Brooklyn Bridge Park

A Tour with Michael Van Valkenburgh

A massive revamping of Brooklyn's formerly industrial waterfront, Brooklyn Bridge Park will eventually encompass 85 acres. Designer Michael Van Valkenburgh shows us the project and explains how it fits into the fabric of the city.


Rebuilding Haiti

It shouldn’t be any surprise that many very thoughtful people are already working on ideas for how to rebuild amidst the destruction in Haiti. In fact, it’s an urgent need, as so many people are homeless.

Photograph by Eduardo Fernandez
Duany Plater-Zyberk’s prototype for factory-built panelized housing in Haiti.

This video documents one of what I think is the more interesting approaches being proposed – by Andres Duany of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. There’s obviously much I like about the approach he is suggesting, not the least of which is the careful use of design to solve social, urban design and architectural problems. Too many people approach situations such as these and don’t consider how design can solve many of the pre-existing issues, or certainly how it’s critical to look at urban design in addition to simply building design.

A few random thoughts as I watched the video:

- “high-tech” materials such as this always make me a bit nervous, since they’ve rarely been applied in such a large quantity. I’m interested to see the results on the ground, but also wonder about the opportunity for more traditional building materials.

-I love the “gridded” plan that he proposes for the settlement. It shows again (pet issue of mine) how a seemingly simplistic approach to urban design can in fact have many excellent nuances for daily life

-The scale of this particular problem is staggering. I hope that casual observers can get a feel for how this effort is still just a very small first step. So much needs to be done.

Enjoy the video-

Rebuilding Haiti from Marvin Joseph on Vimeo.


River gyms and stackable cars: The future for sustainable design

Courtesy of Terreform ONE (Open Network Ecology)
RiverGym can get you to work emission-free, powered by the strength of your exercise routine.

decarb plan

Courtesy of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

The Chicago Central Area De-Carbonization Plan tracks buildings’ energy-efficiency and carbon emissions. Highest users are accented in red and lowest in green.


Sarah Moore/MEDILL

(L to R) Mitchell Joachim, Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill shared futuristci designs that bring science fiction scenarios a lot closer to home.


Courtesy of Terreform ONE (Open Network Ecology)

Matrix-esque blimp buses can carry city-dwellers from work to home and back again without them ever climbing into a car.


Sarah Moore/MEDILL

Mitchell Joachim presents In-Vitro Meat Hab, a dwelling made entirely of test tube-grown and permanently cured meat. It's called a "victimless shelter."

A hundred and fifty years ago, Elisha Graves Otis invented the elevator, and predicted it would revolutionize cities everywhere.

Now houses made of trees, high-rise wind tunnels and cars that climb walls to find parking could do the same thing, said ecological designer Mitchell Joachim at the Field Museum Thursday night.

Speaking about the Future of Sustainable Design, Joachim and Chicago architects Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill painted a dramatically innovative and greener future.

“We’re looking at a more holistic, pluralistic approach,” said Gill, speaking after the event. The Chicago partnership of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture is doing just that.

In a planned retrofit of Chicago’s Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower), the partners propose to reduce electricity use by 80 percent, the equivalent of 68 million kilowatt hours or 150,000 barrels of oil per year.

Smith and Gill presented a string of similarly mind-boggling statistics throughout a half-hour lecture that covered wind-farms built into high-rises, self-insulated structures that operate like thermos bottles to eliminate air conditioning and green roofs.

Their Chicago Central Area De-Carbonization Plan even proposes to create an emission-free downtown by 2030.

Smith said that when people think of climate change, they don’t realize that buildings contribute a whopping 50 percent of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, beating out the more commonly-conceived villain: vehicles.

With the city's help, the partners built an interactive model of the Loop with massive amounts of data on building use, emissions, square footage and other details structure by structure.

“We realized this was an enormous challenge and we wanted to understand what it would mean to meet that challenge or exceed it,” said Gill.

A New Yorker with the design firm of Terreform ONE, Joachim also had a lot to say about the revolution he hopes to see in cities.

For starters, he wants to reinvent the wheel.

With just a little vision, cars could contribute, rather than detract, from a greener future. By stacking cars that operate something like shopping carts horizontally along a curb, drivers could park over 300 of them in a single block. By changing the wheel structure, cars could move vertically up the sides of building. By "talking" to each other through “smart” technology, cars and streets could find the driver a parking spot without endless circling and searching.

Cars could even be made of Nerf-like plastics. Joachim calls them “Soft Cars,” with built-in collision-proofing.

It doesn’t end there.

Joachim’s idea for a living tree house, designed with a team from MIT and named Fab Tree Hab, is composed of 100 percent living nutrients – trees grafted into place with reusable scaffolds. He also proposes water-borne gyms, powered by the pump of your workout.

There’s no reason these visions can’t become a reality: the trick is changing the value system, all three speakers said.

Joachim used the example of New York City, which produces enough waste every hour to fill the Statue of Liberty. What if waste were seen as a resource? What if it could be used as a construction material instead of merely contributing to landfill?

“We imagine a future city where nothing is thrown away, we just move from creation to creation to creation,” he said.

If this seems a little futuristic, that’s because it is. If it seems a little familiar, that’s because Joachim helped work on the technological vision behind the movie “Minority Report.”

But that’s what makes his work so commendable, said Stephanie Comer, president of Chicago's Comer Science and Education Foundation. The foundation funds climate change research and initiatives such as a series of five symposia at the Field Museum. The Future of Sustainable Design marked the fourth annual event.

“What Mitch had to say was out of the box but very much rooted in reality: holistic, organic, with a lot of soul,” she said. “He dares to dream.”

Comer said she has confidence in the presenters’ ability to help solve these issues.

“They have a lot of experience working in a variety of major cities and working on urban issues,” she said.

Comer is the daughter of the late Gary Comer, founder of Lands’ End and a well-known philanthropist who supported climate change research and development by scientists across the country. Comer continues her father’s legacy.

Almost 200 people attended the talks given by the three speakers with a follow-up Q&A.

The previous three programs focused on the nature of climate change, global responses and domestic responses.

And this year?

“This year we are trying to understand sustainable design on a larger architectural scale,” said Beth Crownover, director of education at the Field Museum.

The lectures are slowly focusing in on the problem, Crownover said, adding that she was excited by the different approaches the speakers were taking to similar problems.

“Next year we will continue to look at applied approaches but drill down deeper and look at what the everyday individual can do,” Crownover said, adding that the possibility exists for extending the Comer Symposia.


Cultural Complex Longgang District by Mecanoo

Dutch architects Mecanoo have won a competition to design a cultural centre in Shenzhen with this design composed of a row of overhanging red volumes.

The volumes create arches above routes from a new public square to the business district beyond.

The Cultural Complex Longgang District will contain a public art museum, a science museum, a youth centre and a bookshop.

Visualisations are by Doug and Wolf.

Here are some more details from the architects:

Cultural Complex Longgang District
Shenzhen, China

Mecanoo designed the winning competition entry for a new 83,500 m2 cultural complex with a public art museum, science museum, youth centre and a bookshop, public square and parking in the Shenzhen district. The new cultural and commercial complex will provide the district with its own landmark and destination and transform the existing Longcheng park into a lively destination point. It will form a dynamic link between the commercial business district, a formal park and gardens and one of the district’s main thoroughfares. The new museum complex will unify the evolving urban fabric and generate a vibrant downtown.

urban connector
Connecting the cultural complex with the surrounding areas and new residential development was the key consideration for the design. The linearity of the existing urban masterplan created a barrier between the western development area and Longcheng park, further cutting up the area and contributing to its lack of urban vitality. Longcheng park will become a lively square which will further strengthen the quarter’s identity and provide residents and visitors with a much needed sense of place.

Four building volumes emerge from the ground to create a series of arches and sheltered public event spaces which frame the central square. Rounded shapes respect the natural flow of pedestrians through the site. These open arches serve as filters, attractors and reference points and allow the building programmes to expand outside while formally symbolising openness and connection. Different programmes strategically located on the ground floor open outwards into the exterior public space including the city in the exhibition. From within the building interior, two bridges will link to the commercial plinths of the new residential area. Cultural and commercial programmes are linked to contribute to an urban symbiosis.

Cultural complex of 83,500 m2 with public art museum, science museum, youth centre and a bookshop and 22,500 m2 of underground parking and a new public square totalling 7 hectares. Invited design competition, 1st place.