Wooden Utensils & Kitchen Safety

Your cutting board, utensils and coffee maker are among the long list of items in your kitchen that could be leaching dangerous chemicals.

Your cutting board, utensils and coffee maker are among the long list of items in your kitchen that could be leaching dangerous chemicals. Illustration: Julia Louise Pereira/The Guardian

Kitchen safety, per se, is not a topic we have featured in these pages before, even though wooden utensils have been featured:

Wooden spoons and glass mugs: how to avoid toxic chemicals in your kitchen

Tom Perkins has reported widely on the potential risks of toxic chemicals. Here’s his guide to help you find safe alternatives for your kitchen

Chemicals are the invisible guests in our kitchens. You can’t see them but they are everywhere. Continue reading

Greenhouse By Joost

We have not heard news of Joost Bakker in over a decade, so Max Veenhuyzen’s profile and introduction to the documentary previewed above is most welcome:

‘We can have houses covered with biology, plants, ecosystems and waterfalls’: Greenhouse by Joost documents the green-thinking initiatives of Future Food System. Photograph: Dean Bradley/Madman Entertainment

Mushroom walls and waste-fuelled stoves: inside the self-sufficient home of tomorrow

Joost Bakker believes a house can be more than a place to live: it can be a self-sustaining weapon against the climate crisis. A new Australian documentary explores his bold blueprint

Future Food System is anchored by self-watering garden beds filled with 35 tonnes of soil. Photograph: Earl Carter Images

“The most destructive things we humans do,” says Joost Bakker, “is eat.”

In terms of sentences that grab your attention, the introduction to new Australian documentary Greenhouse by Joost is right up there. Then again, Bakker – a multi-disciplinary designer, no-waste advocate and the film’s eponymous protagonist – has long been something of a provocateur. Continue reading

From Wales To The Tropics, Coppice

Bundles of newly coppiced Salix viminalis – willow stems harvested during late autumn and winter each year, to create living willow structures and woven items. Photograph: Compulsory Credit: GAP Photos/Nicola Stocken

In the tropics we use coppice to make berms that support new growth and channel water, while in Wales they do other practical things; thanks to the Guardian‘s  Alys Fowler (long time no see) for pointing the latter out to us:

Coppicing is great for your garden – and gives you lots of material to play with willow stems

Apart from the enjoyment of making household items out of stems, coppicing trees and shrubs has aesthetic and eco benefits for gardens

Back in late spring when we got the keys to our new house in Wales, I quickly coppiced a huge hazel to let some light into the back of the house. Continue reading

Alt-Leather, Vegan & Otherwise

Innovative vegan leather belt made from mycelium fiber, fungal spores and plant fibers. los_angela / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Our thanks to Linnea Harris for the latest news in alt-leather, which is best when vegan, except for when it is not:

The Future of Leather: How Pineapple Leaves, Cacti, and Mycelium Are Revolutionizing the Industry

Leather is everywhere – in our shoes, our purses and luggage, our winter jackets and stylish furniture – but its effect is seen globally.

To create the leather for our clothing, homewares, and other purposes, billions of cows are slaughtered each year. Continue reading

Hotel-ish Homes For Birds, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Artist-made birdhouses are installed throughout the Garden as part of For the Birds. Use the exhibition map or scan the list below to explore!

Zach Helfand gives us a quick sketch of what happens when celebrities, and celebrity architects, collaborate on behalf of birds. When you next have the opportunity to visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, keep this initiative in mind:

To benefit the Audubon Society, “For the Birds,” a COVID passion project, brings together ornithophiles and artist-designed birdhouses, including a 12BR Apt, A/C, No Elv, Vus.

100 Martin Inn birdhouse on location at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

The recent housing market has brought about ruinous price increases, a bidding war over a fifth-floor walkup studio with no oven, and enough of a civic exodus for the Post to declaim, earlier this month, “listen up, new york—florida sucks, and you’ll all be back in five years.” But that doesn’t mean deals can’t be had. Take a unit that just went on the market. It’s a newly built architect-designed twelve-bedroom in shall we say Crown Heights, with finishes by a master carpenter and three-hundred-and-sixty-degree views of Prospect Park. Continue reading

Animal Prints & Entrepreneurial Conservation

Conservation-minded scholars hope to harness the cultural power of animal prints. Illustration by Na Kim

It is difficult to judge from Rebecca Mead’s article Should Leopards Be Paid for Their Spots whether and how the idea has a practical future, although the exemplary collaboration between Panthera and Hermes has allure. The concept has plenty of merit, from my vantage point 26 years into an entrepreneurial career that shares some common ground.

If travelers are willing to pay a premium to support the conservation of a place; if they buy things to take home because those things support artisans and farmers; and continue to buy the coffee when back home because it funds bird habitat regeneration (customers tell me via email that in addition to the coffee being excellent, this is a motivator), then why not this too:

Style-setters from Egyptian princesses to Jackie Kennedy to Debbie Harry have embraced leopard prints. Proponents of a “species royalty” want designers to pay to help save endangered big cats.

Jacqueline Kennedy, in 1962. Photograph from Getty

When Jacqueline Kennedy was living in the White House, in the early sixties, she relied upon the taste of Oleg Cassini, the costume designer turned couturier, to supply her with a wardrobe that would befit her role as First Lady, one of the most photographed women in the world. In 1962, Cassini provided her with a striking leopard coat. Knee-length, with three-quarter sleeves and six buttons that fastened across the chest, the coat was not made from a synthetic leopard-patterned fabric. Continue reading

Frederick Law Olmsted At 200

Portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted (detail), 1895, by John Singer Sargent (1856–1925); The Artchives/Alamy Stock Photo.

From Hedgehog Review, a bit of scholarly reflection on a man whose impact on the landscape of cityscapes is still worthy of consideration:

The Man Who Built Forward Better

On Frederick Law Olmsted’s Bicentennial

Witold Rybczynski

What would Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903) make of his works today, in the bicentennial year of his birth? No doubt he would be delighted by the survival and continued popularity of so many of his big-city parks, particularly Central Park and Prospect Park, but also parks in Boston, Chicago, and Montreal, as well as Buffalo, Detroit, Rochester, and Louisville. He might be surprised by the bewildering range of activities these parks now accommodate—not only boating and ice-skating, as in his day, but exercising, jogging, picnicking, and games, as well as popular theatrical and musical events. I don’t think this variety would displease him. After all, it was he who introduced free band concerts in Central Park, over the objections of many of his strait-laced colleagues. He would be pleased by the banning of automobiles; his winding carriage drives were never intended for fast—and noisy—traffic. Continue reading

Too Much Hype About Too Much Stuff

The Economist recently promoted a notion:

Rags to riches – fashion as an asset class HOW DID second-hand clothes become fashion’s hottest buy? Online resale and rental firms are changing the calculus on what it means to buy fashion “as an investment”

Hype? We will see. The “trapped” value of fashion items in our homes might get liberated as discussed, but what about the fundamental trap of fashion?

Ryan McVay/Getty Images

Kenneth P. Pucker shares an important lesson from his time in industry, and kudos to Harvard Business Review for giving him the platform to explain The Myth of Sustainable Fashion:

Few industries tout their sustainability credentials more forcefully than the fashion industry. Products ranging from swimsuits to wedding dresses are marketed as carbon positive, organic, or vegan while yoga mats made from mushrooms and sneakers from sugar cane dot retail shelves. New business models including recycling, resale, rental, reuse, and repair are sold as environmental life savers. Continue reading

Tiles, Heritage & Conservation

Joan Moliner with some of the 1,600 tiles he has found in builders’ skips. Photograph: Stephen Burgen/The Guardian

When we were working on the project that became Xandari Harbour, articles like the one below, or any about architectural preservation, were the type we most enjoyed sharing. It has been too long, so here goes:

A man on a mission to preserve Barcelona’s decorative floor tiles

As 19th-century apartment blocks become luxury flats, Joan Moliner is saving part of the city’s heritage

A tile display with Moliner’s Brompton bicycle. Photograph: Joan Moliner

Each morning, from the moment when Joan Moliner unfolds his bicycle for the ride to work to Barcelona city centre, he is on a mission, one eye on the road, the other on builders’ skips. His quarry, if that’s the word, is cement floor tiles.

All over the city, 19th-century apartment blocks are being made over into luxury flats. In the process, a vital part of Barcelona’s heritage – its decorative tiled floors – is ending up in a dump.

Conservation of the architectural heritage rarely extends beyond listing the facade, despite the wealth of interior detail in buildings erected at a time when Barcelona was a mecca for artists and artisans. Continue reading

Natural Fiber Welding

From left to right, SEM image of raw cotton and Natural Fiber Welding’s CLARUS® cotton. COURTESY OF NATURAL FIBER WELDING

We look forward to hearing more as they progress:

This Company Has a Way to Replace Plastic in Clothing

Natural Fiber Welding uses an innovative process to treat cotton and make it behave more like synthetic fibers.

LUKE HAVERHALS WANTS to change how yoga pants are made. Most performance fabrics used in athletic clothing, like Spandex, are made from synthetic fibers—plastic, essentially. Those plastics are problematic for humans and the environment. Haverhals’ company, Natural Fiber Welding, offers an alternative to synthetic fabrics. Continue reading

Expo 2020’s Pavilion Of Irony

Credit: Michele Nastasi

For a second day, the story that stands out as worth sharing here is one with irony written all over it. Nevermind that this event with 2020 in its name is just being reported on now. We all know that last year’s events got postponed for good reason.  It is a story about too little too late, without saying so. Reported from a region of the world made wealthy by the proliferation of plastic and other petrochemical product, there is not a hint of irony in this story. Needless to say, architecture rethinking building materials is a topic we care about. Even without being snarky, the irony of this story is hard to miss:

Italy’s eco-friendly Expo pavilion is made using orange peel and coffee grounds

Italy’s pavilion features a facade of nautical ropes, made with 2 million recycled plastic bottles. Credit: Michele Nastasi

With three full-size, seaworthy boat hulls as its roof and a facade of nautical ropes made from recycled plastic, Italy’s pavilion at Dubai Expo 2020 embraces the concept of reusable design.

Favored by an excellent placement within the Expo site — between the “Opportunity” and “Sustainability” thematic areas and with uninterrupted front and side views — the pavilion attracted a fifth of the overall visitors to the event in the opening weeks, making it one of the most successful. Continue reading

Roses In The Cloister

Roses in the cloister.   SIMON WATSON

Yesterday’s post linked to earlier ones with rose references, and one of those led me to a small correction. The photo above shows a slightly different angle on the roses in the garden of the restored convent. I had assumed those roses were very old. A bit of sleuthing led me to the fact that they were planted during the restoration, and they are “indeed quite perfumed.” For that and other reasons it is worth taking another look at that project, this time told by Olinda Adeane and with excellent photos by Simon Watson:

A mother & daughter’s restoration of a 16th-century Tuscan convent

A mother-and-daughter design duo has taken an unconventional approach to the conversion of a sixteenth-century convent in Tuscany, filling the rooms with objects and artworks of their own making.

In the library, hand-coloured prints stand out against the white walls. SIMON WATSON

Henry James once described his friend Edith Wharton as a ‘great and glorious pendulum’ swinging back and forth across the Atlantic. In a similar fashion, Holly Lueders, a designer from New York, has returned to Greece every year since she first visited the country as an 18-year-old student. Holly grew up in a sleepy town in Missouri with little in the way of culture or local craft, but her family was artistic and good with their hands. ‘Anything we wanted, we made for ourselves,’ remembers Holly. She studied art history and archaeology at Columbia University and completed her studies in Athens. Continue reading

Planned Obsolescence Reconsidered

Sandra Goldmark’s essay, Built Not to Last: How to Overcome Planned Obsolescence, is worthy of a few minutes:

What you can do as an individual consumer, a business patron, and a voter

In 2020, people worldwide bought some 24 billion pairs of shoes, 64 million cars, and 1.4 billion smartphones—200 million of them from Apple. More than 80 percent of iPhones sold last year went to “upgraders,” not first-time buyers. It’s all part of business as usual. Continue reading

Wooden Building Blocks 2.0

A construction site in Vaxjo, Sweden, using prefabricated cross-laminated timber panels that are assembled on-site. Gabriel Leigh

In previous centuries building with wood was the norm, and then safety and efficiency considerations stopped the practice. Now, climate change and other considerations are turning the tide back in favor of building with wood. Counterintuitive at first–climate change is in part a function of deforestation, and reforestation is considered part of the solution–reading this article gives the perspective needed to get your intuition reoriented. Thanks to Gabriel Leigh and the New York Times for this:

Wooden Buildings Reach for the Sky

A rendering of the completed Stockholm complex, dubbed Cederhusen, or Cedar House. General Architecture

VAXJO, Sweden — Stockholm and its suburbs are filled with construction cranes these days, reflecting a growing population combined with a housing shortage. But few of its developments are as extensive as Hagastaden, just to the north of central Stockholm where it meets the neighboring municipality of Solna.

Here, it looks as if an entirely new city is being built. Continue reading

Volts, A Panic-Mitigation Option

Volts: a newsletter about clean energy and politics

What with climate change accelerating and US politics falling apart, it’s pretty grim out there. Yet alongside these doom loops, somewhat anomalously, something good is happening: the transition away from fossil fuels to clean, carbon-free energy is underway, and it is accelerating every day

Our reading and listening options are constantly expanding and contracting, and especially with climate change and energy topics in particular it can be challenging to find options that do not simply induce panic. We have our regular go-to sources, like Yale e360, that has been creatively informative without just heaping on the bleak (any more than necessary, which it sometimes is). A recent discovery of an analytical source worth sharing is this newsletter/podcast combo by David Roberts. Below is the most recent podcast:

Volts podcast: rampant environmental rule-breaking and how to fix it, with Cynthia Giles

Designing rules (including climate rules) that are harder to break

The US has hundreds of environmental rules and regulations on the books, meant to achieve various environmental goals — clean up coal plants, reduce toxins in consumer products, limit agricultural waste, and so on.

Once these rules and regulations are put in place, most people don’t give them a lot of thought. To the extent they do, they tend to believe two things: one, that environmental rules are generally followed (maybe, what, 3-5 percent break the rules?), and two, that the answer to noncompliance is increased enforcement.

According to Cynthia Giles, both those assumptions are dead wrong.

 

Purposefully Funky Nesting Bricks

A swift looks out of a nest brick. The bricks are helping to restore nesting sites lost to building modernisation. Photograph: Simon Stirrup

Seth first brought our attention to funky nests during his years working for the Celebrate Urban Birds program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We have done our best with and without Seth to continue to pay attention to bird nesting, funky or not. This news is more than welcome on the purposefully funky bird nests showing up in the UK:

Securing a swift return: how a simple brick can help migratory birds

Many swifts flying back to Britain will find their summer nests lost to building renovations. But bird bricks are offering them an alternative home

Swifts flock over rooftops in Wiltshire. The migratory birds spend just three summer months in the UK to breed. Photograph: Nick Upton/NPL

Eagerly anticipated by many, it is a thrilling moment when you first hear the distinctive screech or catch sight of the long, tapered wings of the first swifts arriving for the summer. For thousands of years they have looped to the British Isles from Africa to raise the next generation, taking advantage of the long daylight hours in the north and the opportunity to scour the skies for insects from dawn to dusk. Continue reading

Animal Bridges, Saving Lives & Protecting Species

A wildlife overpass in Banff national park, in the Canadian Rockies. Photograph: Ross MacDonald/Banff National Park

Protecting wilderness–for broad reasons related to the value of biodiversity as well more narrow reasons related to mankind’s  basic requirements–have been a constant theme on this platform since we started; animal bridges, per se, have not. Here is a look at why these bridges matter:

How creating wildlife crossings can help reindeer, bears – and even crabs

Sweden’s announcement this week that it is to build a series of animal bridges is the latest in global efforts to help wildlife navigate busy roads

Reindeer viaducts in Sweden will keep herds safe from traffic as they roam in search of grazing. Photograph: Pawel Garski./Alamy

Every April, Sweden’s main highway comes to a periodic standstill. Hundreds of reindeer overseen by indigenous Sami herders shuffle across the asphalt on the E4 as they begin their journey west to the mountains after a winter gorging on the lichen near the city of Umeå. As Sweden’s main arterial road has become busier, the crossings have become increasingly fractious, especially if authorities do not arrive in time to close the road. Sometimes drivers try to overtake the reindeer as they cross – spooking the animals and causing long traffic jams as their Sami owners battle to regain control. Continue reading

Urban Greening Ideas Are Infectious, Union Square Park Case In Point

The image to the left is surely evocative for different people in different ways. I cannot see it without flashbacks to what that same spot looked and smelled and sounded like in 1987. It was a peculiar moment in time; I’ll leave it at that. This rendering reaches me just after seeing images of Penn Station’s recent renovation, which itself got me thinking about unique solutions to different kinds of urban challenges. In that case the interior was the thing. For cities where there is too much built space and traffic, greening of arteries is the thing. Also coincidental was last week’s news about the plan for the neighborhood where our sons attended school during the 2003-2004 academic year, which reaffirms my sense that good ideas are infectious.

Those news from New York and from Paris transported me to a very different urban space where we lived and worked for seven years. The image above and the title screen to the right both serve well to evoke an idea that was generated in one of India’s best preserved colonial harbor neighborhoods. Just prior to opening this property in that neighborhood we hosted four young creative professionals from Europe and the USA, two authors and two architects. One of the architects had recently completed work on our then-favorite model of urban re-utilization.
I stood with him on a rooftop overlooking the spice-trading on the street where our hotel was under construction. We had a breezy conversation about how this space might be made more accessible, and I commented on this neighborhood needing an urban design that, like the repurposing of two crumbling spice warehouses into our hotel would be respectful of history while not a slave to it. And the next day he disappeared, as guests do, but the idea is still out there, gestating, and in my hazy memory looks something like this image below.

“Envisioning Union Square’s Vibrant North Plaza” – Watercolor by Guido Hartray

Not the specifics, of course. But this dream-like watercolor rendering of Union Square Park’s future layout is a perfect reminder of that rooftop conversation about how Mattacherry might one day be a more effective version of its already awesome self. Carolyn McShea has posted this research note about the Union Square initiative on the website of Marvel Architects:

A Guiding Vision for Union Square and 14th Street

Union Square is famous for its rich activist history, successful Business Improvement District (BID) and 24/7 residential-commercial community that is also home to some of the city’s iconic buildings that have reached National Historic Landmark status. 14th Street is considered as a commercial corridor for New Yorkers and key cross-town thoroughfare. Continue reading

The Mural Is The Thing

Kehinde Wiley’s backlit, hand-painted, stained-glass triptych called “Go” depicts sneaker-clad break dancers who appear to float across a blue sky. The woman’s pointing finger nods to the Sistine Chapel’s “Creation of Adam.” Andrew Moore for The New York Times

In the mid-1980s we lived a few blocks south of Penn Station, and avoided it studiously. If I could right now, I would rush to see it, thanks to Ian Volner’s essay below. I recommend reading it in full because it is neither puff piece nor fashion statement, but a comment on important issues of our day. Like the two essays I referenced earlier by Casey Cep, this essay makes me believe in the importance of this project, as if the project itself is a public statement of intent. The description of the stained glass mural was more than sufficient, but still I had to find an image of it (the one above is from a review I missed a few weeks ago in the New York Times).

The Moynihan Train Hall’s Glorious Arrival

The new transit hub redeems the destruction of the original Penn Station. Photograph by Mark Kauzlarich / Bloomberg / Getty

The film noir “Killer’s Kiss,” from 1955, is an almost perfect dud. But because it was filmed on location in New York—and because its director was a twenty-seven-year-old photographer named Stanley Kubrick—it’s worth watching for the first scene and the last, which occur in the same place: the passenger concourse of the original Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, where the protagonist, having escaped from shadowy thugs, waits impatiently for his lover. Kubrick captures the hero from a low angle, and, overhead, the arched trusses holding up the station’s glass-and-iron roof seem impossibly high. The building looks very dirty, but the ambient soot in the air catches the sunshine as it streams down from above, making the light appear more abundant, almost solid. Continue reading