New York Botanical Garden’s new artist residencies connect people with plants

May 10, 2019 by  
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Despite its irrefutable success — founded in 1891 and now receiving one million visitors a year — the New York Botanical Garden’s staff tirelessly finds innovative ways to stimulate visitors’ connection to nature. This year, it launched a new artist residency program, inviting internationally acclaimed visual artist Michele Oka Doner and sought-after composer Angélica Negrón to be the first participants. “People come to nature in different ways,” Barbara Corcoran, NYBG’s vice president for continuing and public education, told Inhabitat. “Some people come to the garden and they’re very observant, they really see the plants, they read the labels, and they have quite a good knowledge. They’re gardeners themselves or they’re naturalists.” Others might need extra help connecting. “ Music and art are two ways to do that,” she said. Carrie Rebora Barratt, who became CEO and president of the garden in 2018, came up with the residency idea. Her training as an art historian and museum administrator and her previous position at the Metropolitan Museum of Art had shown her the value of artist residencies. Michele Oka Doner Love of nature fuels Michele Oka Doner’s five decades of artwork. This is apparent as soon as you walk into her SoHo studio. “It’s like a treasure trove of nature,” Corcoran said. “She’s a collector of natural objects and archaeological finds like fossils and little bird skulls, like dozens of them, and old stone tools and shells and nature books. So this is like a laboratory. When you go there, you really get to see what she’s all about.” Doner’s past works include “A Walk on the Beach,” composed of 9,000 bronze starfish, sand dollars, coral and other sea-inspired sculptures embedded in the concourse at Miami International Airport. Her installation at the Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory in Munich includes 400 shamanistic sculptures . She’s still developing her ideas for the site-specific work she’ll create at the New York Botanical Garden . Related: Second Nature transforms abandoned fishing nets into 3D-printed seashells and bowls On June 12, Doner will give a free talk at the garden called “Ecstatic Nutrition: The Trees of My Life” about three trees that greatly influenced her. “It kicks off our Wellness Wednesdays, which we have through the summer,” Corcoran said.  “Michele is a close observer of nature and a fine storyteller. She has this kind of enchantment with the natural world and its sacredness, and it really comes across. I think it will be very inspiring to hear her talk.” Angélica Negrón Composer and multi-instrumentalist Angélica Negrón is a classically trained violinist who is well-known for her electronic music. Much of her work includes nontraditional instruments, such as toys, music boxes and electrodes hooked up to vegetables. A YouTube video shows Negrón in a market, lining up vegetables on a shelf to gauge their aesthetic as well as musical potential.  “I try to find vegetables or fruits that match the textures of the songs. I do love cauliflower, Romanesco broccoli, vegetables that have kind of design element. I call it a vegetable synth,” she said in the video. “I try to coordinate it so it all looks like part of the same instrument.” Corcoran said that both artists are interested in science and technology. Negrón has met with a New York Botanical Garden scientist and horticulturalist to learn more about tree communication. “ Trees communicate largely through their roots,” Corcoran said. “That’s all very fascinating to her.” Negrón has already performed twice at the garden, delighting the public with her vegetable synth. “She assigns each vegetable with a different note,” Corcoran explained. “And then when she touches them, the water in those fruits and plants and vegetables conduct the electricity that creates the notes. By tapping different vegetables, she creates a musical piece.” She also adds in acoustic and electronic instruments and found sounds for a result Corcoran describes as “soothing and mesmerizing.” Negrón’s residency will culminate in November with a world-premiere performance in the Thain Family Forest. “We’ll have several choruses here,” Corcoran said. “So it’s a mix of live choral music with sounds that are coming from the trees. I think that’s going to be a real artistic happening that you wouldn’t want to miss if you’re in New York in the fall. Plus, it’s in the old growth forest at a beautiful time of year.” Visiting the garden The New York Botanical Garden is open Tuesday through Sunday year-round, plus occasional holiday Mondays. In addition to leisurely strolling and soaking up the beauty, there’s always something going on. Activities range from the extremely practical — learning to repot orchids — to something as celebratory as the Brazil-themed World Pride Night in June. The botanical garden is a vital center for plant research. Its herbarium contains 7.8 million specimens, and it employs about 200 PhD-level scientists and support staff who travel the world to collect plants and bring them back for study. But most of all, it’s a place where busy urbanites can spend time in nature . “It’s a real oasis for people,” Corcoran said. “And I think now more than ever, people need that.” + New York Botanical Garden Images via NYBG and Ben Hider / NYBG

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Minimalist home in northern Spain uses geothermal energy to reduce energy consumption

May 10, 2019 by  
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There are few things we love more than a gorgeous minimalist design that boasts energy-efficiency features, and Barcelona-based firm, Pepe Gascón Arquitectura,  has managed to combine the two beautifully. Located just east of Barcelona, the Elvira&Marcos House is a minimalist, all-white rectangular volume with slender windows, surrounded by a natural landscape of overgrown grass and wildflowers. The home’s minimalist design conceals an extremely tight insulative shell and geothermal energy system to reduce the home’s energy consumption. The 2,475 square foot home was built on a lot that was slated for development years ago, before Spain’s economy was hit by the economic crisis. Today, the Elvira & Marcos home is the only residence in the area, adding a touch of mysterious solitude to the gorgeous home design. Related: Geothermal-powered Forest House showcases sustainable features in Maryland The all-white, rectangular-shaped home is surrounded by a plot made up of overgrown greenery that partially hides the home from view. According to the architects, leaving the landscape in its wild state was a strategic move to create “a house with a clear geometry but without resorting to unnecessary gestures, offering a forceful interpretation with a certain neutrality in the midst of the surrounding heterogeneity.” The exterior of the home is made out of flexible stucco finish that comes with an integral Exterior Thermal Insulation System (SATE), creating a tight insulative shell for the structure. In addition to the exterior insulation, the SATE system was also used in the roof to avoid energy-wasting thermal bridges. The end result is an extremely tight envelope, that, together with a geothermal energy system installed, drastically reduces the home’s energy consumption. The interior of the three-story home is connected by an large interior steel staircase that holds court in the middle of the kitchen. The home’s minimalist aesthetic continues throughout the home’s open layout with all-white walls and a continuous concrete floor. Natural light shines into the living area from the slender slat windows— which is made even more open and airy thanks to its double height ceilings. + Pepe Gascón Arquitectura Via Design Milk Photography by Aitor Estévez via Pepe Gascón Arquitectura  

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New York is curbing food waste and helping people in need with a new initiative

April 17, 2019 by  
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New York is making important strides toward reducing food waste and greenhouse gas emissions. The governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, recently agreed to a new food waste initiative with the state legislature that will recycle scraps and send wholesome food to people in need. The new law is called the Food Donation and Food Scrap Recycling Act. Once the bill goes into practice, all surplus food items will be donated to local food shelters while any scraps will be sent to recycling centers, preventing a large portion of food from entering the waste stream. Related: 5 simple ways to reduce your food waste right now Food waste is a growing concern in the United States. According to NRDC , experts estimate that around 40 percent of food ends up in the waste bin on an annual basis. In New York City, this statistic is particularly alarming given that there are close to 2.5 million people in the city who struggle to find food. Food comprises around 18 percent of solid waste, most of which ends up in landfills across the country. Food breaks down easily in the landfill , but the process results in methane gas. You also have to account for wasting all the energy it took to create that food, including water and labor. Governor Cuomo hopes that the new bill will help prevent the majority of food waste from ending up in the landfill. The law will require facilities that create food waste to mark any excess for donation. Once things are in full swing, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation believes that it will save around 250,000 tons of food on a yearly basis. The top priority of the new law is to feed people in need. Following that, any food scraps will be donated for animal feed, followed by industrial uses — such as oil rendering — and composting . The new food waste law will not go into effect in New York City , because there is a similar law already in place. Via NRDC Image via Jasmin S.

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New York is curbing food waste and helping people in need with a new initiative

Barn-inspired home offers back-to-nature living with a crisp, contemporary twist

October 15, 2018 by  
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Reconnecting with rural roots has never looked better than at Silvernails, a beautiful hillside home fashioned as a rural barn in Rhinebeck, New York. Set on a picturesque 120-acre property near the east side of the Hudson River, the gabled holiday retreat is the first “ground-up” residential work of Manhattan-based Amalgam Studio . In addition to its modern good looks and spectacular outdoor views, Silvernails also boasts an energy-efficient design optimized for cross-ventilation and daylighting. Spanning 5,000 square feet, the timber-clad home is organized as a long and linear rectangular mass clad in timber inside and out. “Much like the traditional communal barn-raising events of the region, the double-height Bent Frames were raised and bolted into place, with the entire timber structure completed in one day,” explained Amalgam Studio founder Ben Albury, who noted that although many people are drawn to the airy and warm character of barns , the rural buildings’ lack of insulation and comfort are turn-offs. To make the barn-inspired residence a comfortable and welcome place to call home, the architects used high-performance glazing and insulation to ensure stable indoor temperatures year-round. In-wall heat-recovery ventilation units and operable windows also promote continuous fresh air. “From the very beginning, the clients wanted a comfortable house. I believe it would have been irresponsible for me not to look at, and ultimately follow, Passive House Standards,” Albury said. “As far as I’m aware, the home features the longest triple-glazed Passive House Certified residential skylight in North America.” In addition to natural ventilation and lighting, Silvernails features LED lighting, an energy-efficient multi-split heat-pump air conditioning system and locally sourced materials. Related: A Michigan farmhouse is reborn as a beautiful modern vacation retreat The exterior is clad with unpainted “plantation pine” treated to withstand rot and pests and applied using a “unique, innovative clip system to the standing seams of roof sheeting.” The interiors include white oak flooring and lining, walnut cabinetry and hickory vanity units. The timber palette is complemented with domestically quarried stone, including granite and slate. + Amalgam Studio Via ArchDaily Images by Oliver Mint

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September heat waves are causing early dismissals in schools

September 7, 2018 by  
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Snow days are one of the best perks of winter for students, but now, schools are closing for another variation of inclement weather. School districts around the country are releasing students because of excessive heat, an increasing trend in the face of climate change . Will these so-called “heat days” become the new norm? Schools in the eastern U.S. have been giving out more heat days than ever as record temperatures continue to hit New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and even parts of the Midwest. The cancellations are occurring more frequently in places that do not have adequate air conditioning, especially in relation to after-school programs. This past week, for example, schools on the East Coast shut down as temperatures climbed higher than 90 degrees. A few districts in New York also cancelled sporting activities. Related: One in 11 US public schools are plagued by toxic air Meanwhile, schools in New York City have remained open following a city investment in new air conditioning systems worth nearly $30 million to ensure schools were adequately cooled. The city plans on having every classroom air conditioned over the next four years, meaning no heat days for students and a costly impact on the environment. But for schools that don’t have a budget for air conditioning, heat days might become more frequent. In fact, union organizations in New York are advocating for laws that would require districts to close schools if the temperature is hotter than 88 degrees. In a few schools across the East Coast, teachers have reported temperature readings above 100 degrees in their classrooms, which clearly is not a safe environment for anyone. As global warming continues to affect the climate, record high temperatures could become common in months that normally are not associated with such temperatures. There’s no telling how many schools will adopt heat days as policy, but it is possible that these school dismissals become just as common as traditional snow days. Via New York Times Image via Nicola Tolin

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September heat waves are causing early dismissals in schools

19 mayors, thousands of buildings, zero carbon emissions by 2030

August 27, 2018 by  
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A coalition formed by 19 mayors of major U.S. cities including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington D.C. has proposed a plan to ensure that all new buildings be net-zero by 2030. The mayors are part of a group of cities, known as  the C40 , dedicated to climate action. The cities’ initiative is part of a larger plan to make both old and new buildings net-zero by 2050. Related: This revolutionary sustainable community in Atlanta is still thriving 15 years after its founding Net-zero buildings are extremely efficient and powered exclusively by renewable energy sources, often found on-site. Making new buildings net-zero would therefore have a massive impact on cities’ greenhouse gas emissions. Buildings account for over half of greenhouse gas emissions within large cities; for some older cities, such as London and Paris, buildings can account for almost 70 percent. The C40 mayors are committed to lowering these figures. “Ensuring Portland’s old and new buildings achieve net zero carbon use is an essential challenge I am ready to take on,” announced Mayor Ted Wheeler of Portland, Oregon, one of the cities that signed the pledge. “Portland has been a longtime global leader in environmental initiatives and I look forward to continuing to advocate and fight for ambitious environmental strategies.” Related: SOM’s net-zero Paris skyscraper will be one of the most sustainable buildings in Europe The cities will join forces with the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), the organization that set the 2030 benchmark, to achieve their emissions goals. The mayors will meet again as part of the Global Climate Action Summit  in San Francisco. California has taken a strong stand for climate action, with the goal of making all new buildings net-zero by 2020, a decade earlier than the date in the C40 pledge. Many of the cities in the C40 group have pledged to create fossil-fuel-free streets and use zero-emission buses. This latest pledge to make new buildings net-zero is yet another step in the right direction. + WorldGBC Via Curbed

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Kroger plans plastic bag phase-out by 2025

August 25, 2018 by  
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The Kroger supermarket conglomerate announced on Thursday that it is planning a phase-out of plastic bags at all store locations as part of its Zero Hunger | Zero Waste commitment . The company owns more than 2,700 stores throughout 35 states, including popular chains such as Harris Teeter, Fred Meyer and Ralphs. Related: UK bag tariff halves plastic bag marine litter, reduces sales of plastic bags by 86% Kroger is making a “bold move that will better protect our planet,” according to CEO Rodney McMullen. “We listen very closely to our customers and our communities, and we agree with their growing concerns,” added Executive Vice President and COO Mike Donnelly in a press release. Seattle’s QFC grocery stores will be the first of Kroger’s chains to fully eliminate plastic bags, achieving the goal as early as next year. “Starting today at QFC, we will begin the transition to more sustainable options. This decision aligns with our Restock Kroger commitment to live our purpose through social impact,” announced Donnelly. Between the Zero Hunger | Zero Waste and the Restock Kroger commitments, the company hopes to divert 90 percent of waste from landfills by 2020 and provide food to families and individuals in need. Last year alone, the conglomerate sent more than 91 million pounds of safe, nutritious food to local food banks and homes, providing over 325 million meals in total. In 2017, 66.15 million pounds of plastic and 2.43 billion pounds of cardboard were recycled. Kroger, however, wants to achieve more. Related: Starbucks ditches plastic straws for the environment Estimates suggest that less than five percent of plastic bags are recycled annually in America and nearly 100 billion are thrown away each year. Single-use plastic bags are the fifth most common plastic pollutant, harming waterways and marine ecosystems. Harmful microplastics result from the breakdown process and have made their way into soils, waters, air, and nearly everything we ingest. That’s why Kroger, rather than merely lessening the number of plastic bags, plans to eliminate them completely by providing reusable, recyclable multi-use bags. Kroger joins companies such as Starbucks, McDonald’s and the Marriot International Group in a stand to eliminate single-use plastics, which follows legislation banning them in states such as Hawaii and California. + CNN + Kroger + NPR Image via Pixabay

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Kroger plans plastic bag phase-out by 2025

LEED Gold hub for artists and activists takes over an abandoned NYC firehouse

August 2, 2018 by  
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An abandoned firehouse has been reborn as the newly certified LEED Gold home for the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) in Harlem. Developed by CSA Group NY Architects & Engineers in conjunction with real estate agency Denham Wolf , the cultural center celebrates New York City’s Afro-Caribbean and African-American populations with exhibition and performance spaces, meeting and community rooms, a media center, classrooms and offices. The adaptive reuse project respects the architectural integrity of the historic building and features a variety of sustainable elements, including a green roof and 100 percent Forest Stewardship Council-certified timbers. Located in the heart of East Harlem’s cultural district at 120 East 125th Street, the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute serves as a neighborhood anchor and catalyst for cultural and economic development. The CCCADI took over the former municipal firehouse , Engine Company Number 36, as part of the NYC Economic Development Corporation and Department of Housing Preservation’s initiative to turn decommissioned firehouses into cultural institutions. All parts of the 8,400-square-foot landmark building were preserved wherever possible, save for adjustments needed to meet the city’s current building codes, such as the addition of egress stairs. “Originally built to serve the local community , before being abandoned and becoming a symbol of blight, the firehouse has fittingly been restored for a public purpose,” said Ronzard Innocent, Director of Project Management at Denham Wolf. “As a connector to arts, culture and social justice, CCCADI brings the story of this building full circle.” Related: East Harlem celebrates opening of vibrant LEED Gold-seeking Center for Living and Learning To reach LEED Gold status, CCCADI focuses on saving energy and water while minimizing waste. Thanks to highly efficient bathroom fixtures, the project saves an estimated 37.2 percent in water use compared to standard baselines. The building also boasts an estimated 36.1 percent  energy savings from high-efficiency heating, ventilation and air conditioning units. Approximately 92 percent of the project’s construction waste was recycled . The team installed a high-albedo membrane on the roof along with a green roof. Low-emitting paints, coatings, flooring and agrifiber products were used throughout, and more than 20 percent of the materials used were sourced regionally. + CSA Group NY Architects & Engineers + Denham Wolf Images by Sakeenah Saleem

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LEED Gold hub for artists and activists takes over an abandoned NYC firehouse

An 1820s Catskills manor gets a marvelous modern makeover

June 26, 2018 by  
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Just two hours outside New York City sits a stunning vacation rental that blends old-world charm with contemporary design. Completed by architectural designer Tom Givone , the property was dramatically reworked over the course of four years from a decaying manor into the Floating Farmhouse , a beautiful home that combines historic and modern elements. Crafted to embrace the outdoors, the light-filled home features a veranda that appears to hover over the edge of a pristine Catskills creek as well as a fully glazed gable end wall. Originally built in the 1920s, the Floating Farmhouse had fallen into a severe state of disrepair when Givone came across it in 2007. After a painstaking demolition process that involved careful preservation of original features like the cedar roof shakes, he began rebuilding the structure — 11 pine trees felled on the property were used for the hand-hewn ceiling planks and wainscoting — and inserting a mix of modern and vintage furnishings throughout. “The hope at the outset was to combine archaic and modern elements throughout the home in a way that enhances the innate beauty of each by virtue of its contrast with the other, and create tension between polished and raw, primitive and industrial, sophisticated and simple,” Givone explained. “The Floating Farmhouse is an experiment in how these opposites attract.” Related: Disconnect in these A-frame tiny cabins in the Catskills The grandeur of the spacious interior is emphasized through ample glazing that fills the home with natural light and offers serene views. The most dramatic of the rooms is undoubtedly the “cathedral-like” kitchen with polished concrete floors, a wood-fired pizza oven and a double-story fully glazed wall that frames views of the brook, gazebo, apple orchard and barn. French doors to the side of the living area open up to a shaded veranda that hovers over the creek, where a waterfall cascades over an ancient stone dam. Givone has made his spectacular retreat available for rent . + Floating Farmhouse Images via Tom Givone

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An 1820s Catskills manor gets a marvelous modern makeover

Iceberg-inspired cultural center celebrates Inuit traditions

June 26, 2018 by  
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When Montreal-based Blouin Orzes architectes was tapped to design a new Inuit cultural center for the arctic region of Nunavik, they knew that the project would be no easy task. Nunavik, which occupies the northern third of the province of Quebec, not only has a harsh climate, but also faces incredibly high construction costs due to its remote location and lack of materials, which can only be shipped during the brief summer season. Despite these challenges, Blouin Orzes architectes has the advantage of experience—the firm has worked in Nunavik since 2000 and tapped into its intimate understanding of the culture and people to design a Cultural Center that celebrates Inuit traditions in a striking, iceberg-inspired building. Located in the Northern Village of Kuujjuaraapik near the mouth of the Great Whale River, the new 680-square-meter Cultural Center was created in close collaboration with the community. Drawing inspiration from the shape of icebergs , the architects designed the building—which spans 1 1/2 stories—with a strong geometric shape. The facility is sheathed in steel panels and yellow-painted timber planks that reference the sand dune on which the village sits. “Despite living in extremely remote communities, Nunavik’s Inuit do not hesitate travelling long distances by plane to visit each other or to attend an important cultural event,” wrote Blouin Orzes architectes in a statement. “Since the fall of 2017, the 10,000 people living in one of Nunavik’s 14 communities can now gather in a new Cultural Centre located in the Northern Village of Kuujjuaraapik, north of the 55th parallel. Originally planned as a showcase for the highly popular Inuit Games, the facility lends itself to all sorts of events, from storytelling, singing and dancing to concerts, films, banquets and other types of gatherings.” Related: Tiny Alaskan village votes to abandon 400-year-old ancestral home because of climate change The facility is accessed via a concrete ramp that extends to form an outdoor gathering space. A deep south-facing overhang that echoes the portico of the nearby church, the oldest structure in the village, protects the entrance. Beyond the lobby is the main hall, which accommodates up to 300 people and is equipped with state-of-the art AV equipment. + Blouin Orzes architectes Aerial image by Heiko Wittenborn, all others by Blouin Orzes architectes

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Iceberg-inspired cultural center celebrates Inuit traditions

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