Monday, September 28, 2009

Living Artwork

Using vegetation and milled wooden frames, Edina Tokodi of the design studio Mosstika, creates vertical living wall panels that, when viewed from afar, produce images and patterns. Exhibited first in Brooklyn at Green Spaces 2009, the piece was constructed of succulent plants that are irrigated and placed under the wooden frame and allowed to grow, resulting in a "green-tone" image of a women. As simple as the technology seems, having grow-your-own living artwork in your home does not seem far off. Even better, could this technique be used to replace paper and glue billboards that line the highways of today?

Seen on Designboom. Images via Mosstika.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Tensegrity, a term coined by one of this century's greatest minds, Buckminster Fuller, is a moniker for tensional integrity, and refers to a type of lightweight construction where tension and compression members are balanced computationally in space with every member being either in pure tension or pure compression. Typically made of lightweight rod and cable systems, the result is often a delicate-looking structure which is actually mathematically as strong as it's component material properties allow. According to Donald Ingber at Harvard:
"The tension-bearing members in these structures – whether Fuller's domes or Snelson's sculptures – map out the shortest paths between adjacent members (and are therefore, by definition, arranged geodesically) Tensional forces naturally transmit themselves over the shortest distance between two points, so the members of a tensegrity structure are precisely positioned to best withstand stress. For this reason, tensegrity structures offer a maximum amount of strength."
When he first saw the sculptures by Kenneth Snelson, Fuller realized the potential of the technology and incorporated the system in the development of his famous geodesic domes.
Fuller was able to observe that the basic priciples of the system were the same:
"Tensegrity is a contraction of tensional integrity structuring. All geodesic domes are tensegrity structures, whether the tension-islanded compression differentiations are visible to the observer or not. Tensegrity geodesic spheres do what they do because they have the properties of hydraulically or pneumatically inflated structures."
Although structurally efficient, for many years the structures were left to sculptures and small scale construction due to it's need for adjustment and the fact that a single structural failure will cripple the system (though that may be part of it's natural beauty). However, with advancements in construction methods and computational modeling, tensegrity structures are again being considered for large scale development and construction. The Kurlipa Bridge in Brisbane, Australia was designed and built on the principles of tensegrity and appears to span the river below with a minimal cross-section.
Filamentosa is a skyscraper envisioned by the firm ORAMBRA that sees a solid core wrapped by a tensegrity structure.
The firm, whose moniker stands for The Office for Robotic Architecture, sees structure like this as an integral component in the future of "smart" buildings. From ORAMBRA:
More than being a series of smart systems attached to a dumb building frame, responsive architectures actually consist of intelligent frames, skins and systems. These buildings change shape and color. They have intelligent systems within them and around them. They track the sun gradually and they adjust their shape to improve shading in the summer or day lighting in the winter. They shake snow from their roof. They even change shape to reduce wind loads or improve the way they ventilate. Unlike the conventional boxes that we live in, these buildings adapt to the natural environment to improve the way that people live. They address suitability and socio-technical issues in three key ways. Firstly they provide a means to reducing the mass and embedded energy used within buildings without sacrificing robustness. Secondly they enable architects to produce a new class of building envelopes that actively adjust and shape themselves in relation to the natural environment, its seasons and weather. With this they offer great potential in reducing the energy used within buildings.
See more examples of tensegrity at oobject.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

architectural graffiti

Seen on the streets of Lisbon, artist unknown, but apparently a fan of Niemayer, Utzon, Zumthor, and OMA. And maybe Space Invaders. See them all here.
Ganked from SpaceInvading

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Of Dune and the Wealth of Water

In 1965, Frank Herbert published the novel Dune which would go on to be called the world's best-selling science fiction novel of all time. In it, Herbert describes a desert world in which it's inhabitants struggle to survive in an inhospitable environment where water, in any form, is an extremely valuable resource. To spit on the ground while greeting someone is considered a highly respectful act and water is distilled from the dead. Such is the value of water that any form is carefully considered and conserved. The population has adapted to live in this harsh dystopian world. In 1965, this novel explored an environmental concept relegated to deserts that seem foreign to much of the worlds population, but today the real-world impact of water use and conservation is becoming a harsh reality.

The country of Kenya, on the east coast of Africa is in the midst of a two year drought. Traditionally, there are two rainy seasons, the long and the short which, in the past, have provided much of the regions water during approximately six to eight months of the year. However, the drought has reduced the rains from an average of 4-5 times per week to one rain every three weeks. The evident impact is immediate. Without rain, little grass can grow throughout the country and because of this, the soil cannot be held in place, and the result is large swaths of dirt where once fertile soil existed. The dust is everywhere and can be seen in the atmosphere. The national parks, which make up much of the regions income through safari tourism, are experiencing mass dying-off of animals which cannot survive on such little water and vegetation. The desertification of the region is compounded by lakes which are drying up not only due to the drought, but also by large-scale irrigation practices for a growing wildflower industry. Water collection and conservation, which has long been practiced, is now becoming a critical factor in all development.

Using the novel Dune as a precedent, Andrew Kudliss of the firm Matsys has proposed, Sietch Nevada, an ecologically engineered desert environment "that makes the storage, use, and collection of water essential to the form and performance of urban life." Using the desert landscape of the American southwest, the project is an underground community of canals living space, and urban development tht connects the land above with the deep aquifers below. Cellular in structure and planning, the proposal mimics natural water erosion created landscape but also allows the cells to form the community organization.

Seen on BLDG BLOG. Sietch Nevada images via Matsys.