1. Better Apartments – responses:
The recently published “Better Apartments” paper by the Victorian Government has been a much-discussed topic around town. Many architects, planners & interested parties have voiced their opinions on what ramifications such design guideline will bear. The list include Craig Yelland – Director of Plus Architecture, Colleen Peterson – managing director of Ratio Consultants and Jo Harrison – Associate Planning at Meinhardt. The general concerns are linked to potential hike in apartment prices & rents, reduction in housing supply, developments being pushed out to the fringes etc. More importantly, many believe that prescriptive guidelines on apartment sizes & amenities do not guarantee good design or reflect what the market needs. Some suggestions include factoring cost into the equations and let people decide, “incentives & bonuses” for good design, instead of mandating certain standards. Response from the public is open until August via online survey.
2. The Design of Calendar
It pretty much dictates everything we do in life, but where and how did calendar come about? ‘99% Invisible’ radio show tells you all about calendar design in its episode 159.
Although man acknowledged a year as one full revolution of the Earth around the Sun, it took many centuries to arrive at the number 365. The Roman calculated 354 days based on the phases of the Moon, until accumulatively season starts to shift dramatically. The Egyptian solar calendar added that extra 11 days and put a leap day in February, thanks to their “Nilometers” which measured the rise and fall of the Nile every year. Yet it still missed about 11 minutes and 14 seconds each year until Pope Gregory amended the calendar, giving us the Gregorian calendar that is on your phone right now.
Similarly, a week has its own history which not many people are aware of since it does not based on any natural occurrence like a year (full revolution of Earth around the Sun), a month (time between full moons), or a day (between sunrises or sunsets). The history rooted back 4000 years to Babylon, when the Babylonians planed their days around the belief that there were seven planets in the solar system. The earliest use of “week-end” was noted in 1879 in England, for workers would leave on Saturday after work to spend time with friends. And because workers often skip work on Monday recovering, factory owners gave them an extra half-day on Saturday in exchange for a guaranteed turn up on Monday. American factories materialized the full “2-day weekend” in 1908 to accommodate Jewish workers’ Saturday Sabbath. And the Great Depression helped to solidify the five-day week too.
The Gregorian calendar and the 5 working days week, although predominantly used, have been challenged from time to time. In 1849, Frenchman August Comte created the Positivist calendar, having 28 days each month, and 13 months each year, with an additional festival day, totaling 365 days. The months would be renamed after great men in history (Moses, Homer, Caesar…) and always start on a Monday. Costworth subscribed to this radical calendar redesign, with minor changes such as keeping the old Gregorian month names, the 13th month ‘Sol” will fall between June & July, an additional day will be call “Year-Day” & will occur after December 28th outside of the week cycle. One of the biggest subscribers to Costworth’s calendar was George Eastman, the founder of Kodak. Claiming it to be a logical, effective and easy-to-follow calendar, the company adopted it for 65 years, after which the quest for calendar reform ceases dramatically.
Other efforts have gone into, not reinventing the calendar itself, but reinventing the way we use time during the week. Many have challenged the 40-hour-work per week model, stating that people work better in intense bursts & rests while holding longer working hours responsible for unproductiveness, mental & physical damages. Others have started implementing new ways of working around the clock. 37signals software company has their employees work four-day, 32-hour weeks for half of the year. David Stephens consultant firm was divided into two groups, one works 40 hours from Monday to Thursday, the other works 40 hours from Tuesday to Friday, and the schedule switch each week so employees would have a 4-day weekend every 2 weeks. Although the model might be criticized for longer working hours per day, contact-ability, disadvantages in a five-day-work a week market, the employees took fewer sick days, and morale skyrocketed. The traditional 8-8-8 day format is becoming obsolete and we need to be more efficient with our time, because time is now the new currency.
3. Technology is awesome
The US-based start-up, Batteroo, has developed a device that can extend your disposable battery life by 800%. Normal alkaline battery generates 1.5V, but as soon as it drops to 1.4V, most devices will consider it ‘dead’ even though it still has 80% energy. The so-called “Batteriser” taps into this problem by reboosting the circuitry back to 1.5V, and the 0.1mm thickness means it can fit into any kind of device. Time to stop putting 15 billion batteries into landfill each year, for just 2.5$.
A group of UK engineers has plans to bring light to about 1 billion people in developing countries, not using electricity, but gravity. GravityLight utilizes gravity to transform potential energy into kinetic energy, which is then used to power LED light. All you need to do is add 12kg of weight to one end, let it slowly descend & create the power needed to light up for 20-30 minutes, after which you only need to repeat the simple process. Compared to kerosene lamps, GravityLight reduces fire risk & carginogens spewing, and its running cost only cost gravity. Support their crowd-funding campaign here.
Last year, the Netherlands made headlines by announcing the first ever solar bike path – roads that harvest energy. Six month in, the system has generated 3000kWh – enough energy for one household for a year. The structure consists of solar panels sandwiched between glass, silicon rubber & concrete, able to to withstand 12-tonne fire trucks. Not only does it have a sustainable cause, solar road can produce amazing aesthetic quality such as one by Studio Roosegaarde.
4. Field Journal:
Field Journal – an online platform for socially engaged art criticism – has recently published its inaugural issue, documenting a remarkable proliferation of participatory art practices and activism globally. The journal format encourages essays, interviews, reviews, research, and contributions from independent critiques, artists, art historians, curators, theorist, and activist. The issue content includes:
- Interview with Tania Bruguera – an advocate for freedom of speech in Cuba – about her project Immigrant Movement International (IMI) in Queens.
- An essay by Krzysztof Wodiczko on social and collaborative relationships, which are crucial to his projects in Tijuana and Londonderry.
- “A week in Pasadena”, an essay by anthropologists George Marcus, Christine Hegel & designer Luke cantarella written about the methodology used to tackle complex cultural problems.
- Sue Bell Yank’s study of Jeanne van Heeswijk’s Freehouse project in a largely immigrant community in South Rottendam. By examining the changes in the political structure of the organization, Sue discussed on how to encourage people to participate while making sacrifice of their immediate economic self-interest, for a more collective community in the long run.
- Research of Marc Herbst, “Thoughts on the Cultural Policy of a Failed State”, drawing from his time living in Leipzig. The paper reflects on the relationship between anti-capitalist and anti-globalization movement of many artists in the 1990s; and the existing socialism in East Germany.
- Sebastian Loewe’s essay, “When Protest Becomes Art”, looking at the effort by Documenta and the Berlin Biennale to exhibit the Occupy movement as part of their programming in 2012.
- Interview with Canadian artist Althea Thauberger, author of the project Murphy Canyon Choir composed of the spouses of active-duty sailors and Marines in San Diego. She reflects on her encounters with military culture and soldier, many among which enlist for economic reasons, having families living below poverty line.
- “Re-posts” series, written by scholars outside the disciplines of art history and theory. These essays shed light on key issues in the field of art and activism.
Read the whole issue here.
5. The formation of Barcelona urban grid
Considered as one of the most recognisable city fabric in the world, yet unbeknown to many, Barcelona was a shortcoming of one of the world’s most radical urban planning schemes. Alexander Doerr wrote in depth about its masterplan on FailedArchitecture blog, titled “Behind Four Walls: Barcelona’s Lost Utopia”. Facing the pressure of overpopulation by the Industrial Revolution during the 2nd half of the 19th century, the Madrid government demolished the old medieval walls & run a competition for the new city expansion in the district of Eixample, which was then won by Ildefons Cerda, a civil engineer turned urban planner.
At the core of Cerda proposal was the creation of the manzana – a city block built on 2 or 3 sides, with total length of 133.3m, and filled in the center with recreational green space for sunlight and ventilations. These manzana block was chamfered 45 degree at each corner to accommodate tram’s turning radius. Eixample was divided up into districts, zones with amenities (schools, hospitals, markets…) distributed evenly. After much bureaucratic disputes and delays, Cerda’s plan started to be implemented 1860, though with major compromises.
Figure 11: Development of the manzana blocks
The majority of the manzana blocks were built up on all sides with height exceeding the original plan in order to maximise profit. Public facilities were turned into private leasable space. Cerda’s vision was not fully realized. Today Barcelona is a tourist hot spot and a city with its own character. It is therefore hard to criticise the shortcoming of Cerda’s plan, yet people still like to think about the hypothetical. There is even a “Pro Eixample” foundation formed in hope to reclaim those private spaces and turn them into what they were envisioned to be.
Project of the Week
“The Foundry”, a stripped back and rebuilt factory into a Social Justice and Human Rights Centre in Vauxhall, has brought home RIBA’s London building of the year award. The existing building was an old shoe polish factory, converted into a charity office building, and is now home to 25 different social justice and human rights organisations. The design firm Architecture 00 has long been interested in “civic economy” and envisioned this building as a “social ecosystem” where collaborative working triumphs over a siloed corporate world. Architecturally, the building is basically a concrete shelves of horizontal floor slabs, designed for flexible workspaces as well as exhibitions space & community learning center organised by its own tenatn, Gasworks. An atrium separates the old part with the new extension, both spatially and materially, brick wall on one side and timber balustrade on the other. The building performs well both financially and sustainably, with exposed concrete soffits (cost saving, good thermal mass), recycled carpet tiles, limited standard details throughout, ventilation system integrated into the old chimneys… “The Foundry” proves yet again that considerate design & civic-minded thinking can produce great buildings, even with modest budgets.
The ‘Bookmark’ series is my summaries on the books/writings/articles that I come across. Most of them are design-related. Those that aren’t will hopefully have a design undertone to them.