This bold, sustainable home will age gracefully near an Indiana wetland

October 16, 2018 by  
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Compact, energy-efficient and built with locally sourced materials, this hillside home takes a low-impact approach to its wetland surroundings in the city of Valparaiso in northern Indiana. Local design firm Bamesberger Architecture completed the home for a client who wanted a relatively small dwelling overlooking a pristine 400,000-square-foot wetland site. Named The Box after its boxy appearance, the home boasts low-energy needs and does not rely on air conditioning, even in the summer Completed in 2013, The Box spans an area of 960 square feet and consists of a main house, a screened porch and a small storage building. All three structures are slightly offset from one another to offer varied views of the landscape and are connected with two square timber decks. In response to the client’s wishes for a “very affordable” house with wetland views, the architects selected a budget-friendly yet attractive natural materials palette — including blackened steel, stone, concrete and birch plywood — to complement the property’s native trees and grasslands. “To set the house into the site, the main living space was built into the hillside,” the architecture firm explained. “Excavated rocks were reused as a base for the steel encased fireplace as well as a stepping stone inside the front door. The front door was built from a walnut tree found dead on the site.” Related: Charming home uses local, natural materials to pay homage to a chestnut tree The main dwelling includes an open-plan kitchen, dining area and living area on the ground floor. Above, a small loft offers space for sleeping and a home office. A two-story shower takes advantage of the double-height volume, adding what the architects call “a spatial surprise in the otherwise small space.” To minimize energy needs, The Box is wrapped in high-performance insulation and built into the side of the north-facing hill. Radiant underfloor heating and natural ventilation also help keep the home at comfortable temperatures year-round with minimal utility bills. + Bamesberger Architecture Images via Fred Bamesberger

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This bold, sustainable home will age gracefully near an Indiana wetland

Lecomte reaches mile 1,000 in his swim across the Pacific Ocean

October 3, 2018 by  
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Ben Lecomte, the first person to swim across the Atlantic Ocean back in 1998, is now attempting to be the first swimmer to traverse the Pacific Ocean . The record-setter is taking on the challenge not only for himself, but also to raise awareness about ocean pollution, health and conservation. Lecomte has now passed the 1,000 nautical mile marker from his starting point in the port city of Yokohama, Japan. “My eyes are not too much on the milestones,” Lecomte said of his headline distance. “But it’s important to have milestones to celebrate any progress.” The swimmer is nearly a fifth of the way through his 5,500-mile expedition. Related: Man plans to swim the Pacific Ocean to raise awareness for plastic pollution Despite six years of preparation, Lecomte and his crew aboard the research vessel dubbed ‘Seeker’ have had to overcome many obstacles since leaving Yokohama in June. The team has been forced back to port by typhoons , suffered sea sickness aboard the 65-foot (20-meter) sailboat and rerouted several times to avoid cargo ships. Aside from this, Lecomte attempts to swim an average of 30 miles a day, aided by North Pacific currents and a protein-based diet of approximately 8,000 calories. Throughout the roughly eight hours it takes him to swim this distance, he is also collecting ocean debris and plastic that his expedition team geotags for research. “Every single day we collect trash,” Lecomte said. “I’m truly shocked by the amount of plastic I find on my way every single day.” The team has collected more than 1,300 pieces of floating trash along its journey, scooping up to four samples each minute with a specially designed net. Related: Mountain Heroes cyclist aims for world record to fight climate change Even among the heart-rending stages of Lecomte’s journey, there have still been touching moments. “I am very surprised by the amount of amazing encounters I made in the middle of nowhere — birds, jellyfish, swordfishes, turtles , dolphins, whales and even a shark who followed me for two days,” he said. “As I swim everyday, I see this wild and beautiful environment being affected by the virus of plastic. Every stroke is dedicated to inspire people and find ways to rethink their plastic consumption on land.” Viewers can tune-in to top science publisher Seeker.com and its social channels to watch daily videos and live moments from the expedition, with weekly updates also airing on Discovery. Follow Ben’s journey at Seeker.com/TheSwim . Via Seeker Images via Seeker

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Lecomte reaches mile 1,000 in his swim across the Pacific Ocean

Hurricane Florence could cause dangerous floods of toxic sludge and animal waste

September 12, 2018 by  
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Torrential rains are not the only thing Hurricane Florence will bring once it hits landfall. The massive storm is expected to dump record amounts of rain in the southeastern United States — rain that could overflow toxic chemical waste and animal manure sites along the coast, increasing danger to both public health and the environment. One toxic waste site in North Carolina is particularly vulnerable to the incoming storm. Two years ago, the state tasked Duke Energy Corp. with cleaning up coal-ash ponds in the area following a major spill, because the ponds posed serious hazards to nearby communities. Close to 40,000 tons of toxic waste was dumped near the town of Eden, North Carolina. State officials ordered the company to clean up the ponds by the summer of 2019. Although Duke Energy Corp. has started the cleanup process, it is nowhere near the finish line. The company is currently in the middle of cleaning up the sites and will not be finished by the time Hurricane Florence rolls in. Given the condition of the ponds, excess rain from the hurricane could lead to overflow, dumping the waste into the surrounding environment. Related: Climate change is expected to bring more intense storms like Hurricane Florence North Carolina is also home to lagoons that contain manure from the state’s hog and poultry industries. Hurricane Florence could overwhelm these lagoons with massive amounts of rain, which would dump the animal waste into surrounding waterways. If that happens, the state would be facing a major environmental disaster. That is, of course, if Florence stays on its current path and hits North Carolina. Hurricane Florence is growing in both strength and size as it prepares to make landfall. If the storm continues at its current pace, it could be the strongest hurricane to reach the Carolinas in the last 30 years. With Florence getting closer every day, about 1 million residents have already evacuated. Via Bloomberg Images via NASA and NOAA

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Hurricane Florence could cause dangerous floods of toxic sludge and animal waste

Bees addicted to pesticides much like smokers to nicotine, scientists say

August 30, 2018 by  
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Bees have developed a likening to pesticide-containing plants , according to a recent study. The affinity exhibited by the bees is similar to an addiction to nicotine from cigarettes. Apparently, the more pesticide-laced pollen that the bees ingest, the more they crave the tainted alternatives. The contaminated nectar is potentially harmful to bees and unfortunately, researchers are finding higher quantities entering bee colonies than before. To reach these conclusions, a British research team conducted a series of studies over 10-day periods, offering 10 different bee colonies access to both pure sugar solutions as well as a compound that contained neonicotinoids, or neonics. Over extensive exposure, the bees increasingly preferred the sugar flavored with pesticides over the natural alternative. Related: Canada moves to ban bee-killing pesticides “Interestingly, neonicotinoids target nerve receptors in insects that are similar to receptors targeted by nicotine in mammals ,” explained Richard Gill, researcher in the Department of Life Sciences at London’s Imperial College . “Whilst neonicotinoids are controversial, if the effects of replacements on non-target insects are not understood, then I believe it is sensible that we take advantage of current knowledge and further studies to provide guidance for using neonicotinoids more responsibly, rather than necessarily an outright ban.” Related: Total field ban on bee-harming neonicotinoids likely after new EU assessments Researchers will continue to experiment with the bees, according to lead scientist Andres Arce, part of the same Imperial College department as Gill. “Many studies on neonicotinoids feed bees exclusively with pesticide-laden food, but in reality, wild bees have a choice of where to feed,” Arce said. “We wanted to know if the bees could detect the pesticides and eventually learn to avoid them by feeding on the uncontaminated food we were offering. We now need to conduct further studies to try and understand the mechanism behind why they acquire this preference.” The extensive research will have major implications for agriculture practices in the EU as well as North America. The EU already imposed a partial ban on neonics in 2013 after evidence found that they may have an adverse effect to bee colonies. As of today, the ban has been extended to all crops that are not grown in greenhouses. Canada has already moved to ban the pesticide this year, with the U.S. following suit in the near future. + The Royal Society Publishing Via The Guardian Image via Axel Rouvin

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Bees addicted to pesticides much like smokers to nicotine, scientists say

BIG completes an energy-efficient sculptural skyscraper in Shenzhen

August 9, 2018 by  
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Designed by Bjarke Ingels Group , the new home for the Shenzhen Energy Company has just reached completion in the business center of Shenzhen , China. Conceived as a new social and sustainable landmark in the heart of the city, the striking office development comprises two towers — one rising 220 meters to the north and the other to a height of 120 meters in the south — both of which are linked by a 34-meter-tall podium. Dubbed the Shenzhen Energy Mansion, the skyscraper is wrapped in an undulating facade that optimizes solar orientation while minimizing energy consumption. Created in collaboration with ARUP and Transsolar, BIG’s Shenzhen Energy Mansion design was selected the winner of an international design competition in 2009. Spanning an area of 96,000 square meters, this new headquarters for the Shenzhen Energy Company includes a pair of office towers and a mixed-use podium comprising the main lobbies, a conference center, a cafeteria and exhibition space. Circulation for visitors and workers are divided; the commercial spaces can be accessed through sliding glass walls on the north and south ends of the buildings while office workers enter from the front plaza to the lobby. Instead of the traditional glass curtain wall, BIG designed a pleated building envelope specially engineered to reduce solar loads and glare. Site studies and passive solar principles optimize the building’s orientation, which includes maximized north-facing openings for natural light and minimized exposure on the sunnier sides. Green roofs top the building. Related: BIG unveils designs for LEED-certified skyscraper in NYC “Shenzhen Energy Mansion is our first realized example of ‘engineering without engines’ — the idea that we can engineer the dependence on machinery out of our buildings and let architecture fulfill the performance,” said Bjarke Ingels, founding partner at BIG. “Shenzhen Energy Mansion appears as a subtle mutation of the classic skyscraper and exploits the building’s interface with the external elements: sun, daylight, humidity and wind to create maximum comfort and quality inside. A natural evolution that looks different because it performs differently.” + BIG Images by Chao Zhang

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BIG completes an energy-efficient sculptural skyscraper in Shenzhen

This floating park in Rotterdam is made from recycled plastic waste

July 11, 2018 by  
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More than 1,000 square feet of plastic ultimately destined to pollute the ocean is getting a second lease on life in Rotterdam. On July 4, 2018, Recycled Island Foundation opened its prototype to the public: a floating park made entirely from recycled plastic waste and appropriately named the Recycled Park. According to a report commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment , more than 1,000 cubic meters of plastic waste is transported every year down the Meuse River and into the North Sea. The plastics come from landfills, agriculture, sewage and inland shipping. They ultimate reach the river through a number of methods, including dumping, littering and run-off. Instead of letting the plastic reach the ocean, the Recycled Island Foundation and 25 partners created the Recycled Park: a public space in Rotterdam consisting of floating platforms made from recycled plastic waste. The team set traps along the Meuse River that collect waste, which is then gathered and transformed into platforms for the floating park. Related: A massive five-ton plastic waste whale breaches in a Bruges canal The Recycled Park project is focused on the Meuse River because of the overall viability of plastic in the aquatic space. The collected waste  is newer than in other waterways, so it can easily be made into platforms. To create the platforms, the collected plastic is sent to Wageningen University, which leads the research on effective recycling techniques . From there, the platforms are designed with HEBO Mariteimservice , who removes the garbage from the water. But the platforms aren’t just designed to reduce plastic pollution — they also serve as a wildlife habitat. Plants grow both above and below the river surface, allowing greenery to thrive on top of the platforms, providing a habitat capable of sustaining marine life and encouraging fish to lay eggs below the platforms. With the prototype park open, the organization is now looking for expansion options. Its ultimate goal is to incorporate several aquatic platform types into the park, while finding a permanent location to collect plastic from the Dutch harbor . + Recycled Park + Recycled Island Foundation Images via Recycled Island Foundation

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This floating park in Rotterdam is made from recycled plastic waste

LEED Platinum housing for the homeless takes over a formerly vacant L.A. lot

July 6, 2018 by  
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Los Angeles-based design practice Michael Maltzan Architecture  has transformed a vacant suburban lot into the Crest Apartments, a LEED Platinum -certified permanent supportive housing center that assists homeless individuals and veterans. Commissioned by the Skid Row Housing Trust, this striking light-filled property promotes healthy lifestyles with its inviting, community-focused design. In addition to serving the homeless, the 45,000-square-foot development also offers major benefits to the local community and environment with its stormwater management system that captures and treats over 90 percent of the site’s rainwater runoff. Located in Los Angeles’ Van Nuys neighborhood, the $23.6-million Crest Apartments building consists of 64 units, half of which are allocated for homeless veterans. Also included are supportive services and community space for residents such as the social services offices, a communal kitchen, laundry room, conference room, residents’ lounge and an outdoor community garden. The building was constructed with a prefabricated timber frame constructed by CTF California TrusFrame and clad with LaHambra Integral Color Plaster. To let in natural light and views of the city, the architects punctuated the white exterior with aluminum-framed Arcadia windows and glazed sliding doors. The Suniva Optimus Series Monocrystalline solar modules and Heliodyne solar thermal collectors help offset the building’s electricity needs. “The building’s arching form stretches the length of the site, creating a sheltered courtyard with four residential floors above,” says Michael Maltzan Architecture. “The low points of the building touch down at both the front and back of the site, creating a physical relationship to the smaller-scale single-family residences to the south, and the commercial facades to the north. The lobby and reception are positioned at the front to welcome residents and visitors and activate the street. Inviting, light-filled spaces throughout the building form a network of healthy community connections that support residents.” Related: Michael Maltzan’s Prefab Star Apartments in Downtown LA Residents at the Crest Apartments also enjoy access to a landscape of native , drought-resistant plantings that form a self-sustaining ecosystem supportive of a variety of uses. The low-irrigation landscape is also fitted out with two bioswales , infiltration trenches and permeable paving to manage almost all of the building’s stormwater runoff on-site. + Michael Maltzan Architecture Images via Iwan Baan

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LEED Platinum housing for the homeless takes over a formerly vacant L.A. lot

Red List expands to 26,000 endangered species

July 6, 2018 by  
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Japanese earthworms, the Mauritian flying fox and the Bankoualé Palm are joining over 26,000 species categorized as “endangered.” The latest International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) Red List report  now identifies 26,197 plants and animals facing extinction, out of 93,557 facing serious environmental threats around the world. Australia’s reptile population possibly faces the most threats of all species. 975 reptiles native to the island — nearly every cold-blooded animal living there — have joined the list. In addition, seven percent of those are threatened with extinction due to changing environmental factors , including invasive species and climate change. Estimates from ICUN blame 600 million reptile deaths on feral cats, while a one-degree temperature change could cut the Bartle Frere cool-skink population by half over 30 years. Related: Conservationists sound alarm over US House bill that weakens Endangered Species Act While Australia is facing a mass extinction of reptiles, other areas across Asia could lose species over time. The Mauritian flying fox, an important pollinating species on Mauritius and Réunion, was also added to the endangered species list. Deforestation , cyclones, poaching and death from power lines have significantly reduced the population. In Japan, three species of earthworms were also added to the Red List and face extinction. Nuclear fallout from both World War II and the nuclear reactor meltdown in Fukushima, combined with over-farming and city growth, are threatening the species. Animals also aren’t the only species that face extinction before the century’s end. The Bankoualé palm, a plant native to Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen, may also be relegated to textbooks. Between deforestation, drought , destruction from farming and water redirection, the palm could disappear entirely from Yemen first, leaving the Horn of Africa as its only remaining habitat. Although the outlook is grim for the newly endangered species , all hope is not lost. The ICUN is actively working with local populations to ensure both plants and animals can continue to thrive for generations. In Mauritius, a task force is working with farmers to protect crops and orchards with nets and other deterrents, reducing the need for population culling. Via ICUN

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Red List expands to 26,000 endangered species

Solar-powered cube home in Australia hovers over the landscape

June 21, 2018 by  
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Optical illusions go hand-in-hand with architecture, but this tiny cube structure by  Matt Thitchener Architect  truly hovers over the landscape — with some help from embedded supports. Cantilevered on a hill, the North Avoca Studio is completely powered by the large array of  solar panels  on its roof. Located just southeast of New South Wales, North Avoca is an idyllic coastal neighborhood. Architect Matt Thitchener designed the 645-square-foot cube to be both an office and entertainment space for a family who primarily works from home. The studio is merely steps away from the family’s main residence. Related: Tiny Space-Age LoftCube Prefab Can Pop up Just About Anywhere The structural design of the studio was primarily influenced by the challenging landscape. Very steep terrain as well as limited building space required the team to embed 20-foot pillars into the bedrock to create a cantilevered design . Also due to the complexity of the location, building materials for the project had to be craned in piece by piece. The result, however, is a gorgeous multi-use space that looks out over the Pacific Ocean. Clad in dark corrugated Spandek panels, the exterior is modern and sleek. The otherwise monolithic structure is only interrupted by an entire glazed wall that provides the interior with natural light and breathtaking ocean views. The studio’s roof is covered in solar panels , which provide 100 percent of its energy. It’s also equipped with a rain harvesting system that is used to irrigate the garden planted under the structure. The interior of the home counts on an open floor plan to provide ultimate flexibility for different uses. The design is contemporary and airy, also providing an appropriate feel for any occasion. The space can be used as a work studio during the day, but can be easily be converted into an entertainment area for friends and family at night. + Matt Thitchener Architect Via Apartment Therapy Photography by Matt Thitchener Architect and Keith McInnes Photography

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Solar-powered cube home in Australia hovers over the landscape

Green-roofed vacation home embraces old-growth trees in the San Juan Islands

June 20, 2018 by  
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When Prentiss Balance Wickline Architects was asked to design a vacation home on the San Juan Islands of Washington state, the Seattle-based design firm didn’t take the easy way out. The site, which overlooks stunning views of Griffin Bay, includes three beautiful old-growth trees that the architects wanted to preserve — a different approach to that of the client’s previous architect, who suggested chopping down the trees. With the existing trees kept intact, the North Bay house celebrates the beauty of the landscape while complementing the surroundings with a natural materials palette. The North Bay house serves as a family’s holiday retreat with plenty of space for entertaining yet feels like an intimate home when the couple vacations there alone. The 2,505-square-foot contemporary home embraces the outdoors with its abundance of glazing, an expansive green roof  and the predominate use of timber and stone. To meet the brief for a low-maintenance home that could withstand periods of non-use when the clients were off the island, Prentiss Balance Wickline Architects used hardy materials like concrete panels for the chimneys and steel-framed windows sheathed in powder-coated steel. Siting the home proved to be one of the project’s most difficult challenges. In addition to preserving the old-growth trees, the architects faced property setbacks and needed to establish privacy from a relatively busy nearby road. The solution came in the form of a stone wall that serves as an organizing element of the vacation home and a shield that blocks unwanted views and noise pollution. The stone wall is offset by the glazed pavilion that overlooks views of the water. Related: Pine Forest Cabin achieves beautiful modern design on a budget “The delineated concept is a stone wall that sweeps from the parking to the entry, through the house and out the other side, terminating in a hook that nestles the master shower,” the architects said. “This is the symbolic and functional shield between the public road and the private living spaces of the home owners. All the primary living spaces and the master suite are on the water side; the remaining rooms are tucked into the hill on the road side of the wall.” + Prentiss Balance Wickline Architects Images by Jay Goodrich

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Green-roofed vacation home embraces old-growth trees in the San Juan Islands

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