INTERVIEW: Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker on how biomimicry can improve happiness and creativity in the workplace

July 12, 2017 by  
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If you’ve ever admired the work ethic of an art colony and wished you could apply those principles to your company, you’ll do well to check out Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker’s newest book. In ‘TEEMING: How Superorganisms Work to Build Infinite Wealth in a Finite World,’ Dr. Woolley-Barker describes the many ways companies can learn from animal societies, as well as sensible ways to to apply those principles. A combination of sociobiology, biomimicry , and organizational theory, this book is a practical yet entertaining guide on how to make organizations of all scales thrive – in a sustainable way. Read on for our interview with Dr. Woolley-Barker – and enter our raffle below for a chance to win one of 25 copies of TEEMING: How Superorganisms Work to Build Infinite Wealth in a Finite World ! a Rafflecopter giveaway Inhabitat: Can you talk about your background and what inspired you to write this book? Woolley-Barker: When I started writing it, I was really struggling––there was never enough time, enough money, enough hope. I’d lost a daughter, a husband, a business, my self-respect, my career, and I had three little boys to care for on my own. Some friends of mine got me to try one of those 21-day meditation series. It’s not typically my kind of thing, but I figured I might as well. The first day began with this goofy mantra– “I come from a place of infinite abundance” or something like that. But then the guide talked about sunlight and cosmic stardust streaming down. As a botanist, that clicked for me. Sunlight is the source of most of the value on Earth––plants use it to create sugar, and every animal lives on plants or other animals that do. At the end of the meditation, I thought––“I’m going to write a book about this. Infinite abundance is real” and immediately started writing. I scribbled 50 pages longhand on the spot, and TEEMING was born. The second day made no sense to me at all, and I quit the program, but I kept on writing. I’ve been into biology my whole life, and that’s one of the themes of the book––if you follow your childhood passions, you can do what you love for a lifetime. I studied Botany as an undergrad, backpacked the Hawaiian backcountry, the California redwoods and mountains and deserts. Bob Trivers, who kind of invented Sociobiology––the science of social evolution––was one of my first mentors, and I instantly knew that was what I wanted to study. I got my PhD in Biological Anthropology at NYU, studying baboons in Ethiopia. I was into the relationship between behavior, social structure, and evolutionary change in primates––our relatives. Then my career took a major detour. 12 years, 3 kids, some medical and economic trauma and one divorce later, I found myself trying to get back in the workforce. That’s not easy to do––science doesn’t wait around for you. I was obsolete. Somehow I managed to get work as a corporate facilitator, doing sustainability and executive coaching, and I was always fascinated in the biological anthropology of innovation, organization, cooperation, leadership, and sustainability. Once a geek, always a geek! One day, I was driving down the freeway and a piece played on the radio about something called biomimicry—innovation inspired by nature. I had a full religious epiphany. That was it. I read everything I could, networked with anyone who seemed vaguely connected, and helped out with the San Diego Zoo’s foray into the subject. I started writing a blog, BioInspired Ink. I did an incredible biomimicry workshop in Mexico, got certified as a biomimicry professional through Biomimicry 3.8, and was among those earning the first Masters degree in Biomimicry from Arizona State University’s Biomimicry Center, where I’m now an adjunct. Today I mostly work as a Biomimicry Consultant, helping companies develop biologically-inspired solutions. We look for deep patterns––strategies that stand the test of time––and help translate them into workable solutions in everything from material science to automotive design, packaging, cosmetics, medical devices, business models, algorithms, cybersecurity—and everything else. If you can ask ”how would nature do it?” I can probably find some surprising innovations for you to play with. Inhabitat: A major focus of your book is “superorganisms.” What is a superorganism? Woolley-Barker: Superorganisms are colonies of genetically distinct individuals that work together as one creature––like ants or honeybees. Different workers specialize in different tasks, the same way our skin cells and neurons do. Every colony has a dedicated caste of reproductives, and the rest support them in that. No individual can survive and thrive alone, but together, the colony does all kinds of complex tasks––like building, farming, hunting, fighting, or gathering. All of them are aligned around future success for the colony as a whole. Basically, if it takes a village, it’s a superorganism. Humans are superorganisms too. We all have different jobs and personalities, and contribute to society whether we’re reproductive or not, and we can’t survive on our own. I mean, if you go all the way back to growing the beans, how many people did it take to get your latté this morning? Or the clothes on your back? As a primatologist, I think of humans as “ant-like apes”––with little iPhone antennae. Inhabitat: What are some surprising or favorite discoveries you’ve made about the animal kingdom in your research for TEEMING? Woolley-Barker: Nature is crazy. Set it loose and check on it in 4 billion years, and you’ll find 30 million or more unbelievable designs. You’ll never get bored studying it, that’s for sure. I mean, platypus? Go home evolution, you’re drunk. Octopuses blow my mind. They are about as smart as baboons, but they have little brains about the size of a lizard’s. The rest of their neurons are in their skin, along with photoreceptors like the ones in our eyes. Basically, they are inside-out brains covered in cameras. They can even pass a Mirror Self-Recognition Test, which is the test biologists use for sentience. They let the animal get to know itself in the mirror, then anaesthetize it and put a dot of paint on its forehead (or genitals for dolphins, because they’re into that). Most animals get aggressive when they wake up thinking they are looking at a competitor. But some do something totally different: chimps pick their noses in the mirror, dolphins check out their privates, and elephants and magpies try to wipe off the dot. Octopuses feel their forehead. Picture that for a second and try not to laugh. The most mind-blowing thing is the fungal networks underground. They are like a subterranean brain, sensing our footfalls and everything that goes on nearby. Nearly all the plants on Earth depend on them to gather water and fertilizer, move sugar from parent trees to shaded seedlings, and to deliver chemical alarms when insects attack. Scientists have found that the fungi will move specific nutrients long distances to feed one particular tree while ignoring others around it. These guys are literally farming our world. Maybe they see us as irritating pests, who knows? Inhabitat: What’s a common mistake or challenge that modern companies face that’s addressed in your book? Woolley-Barker: Darwin has been paraphrased saying it’s not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change. That’s true for companies as well, and yet we design them like machines, filled with standardized, rigid cogs. Thinking happens at the top, doing at the bottom. Departments and jobs are fixed and static, and management has to penetrate many layers to tell the front lines what to do––and then the front line information has to filter all the way back up to the brain. We’ve designed all the adaptability right out of our organizations. Living things aren’t like this––life organizes as it goes, sensing and responding to change in the moment. Of course, most living things don’t work together that much, as they are just out to maximize their own reproductive fitness (though that usually requires cooperation because everything is connected). They don’t have much in the way of specific goals either. We can’t work this way because it‘s too slow and random. Companies would go broke. But ancient superorganisms societies have worked together on complex, specific goals for 500 million years. They know how to find the sweet spot between bottom-up chaos and top-down control to compound their wealth from one generation to the next. They know what works. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. How do they do it? For one thing, they don’t rely on hierarchies to adapt. Hierarchies in nature are used to prevent change. A hierarchical system of cells stops cancer cells from proliferating in our bodies, and separates signals from noise in our brains. Hierarchies are important—but they aren’t the right structures for adapting to change. As hierarchies grow, the costs of management rise, along with the risk of error. Decisions get bigger as you move up the chain of command, and the number of people making them gets smaller. The most powerful managers are those furthest from the frontlines—and they are overwhelmed with meetings because all the report lines converge. Vertical just doesn’t scale. It’s a recipe for instability, and you have to constantly restructure and issue more top-down directives to keep things standardized. We call it quality control and Standard Operating Procedures, but they prevent each of us from taking effective action in our sphere of influence. We feel powerless, and disengaged––70 percent of workers don’t really care about or even like the work they do. We live for the weekend. We all know we could do things better if we had the decision-making authority to do it. What a miserable waste of our creativity and intelligence. Superorganisms have a lot of unexpected lessons to teach us about leadership as well. Every ant and honeybee team has a “leader,” but they don’t give orders. There is no single leader either—one-third of all ants act as leaders. Their role is to gather information and distill it into patterns, which they spread among and across teams. They provide the social glue that knits bottom-up local information into a global vision. They also nurture the colony two most important assets––diversity and independence. Without those two things, the colony can’t access collective intelligence or swarm creativity, which are essential to nimbly responding to changing conditions. Without them, the colony will go extinct. Inhabitat: Do you have a favorite biomimicry principle for improving happiness and creativity in companies? Woolley-Barker: Other superorganisms build their compounding wealth with infinite things—sunlight and carbon, diffuse specks of water and nutrients, complexity, diversity, connection, and trust. Their teams grow from the edges out, in modular, self-managed units that seek and respond to opportunity and risk on the front lines, and they leverage symbiotic partnerships to unlock value. They focus on their shared purpose, build with infinite stuff, and spill the value they create out into the larger ecosystems they inhabit, feeding the life that feeds them. That’s regeneration––my favorite principle. As for individual happiness and creativity, superorganisms have a great recipe for it. They self-organize, and every individual simply does whatever it thinks is best at that time. The thing that keeps the system working is shared purpose, mechanisms of trust and mutual accountability, an ethos of sharing and fairness, diversity and personal independence, transparent information flows, and careful distributed prevention of the parasites who are always trying to deceive and steal from them. No meetings, targets, bosses, or performance reviews. Inhabitat: Your book is aimed at companies, but do you think the lessons from TEEMING could be applicable elsewhere? Woolley-Barker: Absolutely! TEEMING isn’t just a new way to do business. I think of it as a new way to organize our entire global society as we adapt to a finite Earth. Networks are built from the bottom up, one person at a time––individual hearts and minds have to connect to one another to make this kind of change. So it’s useful on every level, every time we interact with each other. Really, it’s an old story, and one that only a superorganism would tell––Stone Soup! You probably remember it. A hungry stranger enters a starving village, and knocks on doors to beg for a meal. The people hide in their homes, miserable behind their closed doors–– no one will share. Finally, the stranger makes a fire in the town square, takes a pot from his pack, pulls some water from the well, and puts it on to boil. Then he adds a simple stone. A few curious children come out to see what he’s doing. “I’m making Stone Soup,” he says. “You’re welcome to join me. But it needs a little something.” They bring little things—an old potato, a shriveled carrot—and their parents come too. Soon, a delicious aroma fills the air, and everyone can smell the soup. All who shared eat, everyone who trusted is full. That’s how superorganisms thrive in landscapes of scarcity that exclude other species. They pool tiny scraps of value that aren’t worth the effort for other creatures, like splinters of wood, bits of chopped up leaves, specks of pollen, and molecules of water and fertilizer. We’re superorganisms too, and it feels natural to us. It’s the way we work best. Inhabitat: Do you have another sociobiology topic you’re itching to write about? Woolley-Barker: I’m fascinated by parasites, which all superorganisms are plagued by, because a colony offers a juicy collective target, and because the colony relies on trust. Parasites try to penetrate superorganism networks through deception and mimicry. For instance, there’s a spider that mimics the scent of ant larva. When an ant comes across it, it picks up the spider and takes it down to the larval chambers, where it devours the young. Other ants practice slavery—another kind of parasitism. They raid the colonies of closely related species, and steal their eggs, putting them to work for themselves. Some species can’t even eat without these slaves. Parasites are everywhere, trying to get in, but superorganism societies have been evolving protection and detection mechanisms for hundreds of millions of years. We have a lot to learn in this department––our social media networks are pretty much wide open to predators right now, and we readily spread fake news to serve others at our expense. The same is true for cybersecurity and airport screening. The answers are already out there. + TEEMING: How Superorganisms Work to Build Infinite Wealth in a Finite World Images of leafcutter ant , elephants , octopus , people at work , bees , and parasite via Depositphotos

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INTERVIEW: Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker on how biomimicry can improve happiness and creativity in the workplace

Giant robots and 3D printers are building a futuristic house in Switzerland

July 12, 2017 by  
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Researchers from ETH Zurich University plan to use giant robots and 3D printers to build “the first house in the world to be designed, planned and built using predominantly digital processes.” The DFAB House will fuse cutting-edge technologies – including 3D printing, robotic fabrication and prefab construction – to create a futuristic home worthy of the Jetsons. The researchers will collaborate with business partners to build the three-story, 656-square-foot house as part of the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication project. They will build it at NEST– research facility in Dübendorf, Switzerland , operated by the Empa institute. Related: Floating timber pavilion transforms a Swiss lake into an exciting new public square “Unlike construction projects that use only a single digital building technology, such as 3D-printed houses, the DFAB House brings a range of new digital building technologies together,” said the project’s initiator, ETH professor Matthias Kohler. Related: A 10K tiny house 3D-printed in 24 hours A six-foot tall robot mounted on caterpillar tracks will build steel-wire mesh sections which will have a dual role–it will function as formwork and reinforcement for concrete walls. The mesh is then filled with a concrete mix that forms a load-bearing wall topped with a 3D-printed ceiling slab. The house is scheduled to complete in summer 2018. It will function as a residential and working space for guest researchers and partners of the NEST project. + ETH Zurich + Empa Via Dezeen

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Giant robots and 3D printers are building a futuristic house in Switzerland

Old mountain retreat renovated into sublime off-grid refuge

April 28, 2017 by  
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The challenges of renovating older buildings are already numerous, but when working deep in 8,100-foot-high mountainous topography and extreme climate conditions, it can be downright perilous. Meeting the challenge head-on, architecture firms Arteks Arquitectura and Ginjaume Arquitectura i Paissatge partnered up to convert a 1930s mountain retreat in the Andorran Pyrenees into the modern, off-grid Illa Mountain Hut that can generate up to four days of self-sufficient energy . Working within the confines of such harsh conditions, reforming the mountain refuge proved to be an uphill battle at every turn. The first hurdle was working under the restrictions imposed by the area’s protected UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status. Additionally, the extreme weather conditions meant that the project team could only access the site – the 4th highest shelter in the Pyrenees – during the summer months. Related: Modern lodge in the Rocky Mountains produces as much energy as it consumes Although the conditions were not optimal for building, it did have its advantages. Working around so many environmental barriers enabled the building team to use the restrictions to their advantage by using eco-friendly materials that were purpose-built for the project. Due to the harsh conditions and topography, for example, the architectural team chose to use light and prefabricated materials that could be flown in by helicopter. With most of the elements prefabricated in workshops and assembled on site, the building now weighs about a third of a similarly-sized conventional building and the execution time of the project was cut down to a surprising six months. Using the existing building as a structural base helped the team to further minimize the cost of the project as well as reduce the waste associated with the project. The wooden frame was reinforced with an extended gabled roof which helps discharge large snow loads during winter. This feature was also strategic to optimize solar energy gain . Thanks to a large array of photovoltaic panels installed on the roof, the refuge can generate up to four days of energy self sufficiency , making the project 100% off-grid. In addition to its solar power, the structure uses an independent water treatment system equipped with coconut filters . Additionally, an efficient ventilation system and ultra-thick insulation keeps the interior spaces warm and cozy, free from the extreme exterior cold. + Arteks Arquitectura + Ginjaume Arquitectura i Paissatge Photography via Pol Viladoms

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Old mountain retreat renovated into sublime off-grid refuge

Giant "Lily Pads" will capture stormwater at Brooklyn’s largest public-housing complex

March 29, 2017 by  
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When Hurricane Sandy made landfall in October 2012, the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook didn’t stand a chance. Surrounded by the waters of the  Gowanus Canal , Upper New York Bay, and Buttermilk Channel, the coastal community was ripped apart by the tidal surge. More than four years on, Red Hook is slowly but surely returning to form. New development is under way, and Red Hook Houses , Brooklyn’s largest public housing complex, is getting a new, more resilient makeover complete with giant, green-roofed “Lily Pads” that will capture stormwater and keep it from overflowing the city’s sewage system. To help it weather the brunt of Mother Nature’s wrath, if and when she decided to call again, the New York City Housing Authority commissioned Kohn Pedersen Fox and landscape architecture firm OLIN to devise a “resiliency and renewal program.” Related: New renderings reveal resilient and revitalizing Red Hook waterfront creative complex After extensive research, including community surveys and workshops, KPF is proposing to build 14 “utility pods”—all above ground—to not only deliver heat and electricity to each of the 28 buildings but also to provide a space where residents can convene. There will also be a “Lily Pad” scheme: permanent flood barriers in the form of raised earth in the middle of internal courtyards. For extra security, Red Hook Houses will get an active flood wall bolstered with passive barriers. “These elements transform the experience of residents and guests by providing vibrant, social spaces in conjunction with the area’s infrastructural needs,” KPF wrote in a press release . Related: Red Hook Housing Project’s new urban farm grows fresh produce and jobs for the community And KPF and OLIN’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. The New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects has named NYCHA Red Hook Houses one of its 2017 Design Awards winners . You’ll be able to view the project, and the other winning designs, at an exhibition at the Center for Architecture in Manhattan from April 21 through June 20. + Kohn Pedersen Fox Via the Architect’s Newspaper

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Giant "Lily Pads" will capture stormwater at Brooklyn’s largest public-housing complex

Beautiful cliffside home ‘split in half’ by landslide rebuilt with wooden pods

March 21, 2017 by  
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Sometimes beautiful design is just fate. When AR Design Studio decided to add an extension to a cliffside home on the UK’s South Coast, the entire house ended up being split in half due to a major landslide . Fortunately, the architects stayed on to design a replacement house, resulting in a beautiful vacation home called the Crow’s Nest. This time, however, the gorgeous structure, which is made out of four wooden “pods,” was built with highly-engineered technology to stabilize the structure against future land movements. The Crow’s Nest home is built looking over a large cliff on the UK’s South Coast. To secure the new home against future natural disasters , the architects worked with engineers to create an integrated system that could resist major land movements. The system entailed installing dwarfs walls into a massive concrete slat that sits underneath the home. This was strategic to creating an adjustable raft-like structural frame where the walls absorb any major land movement. In this case, mechanical jacks installed underneath the frame would be able to re-level the house afterwards. Related: These 6 extraordinary cliffside homes will give you chills Although the original home was severely damaged by the landslide, the architects managed to use its original cabin design as inspiration for the new one. The team created an elongated structure with a series of four “twisted” pods, creating a unique contemporary cabin character . Clad in beautiful blond larch panels, the home seamlessly blends in with the surrounding landscape. The entryway is made up of the smallest pod , which leads into the main living area. The “tower pod” to the left houses the large master bedroom, along with the children’s bedroom and bathrooms. The remaining pod on the right of the living area is a guest space that can be closed when not in use. The interior comprises a light, airy design with a modern cabin feel. Bold wooden furnishings are found throughout, but the use of various industrial materials give the space a contemporary touch. Large windows offer optimal natural light as well as stunning views of the forest and coastal views. + AR Design Studio Via Design Milk Photography by Martin Gardner

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Beautiful cliffside home ‘split in half’ by landslide rebuilt with wooden pods

Coming soon: NYC’s first community solar project

March 21, 2017 by  
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A company based in Toronto is bringing New York City its first community solar project. UGE International , one of the world’s leading renewable-energy contractors, will be partnering with Gotham Community Solar to develop a new array at a multi-tenant commercial facility between the Park Slope and Boerum Hill neighborhoods in Brooklyn. The project, which is scheduled to be completed in early summer, will have a rated peak capacity of roughly 100 kilowatts, according to UGE. The building abuts another UGE project: the Whole Foods Market at 214 3rd Street, colloquially known as “3rd and 3rd” by locals. “It’s been a privilege to work with ConEd , the Department of Buildings, and the project’s ownership group on developing this landmark project” Tim Woodcock, UGE’s Regional Director, said in a statement. Related: UGE is building a massive rooftop solar array atop this popular Brooklyn church Woodcock anticipates selling any surplus power to nearby residents at rates lower than those offered by their utility companies. The benefits would be twofold: cheaper electricity that also comes from a sustainable source. “The solar power generated by the project will be credited to numerous residential accounts, offering access to the benefits and low cost of solar energy to those previously excluded due to their housing situation,” he added. + UGE International

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Coming soon: NYC’s first community solar project

Cactus Park in Taiwan draws architectural inspiration from prickly succulents

March 15, 2017 by  
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Cacti may not excite a lot of people, but in Taiwan the plant is so highly respected the island community of Penghu built the Qingwan Cactus Park to celebrate its existence. The beautiful complex was created by converting an old military complex into various greenhouses that store a staggering variety of cacti in all shapes and sizes. To protect the site and the plants for the strong winds associated with monsoon season, the project implemented a number of resilient features around the park. Located in the Qingwan district of Penghu’s Fongguei Peninsula, the site’s old military structures were built during the Japanese Colonial Era. Abandoned for years, the site became covered with cactuses and white popinac. Cacti thrive on the island’s dry, windy climate because they are resistant to drought, strong winds and high salinity in the soil. To protect the beloved cactus population , the locals decided to give the existing buildings a thorough facelift in order to create a protected area for the plants to thrive. Related: Cactus Gum Can Purify Water Cheaply and Effectively At the heart of the complex is the teak and glass dome shaped like a cactus that “glows” at night. This main building, along with the other refurbished structures, was constructed to make as little impact on the surrounding basaltic landscape as possible. A teak wood frame and basaltic masonry walls support the dome’s large prismatic windows that provide ventilation and light on the interior. The complex consists of various greenhouses and an artists village, all surrounded by a “green belt” that connects the buildings and leads out to hiking and biking paths along the coastline. Although the cactus plant is known for its ability to thrive in dry climates, a rainwater conservation basin collects rainwater for irrigation and cleaning purposes. To protect the complex and the plants from the island’s strong winds, which carry salt that interferes with plant growth, numerous landscape architecture features were implemented in the complex.  Various windbreaking earth berms, inspired by the same design used by local farmers, form a protective barrier around the site. Although the park is geared to attract more ecotourism to the area, cacti are deeply respected by the locals, who express hope that visitors will enjoy a stroll around the greenhouses as well as spend time viewing the local wildlife. Additionally, visitors are encouraged to try their cactus-centric cuisine, especially the local favorite, cactus ice cream. + Qingwan Cactus Park + CCL Architects & Planners Via Archdaily Photography via Lin Fu Ming

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Cactus Park in Taiwan draws architectural inspiration from prickly succulents

Circular garden walkway cuts straight through Japanese timber home

January 31, 2017 by  
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Serious gardeners love to have their green space as close to their home as possible, but one Japanese couple’s love for gardening has literally come “full circle”. Designed by Fujiwaramuro Architects , the House in Mukainada has a continuous concrete garden promenade that cuts straight through the couple’s tiny timber clad home . Located in Hiroshima, the home was designed to integrate the garden into the design, making it easier for the elderly couple to enjoy their greenery. The home’s compact volume stems from wanting to protect the existing Japanese dogwood trees found on the lot. As part of the design, the architects built an earthquake-resistant wall around the perimeter that pulls double duty as a privacy fence. Related: Beautiful Greenhouse from Bangkok is a miniature garden you can bring inside Once the cedar-clad structure was designed, the architects began to build a circular earthen floor that lined up with the home’s two entrances. This round pathway was then was covered in concrete, leaving space for various planting holes. The garden design is meant to grow with the homeowners, so that eventually, they will be able to stroll through a verdant walkway without having to get their feet dirty. On the interior, the walls and flooring are also covered in oak, with a wide path of paler wood leading from the outdoor walkway through the home and back out again. The compact 800-square-foot space has one bedroom, an office space and a kitchen and bathroom. For now the home serves as a place for the family to socialize, but it was designed to be adaptable for various future uses, such as a community center or gallery space. + Fujiwaramuro Architects Via Archdaily Photography by Toshiyuki Yano

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Circular garden walkway cuts straight through Japanese timber home

Architects use local materials to build beautiful Costa Rica community center

January 30, 2017 by  
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Round building offer many advantages in terms of sustainability and resilience , so it’s no surprise to see disaster-prone communities turning to the curved architecture. Fournier Rojas Arquitectos recently created a beautifully round community center for the small Costa Rican town of El Rodeo de Mora. The center, which was primarily built with locally-sourced and donated materials, will provide the economically disadvantaged area with an adaptable space for hold community events and a shelter during natural disasters. El Rodeo de Mora is rural community located in hot and humid central Costa Rica, which sees extended periods of heavy rainfall. These conditions, along with poor construction, caused the community’s existing center to deteriorate over the years. When Fournier Rojas Arquitectos stepped in to work pro bono on the project, they focused primarily on constructing a building that would be sustainable and durable granted the tropical climate. Related: Villa Nyberg: A Passive Swedish Prefab with a Cool Circular Floorplan They based the design layout on the needs of the community – it offers a kitchen, toilets, a storage facility and amenities for the local soccer team – but they were also working within the challenges of the location itself. Costa Rica has strict regulations in place to reduce damage from earthquakes, and the architects built the center (which can hold up to 100 people) on high ground to protect it from flooding . Using local materials , many of which were donated, the architects managed to keep the cost down to less than $250 USD per square meter. At the heart of the center is an adaptable circular room, whose exterior is made of clay ventilation bricks – a common material of choice for tropical environments. Not only did the round design help cut down the cost in terms of materials needed, but the circular layout provides natural air circulation. The entire building sits on reinforced concrete columns. Eight pitched roofs made from lightweight fiber-cement sheets make up the building’s canopy, which extends out past the circular volume, further providing shade and protection from the elements. The “layering” style of the roof was strategic to further optimize the building’s natural ventilation . The design has won an award from the WAC (World Architecture Community, May 2015) and a Special Mention in S.ARCH AWARDS (May 2016). + Fournier Rojas Arquitectos Via Archdaily Photography by Fernando Alda

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Architects use local materials to build beautiful Costa Rica community center

8 surprising uses for hemp that could make the world a greener place

January 30, 2017 by  
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Hemp isn’t just for hackin’ the sack at Phish shows or making rope. This amazing plant, a non-psychoactive variety of cannabis grown specifically for industrial purposes, has a vast number of applications for a greener planet. Cultivated hemp grows quickly in a wide variety of climates and does not degrade the soil in which it is grown. Tune in, turn on, and read this feature to learn the latest developments in the magical (yet still illegal in most countries) world of hemp. Housing Hemp can processed into a durable material that was once used by Henry Ford to construct a car that was lighter, less expensive and consumed less power than traditional metal cars. These principles have also been applied to housing throughout the world. In the United Kingdom, farmer Nick Voase turned his own grown hemp into an amazing eco-house, held together by lime, that is cool in summer, warm in winter, and even features a walk-in fridge made out of hemp. In South Africa, hemp advocate Tony Budden is working hard to demonstrate the value of the wonder plant; he and his partner built the country’s first hemp home. Northern Ireland’s Bevan Architects  used hemp to construct a simple low-impact cottage on a riverside apple orchard for an environmentally friendly retreat from urban living. Lastly, in Australia, Mihaus Studio built a prefabricated hemp-based modular space that can be adapted for a wide variety of purposes. Plastic Traditional plastic is derived from non-renewable resources and is non-biodegradable, which means that disposed plastic usually ends up in ever expanding landfills. Enter our hero, hemp, a renewable resource which can be used to produce biodegradable plastic. A shift to the greener hemp would not require a sacrifice of quality . Hemp plastic may be up to 5 times stiffer and 2.5 stronger than traditional plastic made from polypropylene and unlike glass fibers, hemp plastic would not pose safety and health risks. Designers, such as  Studio Aisslinger , have incorporated this fine bioplastic into its products, such as the chair shown above. Pet Toys Hemp isn’t only for humans. Dogs, cats, and other furry, feathered, or scaly friends can also benefit from the plant. Honest Pet Products has created a line of pet toys made from sustainable hemp and organic wool. The method by which these toys are produced is also beneficial for the environment and community. The toys are manufactured by adults with developmental disabilities in Wisconsin and women living in the Gobi Desert and Nepal, who simultaneously support their family with their work and vow to protect the local snow leopards as a condition for their employment. Energy Storage Graphene  has received a great deal of attention for its superstrength and its astounding ability as a superconductor of electricity. Lost in this storm is the fact that hemp may be able to replicate graphene’s function as a supercapacitor, a revolutionary energy storage device, at a radically lower cost . David Mitlin of Clarkson University , New York discovered hemp’s superconductive properties by “cooking” plant material in a process. “Once you dissolve the lignin and the semicellulose, it leaves these carbon nanosheets – a pseudo-graphene structure,” said Mitlin. These nanosheets are then fabricated into electrodes, infused with an ionic liquid as an electrolyte, and function as supercapacitors that work in a wide range of temperatures and conditions. Mitlin founded a small company, Alta Supercaps , with the goal of producing hemp-based supercapacitors on a small scale. Insulation Not only is hemp a durable material for housing structure, it also is an excellent insulator. In Belgium,  Martens Van Caimere Architecten  renovated a local home with a sustainable hemp-based insulation material known as hempcrete . Hempcrete is a mixture of lime, hemp, and water that is superior to concrete in its sustainability and cost while also offering better insulation. “In our projects we try finding solutions to lower the building costs,” said architect Nikolaas Martens. “In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, Belgians were building houses that were badly or not insulated. So renovating these houses in a sustainable way tends to be expensive. Hempcrete combines the insulation and finishing in one layer, reducing building costs. Plus it is durable and sustainable, because it is made from a waste product.” Airplanes Fly high in the sky with hemp! In 2014, Canada-based Hempearth  contracted with a Florida-based plane manufacturer to build an airplane almost entirely out of hemp material . The plane will seat four people and have a wingspan of 36 feet. Approximately 75 percent of the plane will be constructed of industrial hemp. Originally scheduled for its first flight (appropriately out of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina) in 2015, the plane has yet to fly. Hempearth is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for their project. Biofuel Not satisfied with simply being made from hemp, the designers at Hempearth also plan for their plane to be powered entirely by hemp-based biofuel . While hemp biodiesel has great potential, there are currently legal and economic barriers to widespread adoption . “That particularly, is very much an issue of economies of scale,” said Arthur Hanks, executive director of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance. “We are still very much a specialty crop.”  The limited production of hemp is primarily geared towards the health food market, in which hemp provides the greatest return to farmers. “Every pound that’s being produced goes into the food chain,” Paul Bobbee, a Canadian hemp grower. While hemp production is legal in Canada, the continued haziness surrounding hemp policy in the United States suppresses the market.  If hemp production were legalized nationwide, “it would help regularize hemp in America, and help to increase markets,” said Hanks. Food Bring on the munchies. Hemp seeds can be eaten raw, sprouted, or ground up while the iconic hemp leaf can be thrown into a salad. Hemp seeds are high in protein and have a similar amino acid profile to meat, milk, and eggs. Often cold-pressed into oil form, hemp seeds are a rich source of Vitamin B, iron, dietary fiber, magnesium and zinc. Although illegal to produce in most American states, hemp can be imported as a food product. As of 2011, the U.S. imported $11.5 million worth of hemp products. Images via  The Event Chronicle , vhcmor/Flickr , Christina Griffin ,  Cedric Verhelst , Hempearth , FluffyMuppet/Flickr , Wikimedia Commons   (2) , Don Goofy/Flickr , Studio Aisslinger   and Bob Doran/Flickr

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8 surprising uses for hemp that could make the world a greener place

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