House Among Trees

Designed by Martin de Lema and Nicolas F. Deutsch, this contemporary cabin in the woods is set in a seaside resort of Mar Azul outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina.  The surrounding landscape is full of thick pine forest, dunes and virgin beaches.  The local construction code demands free space at both sides and limits the extraction of trees, hence the phrase "house among trees".  The owners wanted to preserve the natural conditions of the plot of land and profit as much as possible from the natural qualities.

The house is comprised of 2 levels.  The bottom serving as a plinth to private use organizing the rooms and defining a horizontal plane.  The upper level pavilion includes the social program with the living, dining room, grill and terrace, organized in a central area of use, with sides of circulation and services.

Habitable Polyhedron

Tucked away in a suburban backyard in Bogota, Columbia is Manuel Villa.  Designed by Architect Alberto Gonzalez, this unconventional and innovative structure is a unique take on family living.  The project was meant for the family to enjoy outside activities and provide a shelter for reading, playing, and occasional mid-day naps.  The polyhedron structure wants to recover the natural space by being a complemental structure in nature.


Zero Carbon

Professor Phillip Jones is the chair of Architectural Science and Director of Architectural Science Research of the Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University.  His research ranges from energy use, to environmental design, and sustainability in the built environment.  Professor Jones was interviewed by Green Source Magazine back in May on achieving zero carbon on Wales.  Jones, along with the Low Carbon Research Institute funded by the Welsh Assembly Government set out to assist the Welsh Government in achieving their targets for a low-carbon economy.  Achieving this means supporting industry in Wales and informing the Welsh Assembly Government on policy in funding both the major projects and education.  Jones says they need to make sure that people have the right skills to do the green jobs that are being created by government.

The Welsh government has targets for achieving zero carbon in new buildings within the next year, and a 3 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2011.  Wales also wants to be totally self-sufficient in renewable electricity within 20 years.  The 2011 target appears to be quite unrealistic, but Professor Jones believes that unless you have fairly ambitious targets, you won't get the innovation needed.  When asked by Green Source about what strategies will be taken to achieve these goals, Jones stated "we are looking at how we match the reduced demand with an energy supply system that is responsive to that reduced demand.  So we're thinking of the various scales from components to buildings to cities".  Jones stated at the end that Europe and the rest of the world understands that the US has spoken about being committed to a low carbon economy, but they wait and see what the future holds.

Is Philadelphia Housing market Improving?

The real estate market across the country has been in a bad position, but Philadelphia seems to be holding its ground.  Although it has seen great losses the market has remained more stable than most major cities.  The median sales price for homes in Philadelphia, PA for April 2010 to June 2010 was $139,900.  This represents an increase of 16.6%, or $19,900, compared to the prior quarter and an increase of 3.7% compared to the prior year.  Sales prices have appreciated 33.2% over the last 5 years in Philadelphia.  All in all the market is not great but showing signs of improvement.  Popular neighborhoods in Philadelphia include Northeast philadelphia, Manayunk, Chestnut Hill, Center City East, West Mount Airy, and Kensington.


Transit Generates Development? Yes it Does!

Portland Streetcar Credit: Flickr user Orclimber
Urban Planning has been a popular topic amongst commoners for the past few years now, and tossing transportation into the mix is not so new either.  These topics seem to be popping up more and more everyday with the recent influx of young adults and middle agers moving to the city over the past decade.  These new city dwellers desire to live closer to jobs, culture, leisure, and accessibility.  Some may think the major incentive is affordable living, by certain individuals standards of affordable living.  This may be, but another key incentive to living in the city is affordable and accessible public transportation.  Although many major cities in the U.S. have public transportation, most lack heavily in accessibility and efficiency to its residents.  Public transportation is an area that many cities have been re-evaluating because transit is a key component to generate development.

Seattle streetcar, Credit: Flickr user johnzebedee

Many planners have argued that the link between transportation and land use is unbreakable.  The kind of communities we live in directly affect the way we get around, and vice-versa.  Yet this has been ignored by government policy-makers over the years.  However, the Obama Administration has followed a different tact, promoting links between agencies that once operated completely independently.  This policy was solidified with last years announcement of the smart growth partnership to address the common goals of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  But this intense new focus may be getting in the way of the mobility-oriented principals formerly prioritized in the DOT’s grant distribution. In the past, when it came to public transportation projects, the federal government encouraged cities to build train and bus corridors that shuttled people over long distances as quickly as possible. That’s just about the opposite of the goals of this new program, which emphasizes the creation of dense neighborhoods where people perform most of their daily tasks within a tight radius.

Philadelphia Streetcar, Credit Flickr user Jean Tarkastad
Earlier this month the DOT announced that it would allocate almost 300 million in small grants to cities across the country for urban transit improvement projects in the form of streetcar lines and bus rapid transit. These investments would promote not simply the transport of people around town, but also alterations in the physical environment, lining up with the housing and environmental efforts of others in the federal government.  Journalist Michael Lindenberger for the Dallas News explained that when it comes to these grants, federal policy is now explicitly aimed towards changing land use and developing "livable communities". Peter Rogoff, head of the Federal Transit Administration, told Lindenberger that “When we look at these grants we are going to look not just at ridership but at the economic development successes.” The agency has reduced its emphasis on the “cost-effectiveness” principle grounded in high ridership that used to guide its investments.


Graphic Minimalism

Hotel Caldor, a project by Sohne & Partner Architects near Vienna, Austria is a self check in suburban hotel.  The ground floor contains the lobby, main access, and 24 hour check in machine.  Emerging along the road the building's sleek geometry and duality of solid void atop a glass base creates a striking approach for guest and passers by with its buckling midsection.  The upper level containing the rooms at 10 and 14 square meters is clad by a perforated metal screen of the hotels logo.  This creative use of branding is both subtle and effective.


Students Keep Their Cool in West African Secondary School

In Temperatures at 100-plus degrees Fahrenheit, students at Dano Secondary School in Burkina Faso keep cool with natural ventilation. In this small market town of 11,000 people there is not much electricity to go around, so there is no air-conditioning. The schools 150-odd students travel by foot and bike from every direction in the blazing sun. Now they have refuge in a new well ventilated structure that provides a healthy environment for learning and living. The L-shaped school, designed by Architect Francis Kere is comprised of three 615- square- foot classrooms, 560- square- foot computer room, and teachers offices. Hanging over the entire structure is a single unifying piece- the gleaming wave shaped roof, made from corrugated tin and sitting on latticed rebar trusses, accompanied by long low lamella windows. These are the main components of the ventilation system bringing sweet relief from the heat. Materials include locally cut laterite, a clay containing iron which hardens when exposed to air, a fine cooling insulator.

 Kere's solution for the Dano school starts with lamella window slats that can be adjusted to controll the light. Three to a room, they also draw air into the classroom. From there the split-level ceiling and roof structure takes over. Warmed from the outside, the air near the ceiling rises up and out, making room for more air to enter below. Composed of concrete and brick, the ceiling looks like inverted barrel vaulting. At the junction where each vault comes together is an opening to the roof above, consisting of a slit cut across the ceiling about eight inches wide.

 The lattice then creates an open space angled to the corrugated tin above, prompting a breeze to carry off the warm air rising from within the room. When you create this physical aspiration, it takes the heat away constantly. From design to labor to construction, Kere adapts to local conditions and turns them to his advantage, assembling the truss structure for the roof on the ground in modules due to lack of crane access. Members of the community crated the school floors, pounding the earth flat with mallets and polishing with stone. With so much community involvement, this building is sure to last a lifetime.

Swiss Solar Powered Plane Attempts 24hr Flight

A team of Swiss adventures and engineers celebrate an aviation milestone for the longest solar flight of 15 hours.  The goal is 24 hours of nonstop flight, of which the team will set out to achieve in 2013 when it takes off for its round-the-world attempt.  The plane has a 207 foot wingspan, the size of a Boing 777 passenger jet, with 12,000 solar cells fixed to the wings and body.  It reaches a top speed of only 75 mph and has no room for passengers or baggage, therefore it is as light and efficient as possible.


Haitian Government Launches Housing Design Competition

The Haitian Government has issued a RFP in Preparation for a housing expo, appropriately named "Building Back Better Communities" scheduled for October in Port-au-Prince.  The international competition organized by John McAslan a UK architect working in Haiti calls for exciting, feasible ideas to provide high-quality, appropriate housing for Haiti.  With submissions due July 19, the competition welcomes architect, designers, housing manufactures, contractors, material suppliers, construction consultants, and others involved in design and construction.  If interested ACT QUICKLY!!

Green Affordable Housing in the Bronx

Construction is well underway on Via Verde, a sustainable, mixed-income housing project in South Bronx scheduled to open in 2011.  Designed by Grimshaw Architects and Dattner Architects.  The housing complex is rising on a remediated brownfield site near a major transportation and commercial center.  Of its 222 units 151 are reserved for low-income tenants spread across a 20-story tower, a mid-rise duplex building, and townhouses, all organized around a central courtyard.  The complex will feature a wellness center and edible gardens.  The development will use nearly one-third less energy than comparable housing developments.  Via Verde is expected to meet or exceed LEED Gold requirements.  Sustainable features include a rainwater collection system, photovoltaic panels and green roofs.  Shaun Donovan, the US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development said at his attendance to the ground- breaking ceremony that the project exemplifies the Obama administrations fundamentally different approach to housing; a move away from the Corbusian model to one that supports local visions of site design.


No Yard!! Got A Window?

The New York based Window Farms organization is a community with a goal to empower urban dwellers to grow some of their own food inside year-round and fostering a DIY sustainable attitude to urban farming and solving environmental problems.

The Famous SS United States Avoids its Scrap Metal Grave

The future is looking bright for this famous ocean liner, now docked in Philadelphia where it has spent the last 14 years of its decommission in 1969.  The "Lady in Waiting" will avoid it demise in a Gulf Coast scrap metal yard and  and reign once again as one of the most decadent Cruise Liners in History.  Thanks to a $5.8 million donation by H.F. ("Gerry") Lenfest the "Big U" has a future.  The Cruise Liner had her heyday in the 1950s, holding the record for the fastest commercial sea crossing of the Atlantic: 3 days, 10 hours, 40 minutes.  during her 17 year career, the SS United States was world famous as America's Flagship Ocean Liner, a symbol of American Technological prowess and industrial might.