinating "Gardens by the Bay" project in Singapore.

Supertrees are vertical gardens. These are filled with ferns, bromeliads, and other exotic species. They're designed to replicate environmental niches, to preserve species from around the world.

The entire project is pretty interesting. Sponsored and funded by the government of Singapore, it shows remarkable foresight (Note: I live in a country where some state planning agencies with hundreds of miles of coastline to manage are not legally allowed to take the effects of global climate change into effect, so the "remarkable" bar may be set pretty low for me).

IMAGE: Many thanks to EcoFriend's "Sustainable solutions to make cities a better place to live," article.