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"Grassroots Cactivism": Using Cacti and Eco-Tourism to Combat Drought in California

Although global warming may only be partially to blame for California’s now four-year, record-breaking drought – intensifying it by 15 to 20 percent, say scientists – the long term implications of the weather phenomenon are a preview of a drier future with less predictable weather patterns.[1] As ecology and architecture begin to share responsibility in the implications of climate change, future solutions will need to balance architectural needs with ecological imperatives. Many designers are accounting for water scarcity in schemes for the drought-stricken state, but only recently have ideas addressed this issue head-on. “Grassroots Cactivism,” an award-winning proposal by Ali Chen, suggests that the drought-tolerant nopales cactus, with a variety of uses, is an ideal candidate for aiding water-conservation in California.

Read on for more about this biological breakthrough in water conservation.

Resort Cafe. Image Courtesy of Ali Chen Cacti Yard Aerial, Day. Image Courtesy of Ali Chen Cacti Pond, Water Treatment Tanks. Image Courtesy of Ali Chen Resort + Cacti Yard Aerial, Sunset. Image Courtesy of Ali Chen

Panel Discussion: Climate Change and the Willamette Valley

Farmland prices hitting new records, self-identified “climate refugees” fleeing the droughts in the southwest for verdant Oregon, rising water temperatures killing fish —the warming climate is already changing the Willamette Valley. Things will look very different here for farming, urban livability, and ecosystem health.

To ponder this rapidly evolving ecosystem, the John Yeon Center for Architecture and the Landscape will present four leading thinkers on the Willamette Valley and its future. What lies ahead for Oregon’s primary population center, breadbasket, garden, natural landscape, and playground? Moderated by Yeon Center director Randy Gragg, the conversation will explore the research that has been done, the successes and shortcomings of programs in place, what kinds of initiatives might be developed to shape a warmer, more populous valley to benefit its urban and rural populations, industries, and ecological health.

Alban Guého Creates "Flood" Installation for Paris' Nuit Blanche 2015

Architect Alban Guého's “Flood” installation for Paris' 2015 Nuit Blanche arts festival aims to serve as a stark reminder of climate change and the impact humanity has on the world. The 50-square-meter (538 square-foot) installation is composed of weaved filaments that connect the ceiling to the floor. A thick, dark liquid (either oil or black paint) will slowly flow down each string, trickling into a black pool. Flood seeks to address the theme of this year’s Nuit Blanche, which is to echo the issues stemming from COP21, Paris’ Sustainable Innovation Forum.

Detail of Trickling Filament. Image Courtesy of Alban Guého Vector Projection of Flood. Image Courtesy of Alban Guého Parallel Filament. Image Courtesy of Alban Guého Axonometric View of Flood. Image Courtesy of Alban Guého

A Country Of Converted Oil Rigs: Is This How To Save The Maldives?

If you want to see the future of urban adaptation, head to the Maldives. That’s the message and warning behind Mayank Thammalla’s master's thesis from the Unitec School of Architecture in Auckland, New Zealand. Under even the most conservative IPCC forecasts, the low-lying Republic of Maldives will become almost uninhabitable as sea levels rise, while any further rise could leave many of the 200 inhabited islands underwater. It’s an existential threat like no other - in as little as ten year's time, the Maldivian government could be faced with the impossible situation of deciding how to deal with over 400,000 refugees leaving the area where their country used to be. Instead of attempting to rebuild the Maldives elsewhere or mount a series of defences against the oncoming sea, Thammalla’s research project has the difficult goal of realistically preserving Maldivian life in the same geographical location as it is now. His solution? Semi-submersible oil rigs.

A proposed system of transportation between public levels. Image © Mayank Thammalla An exploded view of the structure. Image © Mayank Thammalla A rendering of the proposed structure during a storm. Image © Mayank Thammalla A rendered view from a mosque. Image © Mayank Thammalla

Miami 2100: Envisioning a Resilient Second Century

Climate change, particularly rising sea levels, is expected to have a substantial impact in Miami, Florida over the next 100 years. Miami 2100: Envisioning a Resilient Second Century, an exhibition at the Coral Gables Museum, addresses this pressing issue, examining effective design solutions through the lens of architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning. The exhibition of graduate student work from Florida International University uses the city's existing infrastructure and architecture as the groundwork for future adaptation and development. A panel discussion highlighting the topic will take place on Thursday, February 12, with architects from BIG, OMA and West 8. Learn more, after the break. 

ULI Releases New Report on the Infrastructural Challenges of Rising Sea Levels

Innovation District Harborwalk . Image Courtesy of ULI Boston
Innovation District Harborwalk . Image Courtesy of ULI Boston

The Urban Implications of Living With Water, a recent report by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Boston, opens with the clear assertion: "We are beginning to feel the effects of climate change." The result of a conversation amongst over seventy experts from the fields of architecture, engineering, public policy, real estate and more, the report covers the proposed integrated solutions for a future of living in a city that proactively meets the challenges accompanying rising water levels.

"We accept that the seas are rising, the weather is changing, and our communities are at risk; and we recognize that no solution can be all-encompassing. It is our hope that this report will spark conversation, shift our understanding of what is possible, and aid us in reframing challenges into opportunities as we move toward this new era of development."

Become part of the discussion and read more about the collective ideas, after the break.

AD Interviews: Eric Bunge / nArchitects

At the New Cities Summit – held last year in São Paulo – we caught up with Eric Bunge of New York-based practice nArchitects outside of Oscar Niemeyer’s Ibirapuera auditorium. The summit’s theme was centered on the future of cities and Bunge was presenting his firm’s My Micro NY project, which was the winning design of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s adAPT NYC competition. “We’re kind of influenced by New York itself as a microcosm. Our project looks a little bit like a microcosm of the skyline. We’re interested in this idea of re-inventing what micro is and how much of New York you can inhabit,” Bunge said regarding the project.

According to Bunge, housing is based on regulation and therefore one of the most constrained things to design. “I think we can reinvent housing,” he told us. 

Watch the full interview to learn more about Bunge's thoughts on reinventing housing, the inspiration behind his My Micro NY project and how he strives to address climate change in his projects.

AD Interviews: Eric Bunge / nArchitects AD Interviews: Eric Bunge / nArchitects AD Interviews: Eric Bunge / nArchitects AD Interviews: Eric Bunge / nArchitects

RIBA Norman Foster Travelling Scholarship Awarded to Student Investigating Climate Change

Joe Paxton of the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, was awarded the 2014 RIBA Norman Foster Travelling Scholarship for his proposal “Buffer Landscapes 2060.” The £6,000 travel grant will enable him to study the impact of climate change in a number of locations, ultimately to propose some measures that might mitigate the threat of floods, droughts, melting glaciers and rising temperatures. A comment from Foster, after the break...

Michael Bloomberg Named U.N. Envoy for Cities and Climate Change

Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has been appointed to be the U.N. special envoy for cities and climate change. Upon receiving the news, Bloomberg tweeted: "Cities are taking measurable action to reduce emissions, emerging as leaders in the battle against climate change... I look forward to working with cities around the world and the UN to accelerate progress [to combat global warming].” You can read more here on USNews. 

Case Studies in Coastal Vulnerability: Boston, Seoul, Hamburg, Bangladesh & New York

This article originally appeared in the latest issue of ArchitectureBoston as “Troubled Waters.

The challenges of sea-level rise cross boundaries of all sorts: geographic, political, social, economic. Proposed mitigation strategies will also necessarily shift and overlap. Here, we present five case studies from across the globe that offer intriguing ways—some operational, some philosophical—to address the threats associated with climate change. Drawing on a research initiative focused on vulnerabilities in Boston, a team at Sasaki Associates developed these additional design-strategy icons to illustrate the layered approaches. They are adaptable, the better to meet the unique demands of each coastal community.

Hamburg. Photo by Fotofrizz – Seoul River. Photo by – Boston Harbor. Photo by New York after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by André-Pierre du Plessis –

The Gherkin: How London’s Famous Tower Leveraged Risk and Became an Icon (Part 4)

This four part series (originally published on Aggregate’s website) examines the Gherkin, the London office tower designed by Foster + Partners, showing how the urban icon engaged and leveraged perceptions of risk. In part one, author Jonathan Massey introduced the concept of "risk design” to describe how the Gherkin’s design managed the risks posed by climate change, terrorism, and globalization. In parts two and three, Massey examined the building’s treatment of risks associated with climate change and terrorism. In this final installment, Massey concludes by addressing the building’s engagement with risks posed to the City of London by globalization. 

Unlike New York and other cities in which zoning codes entitle landowners to some kinds of development “as of right,” the City of London regulates property development through case-by-case review by planning officers, who judge how well the proposed construction conforms to City-wide plans and guidelines regarding factors such as building height, development density, access to transit, and impact on views and the visual character of the area. In order to develop the Gherkin, the property owners and Swiss Re had to secure planning consent from the City Corporation through its chief planning officer, Peter Wynne Rees. The review and permitting process that culminated in the granting of planning consent in August 2000 spanned the planning office as well as the market, the courts, and the press. Rees brokered a multilateral negotiation so intensive that we could almost say the building was designed by bureaucracy. Part of that negotiation entailed imagining and staging risk: climate risk, terrorism risk, and, especially, the financial risks associated with globalization.

The Gherkin: How London’s Famous Tower Leveraged Risk and Became an Icon (Part 3)

This four part series (originally published on Aggregate’s website) examines the Gherkin, the London office tower designed by Foster + Partners, showing how the urban icon engaged and leveraged perceptions of risk. In part one, author Jonathan Massey introduced the concept of "risk design” to describe how the Gherkin’s design managed the risks posed by climate change, terrorism, and globalization. In part two, Massey examined the building’s treatment of climate risk. In part three, below, he explains how the Gherkin redesigned the risk imaginary associated with terrorism.

Mornings the Zamboni scrubs the plaza. Moving across the pavement in parallel lines connected by tight turns, the sweeper cleans the stone of cigarette butts and spilled food and beer left the night before by the underwriters and bankers who patronize the bar and shops in the building’s perimeter arcade as well as the adjacent restaurant that in fair weather sets up outdoor tables and chairs.

By pulling away from its irregular property lines, the tower achieves almost perfect formal autonomy from its context. The gap between the circular tower base and trapezoidal site boundaries forms a privately owned public space, a civic and commercial amenity in this densely built part of the City. 

The Gherkin: How London’s Famous Tower Leveraged Risk and Became an Icon (Part 2)

This four part series (originally published on Aggregate’s website) examines The Gherkin, the London office tower designed by Foster + Partners, showing how the urban icon engaged and leveraged perceptions of risk. In part one, author Jonathan Massey introduced the concept of "risk design” to describe how the Gherkin’s design managed the risks posed by climate change, terrorism, and globalization. In part two, below, Massey examines the Gherkin’s enclosure and ventilation systems in detail to explain how the building negotiated climate risk.

In a poster promoting London’s bid to host the Olympic Games, the Gherkin supported gymnast Ben Brown as he vaulted over the building’s conical peak. The image associated British athleticism and architecture as complementary manifestations of daring and skill, enlisting the Gherkin as evidence that London possessed the expertise and panache to handle the risk involved in hosting an Olympic Games.

But a poster created three years later offered a very different image. Created by activists from the Camp for Climate Action to publicize a mass protest at Heathrow Airport against the environmental degradation caused by air travel, this poster shows the Gherkin affording only precarious footing to a giant polar bear that swats at passing jets as its claws grasp at the slight relief offered by spiraling mullions and fins.

The Gherkin: How London's Famous Tower Leveraged Risk and Became an Icon

How does design change the nature and distribution of risk? In this, the first of four installments examining the Gherkin, the London office tower and urban icon designed by Foster + Partners, author Jonathan Massey introduces the concept of “risk design.” The series, originally published on Aggregate's website, explains how the Gherkin leveraged perceptions of risk to generate profits, promote economic growth, and raise the currency of design expertise.

Designing Risk

Back the Bid. Leap for London. Make Britain Proud. Emblazoned across photomontages of oversized athletes jumping over, diving off, and shooting for architectural landmarks old and new, these slogans appeared in 2004 on posters encouraging Londoners to support the city’s bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games. Featured twice in the series of six posters—along with Buckingham Palace, Nelson’s Column, the Tower Bridge, the London Eye, and the Thames Barrier—was 30 St Mary Axe, the office tower known colloquially as the Gherkin for its resemblance to a pickle, or as the Swiss Re building, after the Zurich-based reinsurance company that commissioned the building and remains its major tenant.

The Case For Tall Wood Buildings

Michael Green is calling for a drastic paradigm shift in the way we build. Forget steel, straw, concrete and shipping containers; use wood to erect urban skyscrapers. In a 240 page report - complete with diagrams, plans, renders and even typical wooden curtain wall details - Green outlines a new way of designing and constructing tall buildings using mass timber, all the while addressing common misconceptions of fire safety, structure, sustainability, cost and climate concerns. 

The Design Implications of President Obama's Commitment to Climate Change and Sustainable Energy

January 21, 2013, Inaugural Speech; Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson
January 21, 2013, Inaugural Speech; Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

This past Monday, President Obama made climate change and sustainable energy the focal points of his Inaugural Address when he declared that choosing to ignore these key environmental issues "would betray our children and future generations." This is the first time in the last few months that the President has taken a firm stand for the future of our Earth, a direct result of Super Storm Sandy and a smart choice to reveal controversial policies only after re-election. Although Monday morning was not the time to outline a specific political strategy, President Obama made it very clear that this time around, denial of scientific judgment and Congressional opposition would not be reasons for failure to act.

While this is a sentiment easier said than done and there is doubtlessly a long and difficult road ahead for the President and his administration. The White House has revealed that it plans to focus on what it can do to capitalize on natural gas production as an alternative to coal, on "reducing emissions from power plants, [increasing] the efficiency of home appliances and [on having] the federal government itself produce less carbon pollution" (NYTimes). According to the New York Times, they aim to adopt new energy efficiency standards for not only home appliances but for buildings as well, something that should spark the interests of architects and urban planners already committed to designing with climate change and sustainable energy in mind.

More after the break...

Local Solutions: Floating Schools in Bangladesh

© Joseph A Ferris III
© Joseph A Ferris III

In Bangladesh, where rising sea levels are having profound effects on the landscape, one nonprofit organization called Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha run by architect Mohammed Rezwan is fighting back by adapting, a true quality of resilience.  Rising water levels and the tumultuous climate is displacing people by the thousands; a projected 20% of Bangladesh is expected to be covered in water within twenty years.  For a country that is one of the densest populated state on the planet, this figure has disastrous consequences for a population that has limited access to fresh water, food, and medicine.  In response to these conditions, Shidhulai has focused on providing education, training and care against the odds of climate change by adapting to the altered landscape:  moving schools and community centers onto the water – on boats.

Two Degrees of Separation, Part 2: Architects Must Lead on Climate Change

Last week I asked how architecture can ramp up its efforts to do all it can to help limit climate change. Sandy is a turning point. It will take action on the part of the profession and its members to make this turning point meaningful. Turning points are easily forgotten after the panels have been convened and the articles written. The vicarious thrill of crisis abates and everyone returns to business as usual, feeling better for having contributed to the discussion. If we listen to the scientists, we must not lose that sense of crisis and we must do more.