Off Grid House takes remote sustainability to new heights

September 6, 2021 by  
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Nestled in the forests of Australia’s Blue Mountains, Anderson Architecture’s Off Grid House is an experimental dwelling that pushes the limits of sustainable living in remote regions. The house is split into two cabins with steep skillion roofs, slanting in opposite directions to feed 30,000-liter water tanks. The first volume houses the sleeping quarters and is oriented towards the sun to maximize comfort at night through passive solar performance during the day. The other volume contains the open plan kitchen, living space and dining area. Its roof is angled towards the north, ideal for supporting the solar panels that power the house. The solar system is so robust that it provides enough energy for the home without needing a backup generator. Related: Cottage Rock tiny home nurtures healthy living and nature The living space’s glass doors open to blur the boundary between the interior and the veranda overlooking the cliff’s edge. The porch decking is made from low carbon magnesium oxide board and clad with 60% post-consumer recycled content. The site was a pivotal factor in determining the design of several details. Stringybark timber sourced from the site is used for the internal structure, as well as for furniture and joinery. The fireproof cement shell and low carbon cement decking can withstand bushfire attacks and are pest-resistant. Motorized screens over the windows also serve as fire protection, and the large metal screen above the porch can act as both a shading device and flame zone barrier when pulled down to vertically seal off the house. Thermal comfort was another factor that drove the implementation of eco-friendly systems. The house employs double glazing , a black oxide concrete floor with hydronic in-slab heating, and high levels of insulation. Stale exhaust air heats fresh air, which the heat recovery system ducts to the home’s public and private zones. These are all supplemented by a small fireplace with wood sourced from the site for additional heating. The home’s impressive thermal performance has earned it an 8.2 out of 10-star rating on Australia’s Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS). With its enticing modern style and sustainable systems, the Off Grid House has also been shortlisted for several awards, including the 2021 Houses Awards under the New House and Sustainability categories. + Anderson Architecture Photography by Nick Bowers

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Viewfinder House combines great views with energy efficiency

August 18, 2021 by  
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In an initial meeting with Faulkner Architects, the client requested every room be oriented towards the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It took some out-of-the-box thinking, but somehow the design team managed to stay in the box while achieving that goal. Called Viewfinder House, this home is located in Truckee, CA, a launching point for myriad outdoor activities in every season. Even at 7,200 square feet with a pool, the design offers unique architecture and environmentally friendly features. The body of the home is made up of two rectangular boxes, with connections between the spaces via covered porches. The lower level is contoured to match the property line, but the upper level is rotated to take full advantage of Pacific Crest mountain views. Related: House Lhotka brings energy-efficient home design to the Czech Republic The team relied on steel for the base to hold up against deep winter snow, and an exterior rain screen of red cedar, which also shields the home from the street while allowing  natural light  to filter in.  Passive design elements create shade and promote  energy efficiency  throughout the home, starting with the roof overhang that protects the glass doors from weather and solar gain inside the home. High-efficiency boilers conserve energy and work in conjunction with effective radiantly heated floors. The back of the lower level takes advantage of earth sheltering to organically insulate the home, and natural ventilation is found through window and door placement. Faulkner Architects emphasized using enhanced-efficiency glazing and insulation for a tight construction envelope. According to a press release, these combined efforts help the building achieve a 14.5% improvement in efficiency, above the already strict California energy code.   Outdoors, the surrounding hillsides are covered in native  plants  and mature trees. The materials removed from the pool and house excavation were saved and used for the nearby terraced landscaping. + Faulkner Architects Photography by Paul Hamill

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Viewfinder House combines great views with energy efficiency

Viewfinder House combines great views with energy efficiency

August 18, 2021 by  
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In an initial meeting with Faulkner Architects, the client requested every room be oriented towards the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It took some out-of-the-box thinking, but somehow the design team managed to stay in the box while achieving that goal. Called Viewfinder House, this home is located in Truckee, CA, a launching point for myriad outdoor activities in every season. Even at 7,200 square feet with a pool, the design offers unique architecture and environmentally friendly features. The body of the home is made up of two rectangular boxes, with connections between the spaces via covered porches. The lower level is contoured to match the property line, but the upper level is rotated to take full advantage of Pacific Crest mountain views. Related: House Lhotka brings energy-efficient home design to the Czech Republic The team relied on steel for the base to hold up against deep winter snow, and an exterior rain screen of red cedar, which also shields the home from the street while allowing  natural light  to filter in.  Passive design elements create shade and promote  energy efficiency  throughout the home, starting with the roof overhang that protects the glass doors from weather and solar gain inside the home. High-efficiency boilers conserve energy and work in conjunction with effective radiantly heated floors. The back of the lower level takes advantage of earth sheltering to organically insulate the home, and natural ventilation is found through window and door placement. Faulkner Architects emphasized using enhanced-efficiency glazing and insulation for a tight construction envelope. According to a press release, these combined efforts help the building achieve a 14.5% improvement in efficiency, above the already strict California energy code.   Outdoors, the surrounding hillsides are covered in native  plants  and mature trees. The materials removed from the pool and house excavation were saved and used for the nearby terraced landscaping. + Faulkner Architects Photography by Paul Hamill

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Appalachian Beekeeping Collective boosts pollinators and supports beekeepers

July 30, 2021 by  
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Oh, honey. This ultra-sweet concoction is nature’s candy, a product of hardworking bees. It can be controversial among plant-based eaters, but the reality is we can enjoy this natural sweetener if we learn to live in harmony with the bees. Unfortunately, bees are in trouble. Bee hives have decreased about 60% since the 1940s, and these important pollinators are only facing more crises as the planet heats up. Organizations like Appalachian Beekeeping Collective are here to help. Appalachian Beekeeping Collective (ABC) is a nonprofit organization that helps sustainably support partner beekeepers in lower-income communities. ABC provides beekeepers with training and equipment plus mentors to help them along the way. The organization then extracts, packages, markets, and sells honey on behalf of the beekeepers to help them earn income without diverting their focus from sustainably caring for the bees. The final product is far superior to any honey you’d find at the grocery store, too. The Appalachian Beekeeping Collective honey is sweet and floral and pairs well with just about any dish you could think of. ABC’s program is solar-powered , and the organization’s facility generates 66,667 kWh of electricity yearly. Related: New global bee map gives scientists a conservation baseline Although the human workers at ABC are busy bees this time of year, they took a moment to provide an inside look at how the organization works. We spoke with Kevin Johnson, mentor and educator, as well as Raine Nimmer and Colleen Fitts, partner beekeepers, about their efforts at ABC. Inhabitat: What is your role with the collective? Johnson: I am a beekeeper mentor and educator. As an educator, I help teach beekeeping classes to the general public over the winter (virtual this year) and assist with field workshops and continuing ed opportunities at other times. As a beekeeper mentor, I help beekeepers in our program develop the skills to be successful, independent beekeepers. Our partner beekeepers are from a wide variety of backgrounds, range in age from 12 to over 80, and keep their bees in diverse surroundings. All share a love of and fascination with bees. Partners have taken our Beekeeping 101 series and have agreed to follow ABC’s natural beekeeping best practices. Nimmer and Fitts: We are called “partners” in the ABC program. After taking a five week introductory beekeeping course, we (Colleen and Raine) were given four hives each when we were first accepted into the program in 2019. We manage and maintain our ABC hives and work at keeping the colonies happy and healthy. Inhabitat: What does a typical day look like for you? Johnson: A typical day is long! If the weather is warm and dry enough, we will be working in bee yards from sunrise to sunset. Bees don’t follow human schedules, and so at certain times of year (spring buildup, swarm season, nectar flows) we have to assist as many partners as we can in the window that weather provides. After dark, we often are answering calls and texts, getting our movements coordinated, and getting loaded and ready for the next day. Part of mentoring new beekeepers is taking the extra time to coach them through the manipulations and observations necessary to be a responsive, skilled, confident beekeeper. Nimmer and Fitts: A typical day of a hive inspection begins with a warm sunny day and little chance of rain. We gather hive boxes, frames and other equipment to bring out to the hives. We prepare our smoker with fuel. Once at our apiary , we both choose a hive and our inspections begin. Depending on the time of year, we are interested in certain things during an inspection, such as assessing the health of the bees, looking for any signs of disease or pests, confirming that there is a laying queen present, looking for signs of impending swarm behavior, and determining if the hive has enough space to grow. We generally only harvest honey once per year and try to be sure that we leave the bees with enough of their own honey to thrive through the winter. Inhabitat: What do you enjoy most about this work? Johnson: I enjoy the moments where beekeepers realize they’ve been taught something by their own bees. Like “Wow! They are collecting a different color pollen now” or “They are raising a new queen!” I also enjoy the process of the beekeepers honing their detective skills — noticing evidence of pests and diseases, or of changes in the brood cycle — and then looking more closely for clues to how to support their bees. There is never a lack of new things to learn from or respond to. I also enjoy the connection with people around bees because it naturally pulls in their hopes and dreams. Some want to see their gardens grow better, others want to build a hive products business, others still want to teach their children and grandchildren about the connectedness of the environment through their beekeeping. It all comes from a love of place. Nimmer and Fitts: Inspecting hives is our favorite part of our role. It seems that every time we go in we experience something that amazes us. It is a calming and grounding experience that reminds us of our place in creation. Seeing something especially magical is also fun, such as the first time we heard a queen “piping”, the time we caught a queen bee as she was “birthed” from her cell or tasting royal jelly for the first time.  Inhabitat: How did you get into the beekeeping business? Nimmer and Fitts: I (Colleen) have long found the concept of beekeeping very appealing, especially knowing that my dad had kept bees in his younger years. Around 2005, I took a day-long workshop on beekeeping and was hooked. After I moved to Bethlehem Farm, I learned that neighbors down the road were beekeepers and were willing to help teach the craft. These neighbors, Anne and Mark, came over and helped me and former caretaker Brian work the hives and learn to care for bees. Ten years later, we had a tough winter and lost all our hives. It was at that point that we started looking around for locally raised bee hives to start over, and we found ABC. The mentorship and resources available through being an ABC partner are an amazing opportunity to learn, to expand our skills and to improve our stewardship of creation. Inhabitat: What projects/tasks that you’ve been involved in for this role have made you the most proud or excited? Johnson: Making splits with a beekeeper for the first time is exciting, after bringing that hive successfully through the winter. Also, harvesting honey with a beekeeper for the first time. Catching swarms is always exciting, and a different skill. Inhabitat: Can you speak to the sustainability of the program? Nimmer and Fitts: Like many other crafts, there are innumerable methods and philosophies of beekeeping. When we joined ABC, we were happy to agree to work within their system, which includes refraining from using certain chemicals and harsh antibiotics in the hives. ABC tries to teach a system of beekeeping that considers the way bees operate in their natural environment and considers the long-term health of honeybees in general, rather than settling for short-term gains. ABC experts are working to breed queens that are well-suited to West Virginia’s climate so that the bees in Appalachia can be stronger and more resilient. We know that without pollinators like honeybees, we will have no fruits or vegetables to nourish us. And we know that without healthy employment for West Virginians, we will not have healthy families. ABC is working to strengthen the ecosystem with honeybees and the West Virginia economy with creative employment options as a beekeeper. We are happy to be a part of it. Inhabitat: Have you seen growing interest in those wanting to join the collective over the course of the pandemic? Johnson: We saw a tremendous increase in participation in our Beekeeping 101 classes (over typical in-person classes) when we moved them online this winter, many from beyond our region. Even if some of those participants decide not to keep bees this year, they may in the future, and what they do certainly impacts bees — from how they manage their land to how they get around to what they eat. Pesticide use and climate change are tremendous challenges for honeybees, along with all other pollinators. One of the things I always say in class is that everyone is a beekeeper, because every one of us has an impact on our bees. Inhabitat: How does the collective inspire local community members to get involved? Johnson: I believe we inspire local community members by engaging them in their home communities in a person-to-person, regionally relevant way, that speaks to their goals and love of place. Folks want to support efforts like ours even if they wouldn’t ever imagine getting near a bee hive. Inhabitat: How has this organization made an impact on both the environment and the people in the community? Johnson: I believe we have developed a broader awareness of how we are connected to our environment through our beekeeping program. Our partners commit to following our natural beekeeping protocol (no synthetic chemicals in the hive, no pesticides ); unprompted by us, I know partners have talked to their neighbors and friends about changing their behaviors to benefit the bees, from mowing less to planting wildflowers to not spraying. It’s not hard to come across news about environmental problems these days. I believe bees are a way of centering those problems right where we live, and right where our hearts are (in our bees, and in our mountains, that is). Nimmer and Fitts: Honeybees are pollinators so they may be pollinating our neighbors’ gardens and flowers. Honeybees also need people to advocate for them. Conversations about bees with our community members will hopefully spread more awareness of the challenges bees face and spread interest and excitement in either beekeeping themselves or, at the very least, lead a life that doesn’t harm bees. Our household doesn’t mind eating the honey, either! Inhabitat: Any last thoughts? Nimmer and Fitts: We feel that keeping bees is an honor and a powerful experience of connection with creation. We encourage anyone interested to find a beekeeper and learn as much as you can! We have a lot to learn from bees and their system of working together harmoniously with a sweet result. + Appalachian Beekeeping Collective Images via Appalachian Beekeeping Collective and Paige Bennett

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This gorgeous shipping container ski resort is tucked into a Georgian mountainside

October 19, 2017 by  
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Skiers whooshing past this picturesque ski resort may want to slow down to take in its stunning beauty. Located in the Caucasus mountain range in Gudauri, Georgia, the Quadrum Ski and Yoga Resort resort is almost entirely made out of repurposed shipping containers and tucked into the terrain with steel supports that reduce its environmental impact. The shipping container resort offers guests a tranquil space to both relax and explore the amazing landscape. Built into the mountainside using a pyramid-like scheme, the containers were structured to cascade down the terrain, supported by steel posts in order to leave minimal impact on the environment. The resort has five levels, with the reception and dining area on the first floor and the guest rooms topped on one another. Related: This shipping container hotel is so cool you’ll forget its a shipping container The guest rooms are made up of individual containers clad in wood paneling, each with a glazed wall that leads out to an open-air deck to enjoy the stunning views. The resort offers single rooms as well as larger family and deluxe suites. In addition to many skiing trails found in the area, the resort also offers yoga classes and other healthy activities such as swimming. Of course, for those who’d just like to sit back and relax after a day of whizzing through the mountains, there’s also a toasty sauna. + Quadrum Ski and Yoga Resort Images via Quadrum Ski and Yoga Resort

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This gorgeous shipping container ski resort is tucked into a Georgian mountainside

Hurricane Maria ravaged the only tropical rainforest in the United States

September 28, 2017 by  
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El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest managed by the United States Forest Service, suffered major damage as Hurricane Maria bore down on Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm. While Washington faces criticism for its apparently lackluster response to the unfolding humanitarian disaster , scientists are beginning to turn their attention to the ecological devastation wrought by the powerful hurricane. Bill McDowell, an ecologist at the University of New Hampshire who led research missions in El Yunque for decades, described the national forest and center for scientific research as “devastated.” Still, life will find a way and El Yunque, adapted for the hurricane-prone Caribbean, is expected to endure, offering scientists a glimpse into the ecological recovery process. El Yunque National Forest covers nearly 30,000 acres in the northeast region of Puerto Rico and contains a wide range of habitat, from humid lowland rainforests to cool, cloud forests in the Luquillo Mountains. El Yunque is home to sixteen species of coqui frogs , the only species of native parrot in Puerto Rico, and a wide variety of epiphytes, which survive by pulling water from the air in the chilly upland dwarf forests. The National Forest is also known for its uniquely preserved petroglyphs by the indigenous Taíno people. Related: Scientists discover the Amazon forest sets off its own rainy season While El Yunque and similar forests in the region have evolved to cope with a sometimes-volatile climate , the unique power of Hurricane Maria presents an unprecedented challenge for the ecosystem . “From a science perspective, this is a test of how resilient the forests and streams are,” said Alan Covich, an aquatic ecologist at the University of Georgia who has studied El Yunque for decades. “I think the biggest question is the intensity of the disturbance and the cumulative effect of two [major hurricanes]. It’s a situation that has taken a century to develop.” Still, researchers are optimistic about the forest’s future. “We think things are pretty resilient and will come back within weeks and months, like they did after Hugo,” said Covich. “Six to 12 months from now, the forest will be in fine shape.” However, Covich noted that in the wake of such a disruptive event, different organisms may emerge as dominant species than before the storm. In addition to its role as an ecological and scientific hotspot, El Yunque has historically supported the people of Puerto Rico in critical ways. After hurricanes , the forest typically prevents debris and landslides from contaminating the headwaters of the Loquillo Mountains. While Puerto Ricans wait for relief from FEMA, El Yunque National Forest protects the much-needed sources of clean drinking water that sustain the population. Via Earther Images via  Omar Gutiérrez del Arroyo Santiago/Earther

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Hurricane Maria ravaged the only tropical rainforest in the United States

NASA researchers says Harvey flooding pushed Houston down two centimeters

September 11, 2017 by  
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Harvey unloaded around 33 trillion gallons of water in the United States, the weight of which is capable of bending the Earth’s crust . From satellite data , it looks like this is what happened in Houston . Scientist Chris Milliner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory tweeted a map with GPS data revealing Houston has been pushed down by around two centimeters (or about 0.8 inches). Milliner’s map included Nevada Geodetic Laboratory data revealing the area around Houston was actually pushed down because of the weight of all the water from the tropical storm . One gallon of water weighs around 8.34 pounds, so if Harvey dumped 33 trillion gallons of water, that’s about 275 trillion pounds. Related: Arctic warming likely turned Harvey into “an extreme killer storm” GPS data show #Harveyflood was so large it flexed Earth's crust, pushing #Houston down by ~2 cm! #EarthScience #HurricaneHarvey #txflood pic.twitter.com/88lNScJBq9 — Chris Milliner (@Geo_GIF) September 4, 2017 It’s not the first time scientists have documented how the weight of water can alter the land. The Altantic cited a 2012 study focusing on the Himalayas that found a seasonal flux in the mountains’ height as water fell and then made its way down the mountains into Asian rivers. They also noted a 2017 study found “vertical surface displacement [with] peak-to-peak amplitudes” of 0.5 to one centimeter in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The Atlantic suggested the changes around Houston could be seen as a “fast-action version” of what takes place in mountain ranges during the seasons. The change could be due to soil beneath GPS stations compacting because of the weight of the water, Milliner said. But he thinks crust deformation was the main means of the change, since some of the GPS stations are on bedrock and also saw the depression. The ground has already been sinking in Houston, because we’ve pumped groundwater out of the city’s aquifers, according to The Atlantic. Milliner clarified the phenomenon he saw after Harvey is in addition to subsidence the city has experienced. Via The Atlantic Images via Chris Milliner on Twitter and U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Zachary Wolf

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NASA researchers says Harvey flooding pushed Houston down two centimeters

This man spent 36 years carving through mountains to bring water to his village

April 21, 2017 by  
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In 1959, the small village of Caowangba in China ’s Guizhou Province had a problem – a drought had dried up all the nearby water sources, and residents were forced to rely on a single well for drinking water. Even that single well was faltering, sometimes leaving the people of the town without enough water to go around. Worse yet, the town’s single rice paddy had dried up, making it hard for residents to access enough food. Something had to be done. But rather than give up and move to a new home, one man named Huang Dafa decided to lead an ambitious project to dig a 10-kilometer canal along the face of several sheer cliffs to bring water to his home. It took 36 years and at least one failed attempt, but now enough water flows to the city to provide food and drinking water to everyone. Many have compared Dafa to the legendary figure Yu Gong , an old man whose determination caused the gods to literally move mountains from his path. At only 23 years old, Dafa made the project his life’s work. To build the canal, villagers had to carve along the sheer cliffs of three karst mountains , dangerous work that involved climbing up the side of the mountains, tying themselves to trees, and rappelling hundreds of meters down the cliff to dig. Related: Indian Man Single-Handedly Plants 1,360 Acre Forest Naturally, it took a bit of persuading before anyone else in town was willing to take on this dangerous work. But in the end, the only other option was to do nothing and watch the town continue to struggle. Unfortunately, after a decade of work, the first attempt at a canal was unsuccessful in bringing water to the city. It wasn’t a total waste: the effort did create a tunnel through the mountains that allowed for easy travel through the stone, rather than around, which is still in use today. Dafa realized they needed a better understanding of irrigation to make the project work. So he left to study engineering for several years, and planned his next attempt even more meticulously. In the early 1990s, he persuaded the villagers to try again. The workers often slept in caves along the cliff side, and the remote location made it difficult to reach them in case of emergency – in fact, Dafa was working in the mountains when his daughter and grandson passed away, unable to reach them before they died. Related: Hundreds of beehives hang off a steep cliff in China to save wild honeybees Finally, in 1995, the new channel was finished, and water began to flow to Caowangba. As if the channel weren’t enough, Dafa’s efforts were also responsible for bringing electricity and a new road to the town that same year, allowing the residents to step into the modern era. Now, the community is thriving, and Huang Dafa is celebrated as a local hero at 82 years old. The channel provides running water to three other villages that happen to cross its path as well, providing water to 1,200 people and allowing them to grow 400,000 kilograms of rice every year. Via Oddity Central Images via VGC , China Daily

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This man spent 36 years carving through mountains to bring water to his village

Black mountain cabin lights up like a lantern at night

April 18, 2017 by  
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Architect Tomislav Soldo designed a handsome mountain cabin that owes its existence to a fortuitously placed walnut tree. Set on a sloped site in the Croatian mountains, the 100-square-meter home was designed and built as an afterthought following the completion of a terrace beneath the shade of a walnut tree. Clad in Siberian larch painted black, the modern building features a ventilated facade and large windows that allow it to glow like a lantern at night. Located in Ogulin, the two-story compact cabin echoes the local vernacular with its use of timber and simple pitched roof . Two layers of black wood tar were painted onto the facade to protect the building from the elements and to minimize maintenance. The 30-centimeter-thick walls were constructed from aerated concrete blocks, saving the architects from adding extra thermal insulation and allowing for speedy construction. Thermal efficiency is improved with the installation of a ventilated facade made from Siberian larch cladding. Related: Salvaged wood clads handsome mountain cabin in Vermont In contrast to the dark facade, the interior features white-painted walls, light-toned timber floors, and black accents such as the wood-burning stove and window trim. The use of a light color palette, high ceilings, and large windows that overlook the mountains and forests give the home a spacious feel despite the small footprint. An open-plan kitchen, living, and dining room are located on the ground floor. The bedroom is placed on the mezzanine level and overlooks the living room below. + Tomislav Soldo Via ArchDaily Images by Jure Živkovi?

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Black mountain cabin lights up like a lantern at night

Street artist uses reverse graffiti to transform dirty cars into animal art

April 18, 2017 by  
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Moscow’s filthy cars are getting a brand new look thanks to opportunistic street artist Nikita Golubev . Using reverse graffiti, a method of creating temporary art by removing dirt from a surface, Golubev etches amazing images of animals and other figures onto the sides of dirty vehicles. These unlikely works of art are part of his latest works in his “Dirty Art” series. Cars, vans, and large trucks are all fair game to Golubev, who uses his fingers and paintbrushes to wipe, scrape, and embellish images made on each surface. White vehicles encrusted in layers of dirt and grime offer up the ideal canvases for reverse graffiti , also known as “clean graffiti.” Depending on how much Golubev chooses to scrub away, he can create different shades of gray that give surprising depth and realism to his art. Related: REVERSE GRAFFITI: Street Artists Tag Walls by Scrubbing Them Clean These eye-catching pieces are temporary and will disappear over time or whenever the vehicle is cleaned. The prolific Moscow-based artist, who signs with the name ProBoyNick, drew on his ample art repertoire for the Dirty Art series, from his experience in painting to digital art. You can see more of his work on Instagram and Behance . + Nikita Gobulev Via Colossal Images via Nikita Gobulev

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