Escape into a Book at the Saraiva Bookstore in Rio

There are two things I love—Good design and books. The Saraiva Bookstore in Brazil combines the two. According to the article, the architect—Arthur Casas—were going for a library meets public square feel. This four-floor store was designed for customers to immerse themselves in the reading experience and get exposed to different genres of books and other media. In short, it’s the perfect space to get lost in a book.

Photos from Arch Daily ©Fernando Guerra-FG+SG

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Saraiva Bookstore 2_Fernando Guerra Saraiva Bookstore3_Fernando Guerra

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From parking lot to multi-use development

Check out this article from Fast Company about the Thornton Place project, a development that transformed a suburban mall into a mixed-use community with housing, health facilities and retail space. Located in Seattle, this development will meet the city’s growing housing needs while leaving a gentle footprint on the surrounding ecosystem. They paved paradise, put up a parking lot and then redeveloped it into a green development.

Neighborhood Cleanliness and Safety Relies on the Behavior of All of Us

I loved this article on Houzz about the importance of strong neighborhoods. Our behavior dictates the safety and security of a neighborhood. It seems obvious, but in this day and age, it can be rare.

A Northern New Englander’s Take on Northern New England Diaspora

I saw this article today written by Jim Russell on the Sustainable Cities Collective about the death of Northern New England. For those outside of these places (particularly people in California who think that New England is a state—uh, it’s not.), Northern New England is comprised of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. My Dad’s side of the family is from the first, I was born and raised in the second and I went to college freshman year in the third—you can say I have a personal connection to the area. Continue reading

Zaha Did it Again

I love when a new day greets me with a Zaha Hadid project—a project that will break ground in one of my favorite cities, no less. Ms. Hadid’s latest project is as green as it is rad-looking. The Tokyo Olympic Stadium, or the Japan National Stadium, features all of my favorite water conservation innovations, including rainwater cooling and the use of recycled greywater. Plus, it provides the opportunity for a myriad of uses with its retractable roof, an important aspect since its primary purpose is for the 2020 Olympic Games. While some may criticize it (I know there will be critics–they always come out of the woodwork to flap their traps), my favorite female architect has scored again with a super kickass design. 
 
Check out the video rendering of the project: http://vimeo.com/64632869
 
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Photos: Zaha Hadid Architects

Urban Planning Attacked by Idiocy

I read an article today on Treehugger about the anti-Agenda 21 people. Usually, I like to avoid such crazy talk, especially in an election year when the crazy is all around, but I feel compelled to address some things because it’s too ridiculous not to address.

No one is trying to take away your private property, or force you to give up your McMansion or house in the country for an urban mixed-use development. No one’s going to come into your home to round you up and put you on light rail trains and bicycles to transport you to the nearest city to toil in an urban garden and live close to your child’s school. Put down the Kool Aid, Captain Kooky; you’re getting your panties in a knot for nothing.

Bikes on the streets of Tokyo

Yet there are people who are convinced that this will happen. They’re all in a tizzy because the evil United Nations created the equally evil Agenda 21, a completely voluntary set of guidelines for sustainable development to improve the lives of people, particularly those who live in cities as much the world does. I’m not entirely sure what the anti-Agenda 21 zealots are smoking, but they need to get a refund from their dealer…or turn off the Faux News and maybe read something that isn’t from the John Birch bookshelf.

Mixed use development isn’t the enemy; neither are bike lanes, urban centers, light rail, high speed trains, pedestrian walkways or being in close proximity to work, school and your basic consumer needs. If you’re scared that your small town will turn into a ghost town, it’s not because of highway exits or propaganda to lure young folks and families away, it’s probably because there are no jobs. There are no jobs because your community is probably going through an economic shift to keep up with the times and citizens aren’t starting new businesses and/or established businesses aren’t interested in setting up shop. People go where the jobs are and if that means moving away from their hometowns, so be it. That’s been happening since the beginning of civilization. It’s nothing new and it’s certainly not a new Commie agenda.

Although the 5th amendment of the Constitution puts limits on eminent domain, the government can take your property and use it to expand a roadway, for example, so long as they adequately compensate your for it (e.g., give you fair market value for the land). They can’t take it away to build a mixed use development; however, they may do so to expand a light rail line or expand the roadway to add a new lane or a bike lane, basically anything that is for public use. This is also nothing new. Growing up in New Hampshire, people would constantly get all riled up about the Man trying to take away their property. Calm down, son. You can keep your weeds and dirt lawn, as well as your collection of cars on blocks and assorted lawn ornaments…until your road needs to be expanded, which if no one’s coming to your town anyway, really won’t be a problem.

While public comment is always welcome when new development or plans are on the table, it should at least take the form of informed opinion, not fear mongering. Blocking plans because you fear that someone will take away your SUV and house is irrational. As is threatening planners because some ignorant paranoid talking head, who has issues that a black man is president (clutch your pearls!), told you that all planners are part of some Communist U.N. conspiracy to take away all of your rights and make you wear utilitarian garments straight out of 1984. If you believe that, I have some magic beans to sell you real cheap—only $500,000 a bean. It’s the deal of the century. Did I mention they’re magic?

It’s true, trends in urban planning are moving towards walkable mixed-use communities with tree-lined streets, bike lanes and nearby schools, shopping and employment opportunities. I know it’s crazy, but it’s what people want, just look at the latest NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. Who wants to continue to commute 30 minutes each way five days a week to and from a home that they paid too much for during the boom, and are now underwater on, that’s located far from pretty much everything? Sure, there are some people who will say, “That’s my dream because it’s my property!” Good for them. For the rest of us, after a few years that luster will fade and you’ll be as fat , unhealthy and unhappy as the other commuters on the road. Perhaps some fresh air (fresh thanks in part to those ‘evil’ environmental laws enacted during the 1970s when rivers and the air were ablaze from reactions of toxic chemicals) would do you good.

LiveWork: The Eco-Development of the Future

According to the latest McGraw Hill Report, green home construction is on the upswing—it’s projected to receive a five-fold boost by 2016. However, there is debate as to how green these homes are. Surely, it’s more sustainable to buy an existing home and add green features to it (after recycling or reusing the items and materials replaced, of course). Additionally, many home developers are building these so-called sustainable homes and neighborhoods in suburban areas, much to the ire of many environmentalists—how green can it be if the owner still has to drive their vehicle everywhere?

Just when I was feeling a bit bummed about sustainable home building, I read this article in Fast Company, which profiles the LiveWork project, a sustainable housing plan out of Athens, Georgia that is the brainchild of two architectural students, Eric Laine and Suzanne Steelman. Taking into account the environment, economics and social factors, LiveWork consists of three single-family units that feature living spaces above commercial space. The family that lives on the second floor can choose to open their own business, lease the space to another business or let the Homeowner Association lease it to another business. With unemployment still high and many people foregoing the job hunt in favor of starting their own businesses, this is the ideal option. Additionally, since the business is so close to home, families with children may be able to save on childcare expenses as well as have the opportunity to use the time they would have spend commuting (an average of 30 minutes each way) with their kids instead.

LiveWork is intended to encourage sustainable living. The net-zero design is made of steel, which can be recycled, reclaimed or disassembled and used in another project. Additionally, it’s insulated with sheep’s wool, a material that features an R-value of a whopping 34.5! That’s a super tightly insulated home. Water is collected on the roof and stored underground for non-potable use, and a green screen encourages passive solar. Energy is derived from 95 photovoltaic panels, and is shared by all residents as well as sold back to the grid. Since the building is occupied, either by residents or businesses, 24-hours a day, energy is more efficiently used.

This is a great idea that really plays off traditional planning models. When the majority of people lived in cities, it wasn’t unusual for people to live above businesses, specifically their business. It makes sense and is a far easier commute than having to trudge along in traffic with thousands of other disgruntled and tired commuters who are sucking down coffee, McMuffins and Powerbars. I think as more people, especially the younger generation (who are essentially economically screwed, but also overflowing with confidence, bless their little hearts), reclaiming urban areas and looking to escape the monotony of the cubicle farm, the LiveWork concept will become a desirable solution and means of maintaining a sustainable economic and environmental existence without having to sacrifice relationships.