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

Coffee In Space

Donald Pettit demonstrated his zero-gravity coffee cup on the space station in 2008. NASA TV

Thanks to Mary Robinette Kowal for this very brief note from history demonstrating how the need for caffeine was the mother of invention:

The first patented invention made in space was a coffee cup.

In November 2008, Donald Pettit wanted to drink his tea and coffee from an open vessel.

Samantha Cristoforetti, a European Space Agency astronaut, with the new ISSpresso machine in 2015. NASA

While aboard the I.S.S., he tore out a plastic divider from his Flight Data File and used the magic of fluid dynamics to create an open cup. Until then, astronauts drank everything out of a plastic bag with a straw.

We interact with coffee through aroma as much as through taste. In a bag, half of the experience was gone; Dr. Pettit said that he wanted to add “back the dimension of what it’s like to be a human being.” Continue reading

Milo, Mushroom Clubs & Mylo

Mylo, a material made from mycelium, in natural and black. Bolt Threads

Milo’s teen years convinced me of the wonders of fungi. The Mushroom Club of Georgia was in the right place at the right time for him to convert intense curiosity into something more powerful. On another day, more on what he has done with that in the decade since. For now a bit of thanks. We have had the privilege of hosting members of that Club in our home in Costa Rica, and intend to do so again now that travel restrictions have eased. This post is an overdue shout out to that Club and others like it. More kids in those clubs would be a good thing. Meanwhile, nice to see these folks making news again. It helps persuade me that fashion is of greater value than I have given it credit for up to now:

Fungus May Be Fall’s Hottest Fashion Trend

A surprising group of fashion rivals including Stella McCartney and Lululemon are joining forces to back Mylo, a new mushroom leather.

Bolt Threads mycelium mats in the grow facility. Bolt Threads

It may be fashion week in Paris, with showgoers in face coverings parsing runway looks from the latest designer ready-to-wear collections, but several thousand miles away from the French capital, out of the dank, dark belly of an industrial hangar, a potentially more momentous industry trend is … growing.

Mushroom leather might not sound stylish. But Bolt Threads, a start-up that specializes in developing next-generation fibers inspired by nature, is one of a growing number of companies convinced that the material is a viable replacement — in both form and function — for animal-sourced and synthetic skins. Continue reading

Transporting Via Words & Photos

On the Madison River in Ennis, Mont.

Thanks to the author and her publisher for taking us there:

In Montana, the Art of Crafting Fly-Fishing Rods

“One thing about Montana,” says Matt Barber, an owner of Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, a custom fly rod shop in Bozeman, “is if there’s a moving body of water, there is probably a trout in it.”

Photographs and Text by

Shiny agate stripping guides — through which the fishing line will run — are wrapped (attached to the rod) using garnet thread and brass wire.

I live only a few miles away from Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, a custom fly rod shop in Bozeman, Mont. But entering the workshop feels a little like stepping off a plane in a foreign country.

A row of rods ready for handle-shaping.

The language that circulates around the shop catches my attention. Continue reading

Non-Gastronomic Mushroom Utility

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Thanks, as always, for the interesting news on creative use for mushrooms beyond the gastronomic, from the Guardian:

Mushrooms and orange peel: could biotech clean up the building industry?

A biotech startup is researching building materials that could revolutionise construction. Not only are they biodegradable – some also absorb toxins

Cocoa husks, dried orange peel, ground blue pea flowers: the ingredients read like a tasting menu. They are, in fact, waste products that are used to make Orb – a sustainable building material that is carbon neutral. It’s versatile enough to be used for furniture or as a substitute for a wood-based sheet material. Continue reading

Joyful Artisan Ethos

At the same time Crist has been writing multiple teaser posts about our upcoming Authentica shops we continually search for both classic and innovative artisanally crafted items to highlight there. Each discovery feels like stumbling upon a gem while sifting through stones.

Those discoveries have even more personal impact when they have an upcycled or recycled element. Wagát Upcycling Lab is just one of those exciting discoveries. Continue reading

Reducing In-Flight Waste

Is this the in-flight meal tray of the future?

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We are happy to see not only that the BBC has given this issue attention, but so has the Design Museum:

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Just some of the waste from an average passenger on a 12-hour flight.

Squeeze and settle into your chair on a long-haul economy flight, and you might be offered a drink, in a plastic cup, which you’ll stir with a plastic stick.

You might be given a pack of toiletries – wrapped in plastic, containing a toothbrush – wrapped in plastic.

You might watch a film, using headphones – wrapped in plastic. You might enjoy a meal which you’ll eat with plastic cutlery, also wrapped in plastic. The list goes on and on.

Put together, that contributes to the 5.7 million tonnes of cabin waste from passenger flights each year.

A greener meal tray

A new exhibition at London’s Design Museum aims to rethink the waste we generate when we travel.

Design firm PriestmanGoode has worked up an environmentally-friendly version of the traditional economy meal tray. Continue reading

Craft, Creativity & Visual Pleasure

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Iterations, from left, of the New Craftmen’s Brodgar chair (an unfinished lounge chair and a dining chair) next to traditional chairs on Mainland, Orkney. Sophie Gerrard

Deborah Needleman offers a short and sweet journey to a place, and with people, who I can relate to as we proceed to stock and open the Authentica shops in Costa Rica:

The Windswept Scottish Islands Producing Beautiful Artisanal Goods

One London gallery is determined to continue the tradition embraced for centuries by the Orkney chain.

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The New Craftsmen artists during their Orkney residency, Gareth Neal (far left), O’Sullivan (far right) and Butcher (second from left) with the local Orkney furniture maker Kevin Gauld (second from right). Sophie Gerrard

LAST MAY, THREE England-based craftspeople — the basket makers Mary Butcher and Annemarie O’Sullivan and the furniture maker and designer Gareth Neal — were sent by their London gallery, the New Craftsmen, for a weeklong residency in Orkney, a chain of about 70 small islands off the northern coast of Scotland. They explored Mainland, Orkney’s largest island, as well as North Ronaldsay, a three-and-a-half mile spit of land (population approximately 50) rich in farmland, marram grass, seaweed-eating sheep and Neolithic ruins. They also met with the Orcadian furniture maker Kevin Gauld and the sculptor Frances Pelly, both of whose work is deeply bound up with the islands’ history and landscape.

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Gathered Orkney straw ready to be woven in Gauld’s workshop. Sophie Gerrard

The New Craftsmen’s co-founder and creative director, Catherine Lock — who travels across Britain in search of potters, textile designers and other artisans to highlight at her Mayfair showroom — has long been inspired by Orkney’s culture, and commissioned the first piece she sold at the gallery, a collaboration between Gauld and Neal, on the archipelago seven years ago. Since then, the pair’s beautifully austere straw Brodgar chair has been a consistent best seller, with more demand than Gauld can answer.

09tmag-orkneys-slide-WJT0-jumbo.jpgBefore craft was called craft, when it was just the stuff people made from what was around in order to get by, objects were indivisible from their provenance. And in a place as remote as the Orkney Islands, that connection is still strong — but the link to the outside marketplace less so. Lock invited these three makers to “see how they might channel the spirit of this place through objects.” The goal of the project is the creation of new work — both collaborations and individual pieces — that express the spirit and traditions of Orkney, exposing it to a larger global audience while preserving and reinvigorating the distinctive skills found there.

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Local seaweed gathered and bundled by the basket weavers Annemarie O’Sullivan and Mary Butcher. Sophie Gerrard

One can understand a place by what its people make. Because trees are scarce here, Orcadians historically had to rely on driftwood and shipwrecks for timber; you can still find stone houses with roofs made of upturned old boats. The islands are flush with heather, peat, seaweed and sandstone, but locals have a special relationship with straw, which they have long used for everything from roofing and bedding to shelving, rainwear and furniture. Continue reading

The Logic of the Weave

The bamboo dome “had even more useful structural properties than I had envisaged,” Ms. Martin said. “Deployability, nice structural stability and highly portable.”Credit Gabriela Portilho for The New York Times

Limits often lead to creative solutions. That’s exactly what is happening in Brazil. Alison Martin is pushing the limits of what can be built from weaving bamboo and is helping to create more natural cityscapes. She is surprising even the computer engineers with the strength and shapes of her material, all without the use of nuts and bolts. This is a new way of combining nature and architecture. Her work is also helping to solve some of the problems created by elevated highways. These highways block out the sun and create “a fracture in the urban environment”.

With designer and artist Alison Grace Martin, architects and engineers are embracing “the logic of the weave.”

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — On a Tuesday afternoon in early July, Alison Grace Martin, the British artist and weaver, joined a steady stream of Paulistanos along the elevated freeway that curves through downtown São Paulo. The two-mile “Minhocão” (named after a mythic “gigantic earthworm”) was closed to cars that day. The only traffic was on foot and bikes, skateboards and scooters. Picnickers lounged on the median sipping wine. Children ran after soccer balls. A retriever chased a coconut; a pit bull peed on a pile of bamboo.

The bamboo — freshly cut and split into strips about 20 feet long — had arrived with Ms. Martin and engineer James Solly, who were leading an urban design workshop, “High Line Paulista,” inspired loosely by Manhattan’s elevated greenway. Their students for the week had carried the strips, which would be put to use in an experimental dome construction, like a barn-raising, but with bamboo.

Plans have long been in the works to turn the Minhocão into a park. Since its opening in 1971, the freeway has been the subject of controversy: a concrete scar that bifurcated neighborhoods, smothering residents with noise and pollution.

“It ripped apart the urban fabric,” said Franklin Lee, from São Paulo, and director of the workshop with his partner Anne Save de Beaurecueil. (The workshop is part of the Architectural Association international visiting school program.) In January, after years of discourse and debate, the mayor, Bruno Covas, announced that the freeway would eventually be deactivated, finally making way for “Parque Minhocão.”

Continue reading