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Monday News Roundup

Jul 09, 2012

Happy sunny summer Monday! Here’s a quick roundup of a couple of last week’s highlights:

Crochet Playgrounds by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam (Colossal) In the mid 1990s Japanese artist Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam was showing a large scale crochet artwork at an art gallery when two rambunctious children approached her and asked if the sculpture, resembling a colorful hammock, could be climbed on.

eVolo Announces Their 2013 Skyscraper Competition (Inhabitat) The 2013 eVolo Skyscraper Competition is now open for business and looking for the most outrageous, exceptional, unusual, and forward-thinking designs out there.

Meet Seattle’s ‘Baby London Eye’ (The Atlantic Cities) Seattle’s newest attraction, a Ferris wheel known as the “Great Wheel,” officially debuted last month.

A Very Architizer-Canada Day (Architizer) Last week, we wished a Happy Canada Day to our neighbors to the north! To celebrate, Architizer compiled the top ten projects to have come out of the Canadian architectural world in the last few years.

Green-Roofed Shelter is Urban Curbside Lounge for Paris (Web Urbanist) JCDecaux, the North American company that invented the ‘street furniture’ concept of outdoor advertising, collaborated with designer Mathieu Lehanneur to create a cool green-roofed rest stop for pedestrians in Paris.

Monday News Roundup

Jul 02, 2012

Happy Canada Day!

Below, you’ll find a list of some of the more interesting bits and pieces of news, art, and architecture from the last couple weeks:

How the Feds Are Building More Sustainable Cities (The Atlantic Cities)
In recognition of the three-year anniversary of the federal partnership’s formation, the three agencies have released a progress report, Three Years of Helping Communities Achieve Their Visions for Growth and Prosperity. The facts they have assembled are very, very impressive.

Human Nature: Jason deCaires Taylor’s Submerged Figurative Sculptures Form Thriving Artificial Reefs (Colossal)
Artist Jason deCaires Taylor has become famous for his immense underwater installations in locations off the coast of Mexico, the Bahamas, and the West Indies where he uses eco-friendly concrete sculptures specifically designed to harbor life. The artificial reefs are photographed and filmed in numerous stages from the moment they are first submerged to months and years later after thriving ecosystems form within his artwork.

5th Annual Creative Spaces Event (Arch Daily)
The fifth anniversary of Montreal’s Creative Spaces summer event highlights the creation of a pedestrian mall on St. Catherine, between St-Hubert and Papineau streets.

What if bus stops were designed as if bus stops really mattered? (Switchboard)
There are still bus stops that are no more than a sign on a pole, although many now have some form of shelter from wind and rain, and some have sophisticated service information posted, the most advanced ones with real-time updates.  But there is still a sense of functionality about most bus stops, whose design and amenities tend to lack imagination. That is now changing in Paris, where the RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens), the city’s dominant transit agency, is piloting “l’arrêt de bus du future” — or bus stop of the future — for five months at a stop outside the Gare de Lyon.

Sydney Builds Separate Bike Lanes, Ridership Skyrockets 82% (Treehugger)
New research on cycling habits is in from Sydney, and it turns out that city dwellers are less likely to start biking if they’re afraid a lumbering SUV might crush their back tire or that errant car doors will send them over their handlebars. Who knew?

Three Great Stop Motion Shorts Not to be Missed (Colossal)

Company peddles bike helmet vending machines in Vancouver (The Vancouver Courier)
The company negotiating with the city to implement a massive public rental bicycle system next spring plans to sell helmets in vending machines to accommodate the province’s mandatory helmet laws.

Milestone for 4 World Trade (Arch Daily)
Last week, the final steel beam rose 977 feet into the air and was placed atop 4 World Trade Center – the 72-story tower designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki.

Imagine: A pedestrian mall down the middle of the eight-lane Granville Bridge? (The Vancouver Sun)
It may never come to pass, but an artist’s concept of a wide tree-lined pedestrian mall down the middle of the eight-lane Granville Bridge has become the signature idea for how Vancouver wants to modernize its transportation system.

Rebuilding downtown from scratch: striking images and a video from Christchurch (Switchboard)
Christchurch, a city of about 367,000 people (460,000 including the near surrounding area) and New Zealand’s second largest, has been forced to reconceive its downtown and many neighborhoods following a disastrous series of serious earthquakes beginning in 2010.

A New York Loft That Prizes LEGOs As Much As Mies’s Barcelona Chair (Architizer)
If there’s anything to be learned from May’s record-breaking 105 feet-tall LEGO tower in Seoul, it’s that LEGOs can, in fact, be used to build. Case in point, the  Marks/Caride Residence, a recently renovated Chelsea loft that features a staircase with railing made from nearly 20,000 LEGO blocks.

Rewarding Good Design Deeds — SEED Certification and Public Interest Design

Catherine Calvert, AIA
Director of Community Sustainability, VIA Architecture

I recently attended a two-day training course at the University of Washington on the SEED certification system, sponsored by the Public Interest Design Institute.  SEED (an acronym for Social, Economic, Environmental Design) is a framework developed to assist community-focused projects in establishing objectives, following a holistic and inclusive design process, and measuring success using self-defined goals.  Similar only phonetically to another well-known sustainability rating system, the SEED system uses a grass-roots approach to both certification and the design process itself — membership and certification are free, projects must grow out of community need and involve communities as an integral part of the work, and no prescribed points are defined for a project to meet.  The SEED Evaluator allows socially-based projects to achieve third-partyvalidation, encouraging both transparency and accountability, and creates a new standard intended to be used by community organizers, leaders, designers, and funders to measure the public interest design aspects of design projects.

Pomegranate Center collaboration in Walla Walla (photo credit Seattle Times)

The course was led by Bryan Bell, a well-known advocate for public interest design, founder of Design Corps, and author of books such as “Good Deeds, Good Design”  and “Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism”.  Deeply respected in the architectural community for his pioneering work in socially conscious design, Bell is a natural mentor, keen to further the concept of public interest design and to engage a broader part of thearchitectural profession in recasting its role in the community. The course featured several representatives from the local Seattle community who have based their practice on community focused work, such as Milenko Matanovic from the Pomegranate Center , Rachel Minnery and Sally Knodell from Environmental Works, Jeff Hou from the University of Washington, and Steve Dombrowski from GGLO.  Other presenters included Lawrence Cheng from Boston, Michael Murphy from MASS Design Group, and Jamie Blosser from the Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative. All presenters shared rich case studies of engagement with community problem-solving through design, with situations ranging from restoration of a Pueblo community in New Mexico to construction of medical clinics in Rwanda.

There was particular emphasis on the business considerations of socially conscious practice, as so many for-profit architectural practices struggle with the issues of wanting to do good works in the community, but also needing to be financially sustainable. With economic times being challenging and fees highly competitive, conventional models of architectural practice sometimes afford limited opportunity to provide pro bono or reduced-fee work. Bell’s challenge to the group was to let the business opportunities grow from immersion in community issues; sometimes this means helping clients create a case for funding, and other times may mean formation of a not-for-profit architectural practice that can apply for its own research grants.

The premise and mission of public interest design is that “Every person should be able to live in a socially, economically and environmentally healthy community.”  Early development in the green movement was focused heavily on the environmental aspects of design; a decade later we are coming around to understanding design’s long-abdicated responsibility for supporting human health and wellbeing through social relevance.  Beyond SEED, many other bright minds in the sustainability field are looking at similar issues, with particular emphasis on developing appropriate metrics for measuring the success of social initiatives on a scale from individual projects to entire neighborhoods.

What these systems share is a willingness to wade into the areas that are slippery and less conducive to empirical measurement.  The “social” or “human” aspects of sustainability, when considered by sustainability rating systems, tend to stop at measures such as air quality, accessibility, safety or noise reduction, all of which can be converted to metrics.  The greater challenge is to use design to take on issues such as health, biodiversity, homelessness, food access, and other similar kinds of problems.  The SEED Evaluator enables teams to establish project-appropriate goals that are self-defined, and to measure success against these.  Successful projects completed under SEED also emphasize evidence-based design, or the “importance of using credible data in order to influence the design process,”, popular in health-care architecture and now being applied to other problems.

What is significant about the SEED Evaluator is that it requires a period of time to pass following completion of construction in order to account for the experience of the occupants and users as evidence of the project’s success.  Architects are accustomed to being “done” when the ribbon is cut, and feedback from our clients one or two years into occupancy often relates to deficiencies or warranty items rather than actual building performance.  Remaining open to, and welcoming, a feedback loop that extends this relationship over a long period of time represents a mindset shift for designers.

The other significant aspect of community-based design is its emphasis on humanism.  Our profession has a bad reputation for overlooking human needs in favor of aesthetics.  By contrast, public interest design places high priority on the concept of invisible structures, or the connections between organizations, communities, and people that are created through collaboration, and the supporting mechanisms that need to be in place to make this kind of collaboration successful.

The Public Interest Design Institute website:

SEED Evaluator website:

What Would You Do With the Old 520?

Image source: Seattle Transit Blog

Imagine stumbling across 363,000 tons worth of concrete pontoons in the free section of Craig’s List. Would you build a floating island? A massive version of Stonehenge? Perhaps stack them on top of each other for a 33 story condo complex?

Well this is your chance to show off your idea for what our state should do with these massive blocks of concrete.

Read all about it on the Seattle Transit Blog by clicking here.

Meet Aaron Schaefer, one of the newest members of the VIA family:

Who are you and what do you do?

I am Aaron, and I am a husband and proud caregiver to a 5 year-old brown mutt and two-year-old human child.  When not doing those things, I dabble in Architecture.

What made you decide to go into your field?

Two things; as a child I had a penchant for recreating things I saw out of Legos, which, later on, I  deemed a skill most easily translated to the field of Architecture.  Or probably more so, spending many hours exploring the quiet spaces of the out-buildings on my grandparents’ farm.  I found great joy playing in these quiet, mostly neglected “ruins”, and then later I found Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, who also had a fondness for ruins.

What did your family think of your chosen field?

“You have to be good at math, right?”  You don’t, the machines do that stuff.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?

Bruce Johnson, my fifth year studio instructor, taught that an interesting concept or narrative can be sparked by celebrating things which may appear to be, at first glance, insignificant or peripheral to a central idea. Then utilizing them as a way of informing the original premise.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path?

7am classes, who can function that early?

What inspires you?

Watching my son try to make sense of all this crazy new (to him) stuff out there.  He keeps me on my toes with his trusty sidekick “why?”.  I quickly realized that I too need to think twice about all that crazy stuff out there.  “Why?”, indeed.

What schooling is required for success in your career?

My experience was that for my 5 years of formal architectural education, you need about twice as many years of professional education at the very minimum as a basis to really “get it”.  Of course, there are exceptions.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?

Those who wear black.

What is the best advice you were ever given?

“Don’t step in that.”

Is your field growing?

Though ever increasingly marginalized, architects are still the aesthetic and functional medium needed to execute good projects.  So, yes, there is room for new entries and growth.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?

Be sure you love the work.  Good work comes from impassioned, engaged people, and conversely nothing is as draining as spending too much time doing something you couldn’t care less about.

What keeps you motivated in your field?

Finding, or seeing others find, novel solutions to old problems, big and small.

Monday News Roundup

Jun 18, 2012

Happy rainy Monday morning from Seattle– here are some of last week’s interesting items:

DIY Wearable Turn Signals for Cyclists Turn On When You Lift Your Arm (Treehugger)
A fun project by Instructables user CTY1995 is great for cyclists riding city streets. It’s turn signal arm bands that light up when you lift your arm.

Parks and Pavilions: A Meeting of Landscape and Architecture (Sustainable Cities Collective)

The new issue of Architype Review focuses on parks, the spaces designed to explored on foot, and pavilions, the spots from which visitors can take a moment to sit and enjoy the landscape. Some of the best pavilions compliment their setting, creating a unique presence and vantage point. They fundamentally respect the environment while providing a new texture.

Why Cities are Better for Watersheds than Suburbs (Sustainable Cities Collective)
Development necessarily creates giant swaths of constructed areas that have no unifying ecosystem. It also disturbs existing natural areas that are part of the natural cycling of water, minerals, chemicals, plants and animals. Yet despite these complications, density is valuable in terms of impact mitigation on a per-person basis, as least as far as pollutant loading and watershed health is concerned.

An Artist Reinvents Architectural Photography via iPhone (The Atlantic Cities)
Lynette Jackson, a telecommunications professional from Atlanta, is not an architect, but turns her architectural photography into complex art pieces, letting sections of her built subjects set the tone for the layers of design treatments, created using only the apps on her phone.

How walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods help seniors (Sustainable Cities Collective)
AARP’s Active Living for All Ages: Creating Neighborhoods Around Transit shows how transit-oriented development (TOD) facilitates the independence and mobility of older adults.  This new six-minute video features conversations with residents, local officials and experts in TOD in Arlington, Virginia—a walkable, mixed-use community with access to a variety of public transit options, entertainment and recreation, and basic services such as shopping and medical services.

Wall of Planters Shades And Ventilates House; A New Kind of Living Wall (Treehugger)
House in Ho Chi Min City features wall of planters for shade, ventilation, privacy, and visual interest.

A Boon For Downtown’s Urban Parents

By Amanda Bryan, Architect Intern
VIA Architecture (originally posted on

Many cities, faced with increasing populations and a growing demand for urban living, are moving toward making their downtowns welcoming residential neighborhoods for families with children. Seattle is no different. In the last year, a new and exciting effort among government and private sector leaders has emerged to respond to downtown Seattle’s changing demographics.

Since 1990, downtown Seattle’s population has grown by over 70 percent according to census data, making it the fastest growing neighborhood in Seattle within the last two decades. The overall population has increased by 25,000 new residents, and the neighborhood is now home to over 1,700 children 15 and under, and more than 3,000 children 19 and under. These are not small numbers. Downtown Seattle has welcomed more residents in the last 20 years than downtown San Francisco, Portland, Denver, San Diego and many other U.S. peer cities.

Developers are rushing to respond to this demand, currently building or planning to break ground on over 3,000 housing units within Downtown this year, more than at any one time in the last decade. For many families though, there is still a major obstacle standing between them and downtown living: neighborhood schools.
Continue reading the full article here..

Monday News Roundup

Jun 11, 2012

Happy sunny Monday! Here are some highlights from the last two weeks:

10 Beautiful Photos Celebrating World Oceans Day 2012 (Treehugger)
The photography of Brian Skerry helps illustrate why World Oceans Day is a big deal.

Happy 145th Birthday Frank Lloyd Wright (Arch Daily)
Perhaps best known for his Fallingwater House and New York’s iconic Guggenheim Museum (see our original doodle below), Wright was a prolific architect, interior designer, and writer who spent his life advocating an “organic” architecture at harmony with its surroundings.

Income inequality, as seen from space (Per Square Mile)
Per Square Mile writers were curious: could you actually see income inequality from space? It turned out to be easier than expected.

Giant Vending Machine Dispenses Bikes and Surfboards Instead of Junk Food (Inhabitat)
Forget Doritos and sugary sodas, the goodies that this vending machine in San Francisco recently dispensed were out of the ordinary! Instead of junk food, the machine delivered large goodies that would be used in adventure travel.

How Permaculture Could Transform Campuses Across the Globe (Treehugger)
At the international Permaculture Your Campus Conference, directors of the award-winning UMass Permaculture Initiative will give an introduction to permaculture in a campus setting and share the value that it has created for the University of Massachusetts system and local community.

When an Earthquake Meets Truly Old Buildings (The Atlantic Cities)
The impact of the 6.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region last week appears to have been made worse by the fact that significant seismic activity is rare there. Centuries of stable ground meant many villages in the region were well-stocked with Renaissance-era structures that were particularly vulnerable to tremors.

Urban walkability: the new driver in real estate values (Better Cities)
Throughout the country, since the recession, house values have lost as much as 35 percent. That is clear, regardless of location. But what was happening quietly, it seems even before the recession took hold, was that home values within city location were escalating faster than outlying locations.

The Risky Business of Parking Lot Creation (The Atlantic Cities)
The computer storage giant EMC in Hopkinton, Massachussetts, recently sought a zoning change to build a 900-space parking lot near corporate headquarters off Interstate 495. The unspoken threat here is that the company couldn’t possibly continue to call Hopkinton home without accommodating employees who drive to work. But the asphalt would go down on environmentally sensitive land – a little bit of paradise paved to put up a parking lot.

What’s the Difference Between a Parking Lot and a Playground? (The Atlantic Cities)
‘Urban hactivist’ Florian Rivière’s latest project “Don’t Pay, Play” divines sports complexes out of the checkered parking spaces of car parks, rendering what is generally perceived as one of the city’s greatest, yet unavoidable ills into potential public spaces.

Get Stoked to Surf The Fourth Wave of Planning

by Dan Bertolet, Urban Planner
Photo credit: VIA Architecture (Original article posted on

Last year in Seattle, the Bullitt Foundation’s proposed Living Building was subjected to a costly legal challenge based on Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Opponents argued that an environmental impact statement (EIS) should be required because the building would block views. Given that it’s on track to being one of the greenest commercial buildings ever constructed in the United States, and is also located in a dense, walkable, transit-rich neighborhood, the fact that environmental regulations could be exploited to oppose the project suggests something is amiss, to put it mildly.

Following on the heels of the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Washington’s SEPA was created during an era in which the planning culture was dominated by concerns over ecological degradation and responded with strict limits on growth -– planning’s so-called first wave.

Continue reading here…

Credit, Jode Roberts

Nature is the best medicine. A growing body of evidence has shown us that getting out into nature can reduce stress and boost your immunity. And experts say that exercising in natural settings is exercise squared — increasing your energy level and fitness.

While taking time to get out into nature in our busy daily lives is definitely a challenge, it may be simpler than you think.

Green space is as close as your neighbourhood park or backyard garden. Trails, ravines, and community gardens are often not too far from your daily routine. And the birds and the bees (and other critters) are always nearby; you just have to take time to listen.

The David Suzuki Foundation is challenging you to join them in spending at least 30 minutes a day in nature for the next 30 days.

Read the full article and join the challenge here.