Micro Intervention: See Potential

Photo courtesy of Emily Schiffer

Similar to our last blog post on La Place du Geant  we would like to share this interesting spin on community based design visualization. Photographer Emily Schiffer has developed an idea that hopes to better serve communities suffering from poverty, blight, and underused infrastructure in the South Side of Chicago.  In partnership with Orrin Williams, the founder and director of the Center for Urban Transformation (CUT) [http://www.cutchicago.org/], she would like to engage the community with and public art with the goal of transforming urban blight into community potential.

With a focus on urban agriculture Schiffer would like to work with artists, photographers, and community leaders to use large-scale photographic installations and urban redevelopment as strategies for pre-visualizing a transformed landscape. Her hope is that this community cooperative approach will help to redirect attention towards solutions based in reality and "reframe individuals' relationships with food and foster new forms of healthy living."

The viability of urban agriculture in the United States is yet to be determined given the dominance of industrial farming operations. Family farms in rural areas all over the country are continuing to fail at an alarming rate.  If it can be accomplished in an manner that is economically and socially sustainable, perhaps part of the answer lies with urban agriculture.  The fact that it is unproven does not preclude attempts to create urban farms.  Organic farming at one time was considered a niche business, but it profitably continues now on a variety of scales.  Maybe the same can happen for urban agriculture.

We applaud Schiffer's project and value the creativity, courage, and vision it takes to make something like this happen.

To find out more about Schiffer's project, watch the video below or visit Kickstarter.

Photo and text courtesy of Kickstarter and Emily Schiffer.


La Place du Geant

In July of 2011 Collectif Etc. brought to life their winning idea for a vacant urban property named by its neighborhood, La Place du Geant (officially named Place au Changement Public Plaza).  The project was selected in a competition sponsored by The Public Urban Planning Agency of (France) winning entry by the Collectif Etc.  

Developed as a temporary installation, its bold an unique strategy involved asking the community to imagine what the 7,000 sqft property might look like if it was filled with a building and then create structure that reflected that image. "The idea was to represent the plan of imaginary housings on the ground and their section on the wall."   People could then get a sense for what a future building might look like in that space.

Several workshops were offered that provided useful training in the form of carpentry, construction, graphic design, landscape design, and landscape maintenance. The construction was open to the public with Collectif Etc. acting as the oversight committee providing logistics, organization, and tools for the community.

Neighbors have given it the name, La Place du Geant  because of artists Ella&Pitr large painting.  Naming is an important part of place making; particularly a name given by its users.  Such an event connotes ownership and value.  And with an inclusive process to imagine the future, this neighborhood has created a space that has so far proved to be functional and social within its context.


All Photos Courtesy of Collectif Etc.

Jett , Megan . "Place au Changement Public Plaza / Collectif Etc" 31 Oct 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 30 Dec 2011. <http://www.archdaily.com/179874> 


A Citizen Architect and the Role of Design in a Land-Grant University

Photo Courtesy of The Rural Studio

 “That is the reason you go to college, not to make more money, but to gain the knowledge to make this a better world.”
– Sambo Mockbee

Citizen Architect is a well regarded film that highlights some of the best work done by the Rural Studio at Auburn.  It has been around a while, but its merits and the debate it inspires still hold true as it passionately lays out the role of Design in a land grant university.  It re-examines an age-old dispute carried forward from the inception of modernism and subsequently post-modernism, post-structuralism and deconstruction.  The movie does let Peter Eisenman eloquently express his point of view, however it clearly favors "architecture for the people" as opposed to "architecture as artistic expression".   The last part of that sentence wholly and unjustly oversimplifies both points of view because as with many theological debates, the more one tries to draw distinctions, the closer each becomes to the other.

Through this film one can see how the merits discussed during the now famous and expletive laced 1982 Harvard debate between Peter Eisenman and Christopher Alexander carries into the Land Grant vs. Ivy League discussion.   Again, that is a general statement that oversimplifies not only the role of each type of university but their position on the function of architecture in society.  But what is apparent, is that, in a manner similar to what is espoused by Alexander, Mockbee and the Rural Studio endeavor to build a reality of functional and esthetic architecture for undeserved communities.  Perhaps Mockbee's greatest contribution is the recognition that the idea of architecture as high art exists along a spectrum with socially conscious architecture.  That Design is not what one believes, it is what one makes.

Regardless of your worldview, or what university you attend, or attended, or teach at, Citizen Architect  should be required viewing for anyone in the architecture/landscape/planning/engineering fields, and especially those who are looking to enter those fields.

Photo Courtesy of samaulamockbee.net


Algorithms, Landscape, and the Physics of Culture

Artwork by Michael Najjar

In his exciting and dynamic TEDTalk presentation,  Kevin Slavin delivers a brilliant argument for algorithms as a co-evolutionary force that is shaping human ecology and our planet.  He weaves aspects of art, culture, architecture, finance, and urban design into his story and builds a strong case for, what I can gather, a serious and impactful example of artificial intelligence. 

See another article on this talk here:


Bioluminescence- Understanding "The Language of Light"

NY Times 2011

Life is truly amazing. From anglerfish to dinoflagellates, ninety percent of deep sea organisms (number of organisms, not species) manage to create their own light down within the depths of the ocean, known as bioluminescence. These organisms produce the necessary photoproteins, luciferins, and enzymes, luciferase, that react with oxygen to produce light. This self-made light helps organisms find food, find mates, call for help ("burglar alarm") and even to defend against predators by shooting "photon torpedoes."

Not only do aquatic organisms use bioluminescence for their own benefit, now humans are using this same chemical reaction to understand pollution levels in water bodies. Dr. Widder and her colleagues at the Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA) have invented a water-quality monitor, the Kilroy, that can quickly assess bioluminescence activity with a bathyphotometer. Bioluminescence is known to be an indicator of pollution levels (a bioindicator). The more toxic an environment is, the less bioluminescence.

In addition to measuring bioluminescence, the Kilroy is equipped with other sensors that monitor water temperature, flow speed, flow direction, water level and the global position of the unit. This data is sent in real time wirelessly to a central computer that compiles the data to give an overall view of the properties of a water body at any given time. This data will hopefully "shed light" on pollution in our waterways that otherwise is invisible and at many times goes unnoticed until the problem is beyond repair.

“It’s my belief if we can make pollution visible, and let people know what small things they are doing are actually making an improvement in this incredible environment,” she said, “I think it could make a huge difference. It can be a game-changer.” (Dr. Widder, NY Times article)

 Dr. Widder was recently mentioned in the NY Times. The article has fabulous photos of bioluminescence.

Dogfish Head Brewery / DIGSAU Architects

The Dogfish Head Brewery has been around for a few years now, but we can't help but recognize it.  Founded in 1995, Dogfish Head creates some of our favorite craft beers.  After outgrowing its Rehoboth Brewpub, the company adopted a 104,000sf cannery in Milton, Delaware to house its brewing operations in 2002.   The growing company needed office, laboratory, and retail space.  They saw this as an opportunity to reshape the image of the existing complex into one more attuned to the company’s progressive and “off-centered” culture.

Along with the building expansion and fit-out, a new site design comprehensively transforms the former fire access road into an entry plaza featuring two regulation bocce courts and an additional conference room in the form of the Steampunk Treehouse.

The project integrates a more sustainable approach in its use of material, water, and energy. The site design incorporates infiltration areas and pervious surfaces over what had previously been impervious pavement. Daylight modeling was utilized to locate windows and roof monitors, minimizing the need for artificial light. Most interior lighting is provided by high-efficient LED fixtures integrated into the steel joists. Local and salvaged materials were utilized for the cladding and furniture.

Architect: DIGSAU
Project Team: Jules Dingle, Jeff Goldstein, Mark Sanderson, Jamie Unkefer, Aaron Jezzi
Structural Engineer: Baker, Ingram & Associates
Contractor: Lighthouse Construction, Inc
Interior Casework and Work Stations: Fleetwood Fixtures
Steampunk Treehouse: Sean Orlando and 5TC
Project Area: 26,000 sqf
Project Year: 2009
Photos: Pixelcraft Inc. / Roman Torres
Text Incorporated From: http://www.archdaily.com


Why Gold is Valuable

Photo courtesy of David Kestenbaum/NPR. Sanat Kumar, with table.

Here at (a)biotic we are die-hard fans of just about every series produced by NPR.  One of our favorites is Planet Money.  Every week the show takes on a difficult economic situation or concept and breaks it down in a clever, easy to digest manner.  In general, Alex Blumberg leads a less than rag tag bunch of smarty-pants contributors who weave tales of the economy with interesting highlights culture and ecology.

One story a few months ago was particularly interesting, they tackled the question of why we, as a society, have valued gold. Over all the other elements in the world why does gold get the pole position?

They contacted Sanat Kumar, a chemical engineer at Columbia University and asked him to plow through the periodic table and tackle this question.  It is a fascinating tour through history and science.  You can read or listen to the story here:




Post Industrial Rehab in Luxembourg

AllesWirdGut Architektur have converted an abandoned steel mill into a public park in Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg. The degraded existing site was necessarily covered by the new use and new design however it was AllesWirdGut's intent to let the now hidden qualities shine through the redesign.  

photographs : Roger Wagner


Wolfgang Oehme

Yesterday the field of Landscape Architecture lost a tremendous author, designer, teacher, plantsman, and leader.  His body of built work speaks for itself, as well as his beautifully illustrated books.

"He was a consummate landscape architect," said his business partner, Carol Oppenheimer of Pikesville. "He was a plant genius whose intellect is recognized all over the world."

Pass along well wishing here:


If you haven't seen this, it's new to you so here it is.

Two friends out for a canoe ride get a front seat to one of nature's more spectacular phenomena: a massive group of starlings called a "murmuration".

Scientists aren't sure how flocking animals such as starlings and certain species of fish react in such amazing unison. As far as they can tell, the synchronization isn't based off a leader bird, but any individual's movement. Neighboring birds will take a cue, and the movement will ripple onward, creating the morphing shapes that grow and change in waves (rather than instantly across the flock). As for evolution's reason behind flocking behaviors, it comes down to strength in numbers: predators have a hard time focusing on an individual in a group of thousands.


Ice Cube and the Eamses

Yes, that is really Ice Cube, driving around Los Angeles, and talking about Charles and Ray Eames. The Eameses are considered by some to be one of the greatest home-and-furniture design teams of the 20th century.

The video is the third in a series pairing stars and artistic types, all to promote a six-month celebration of L.A. art called Pacific Standard Time.

Watch the whole video.  Ice Cube, in his own pragmatic, style puts into focus contemporary societies' hyper-obsession with the green movement as if it were a novel concept.