Hydrogen fuel cells good or bad for the environment?

February 1, 2021 by  
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Scotland is planning to have its first hydrogen-powered train ready to go by November of this year. It’s a huge undertaking involving many partners, including the Hydrogen Accelerator at the University of Saint Andrews and engineering firm  Arcola Energy . “With Scotland’s focus on achieving net zero emissions by 2035 and rail playing a leading role in this, hydrogen offers a safe, reliable and zero carbon alternative to other forms of rail propulsion,” Clare Lavelle, Scotland Energy business lead at project partner Arup said in a statement. “This project is not only a crucial step in helping us understand the practical challenges of using hydrogen traction power on our railways, but an example of the type of investment  Scotland  needs to take advantage of the opportunity to build a secure, flexible, cost effective and zero carbon energy network.” But not all experts are sure that  hydrogen  fuel cells are a clean enough power source to warrant enthusiasm. Many still question whether this mode of powering cars, planes and trains will actually help slow climate change. Some even worry hydrogen production will accelerate it. Related: Scotland to become first country to test 100% green hydrogen Hydrogen fuel cells 101 Even if you never took or passed chemistry class, you probably know that hydrogen is exceedingly common, putting the H in water’s H2O. Hydrogen is also present in compounds like methane and coal. This gas could be a potent source of clean  energy , and, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, it has the highest energy content by weight of any common fuel source. In terms of emissions, burning hydrogen for energy doesn’t hurt the environment, as the only byproducts it releases are heat and water. The problem comes when separating out the hydrogen. To make it usable as a fuel, hydrogen must be separated from water, coal, natural gas or animal or plant waste. Currently, most of the 9 million metric tons of hydrogen the U.S. produces annually comes from  methane  via steam reforming. This process releases greenhouse gases. Still, hydrogen can also be separated from water through a process called electrolysis, which can be powered by wind, solar or other renewable energy sources. The downside of this option is the much higher cost. Hydrogen is also currently used in food processing, treating and refining metals, NASA’s space fuel and to power a few exclusive car models, such as the Toyota Mirai. As  Popular Mechanics  explains it, hydrogen cars are electric cars. “When we talk about electric cars, that includes plug-in hybrids, hybrids, battery electrics, fuel cells, and anything else that may come along later that still uses an electric motor,” said Keith Wipke, laboratory program manager for fuel cell and hydrogen technologies at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory .  However, a fuel cell is much different than the giant lithium-ion battery you find in  electric cars . The hydrogen fuel cell produces electricity through electrochemical reactions when the hydrogen combines with air. Pros and cons of hydrogen fuel cells Inventors and engineers have experimented with hydrogen as a clean energy source for decades. Back in 2003, the Bush administration dedicated $1.2 billion for hydrogen  research . The fact that hydrogen is about three times as efficient as gasoline for fueling cars entices many. But, in addition to the cost challenges of clean hydrogen fuel production, there’s a danger of the gas escaping into the atmosphere while being stored or transported. Hydrogen is tricky to transport because it needs to be stored under high pressure. According to models designed by researchers at the California Institute of Technology, without a completely efficient way to produce, store and transport hydrogen, 10% to 20% of the gas will escape into the atmosphere. “More or less dramatic scenarios are equally imaginable, but clearly the potential impact on the hydrogen cycle is great,” the researchers concluded. These researchers theorized that oxidized hydrogen would cool the stratosphere and make more clouds, adversely affecting the polar vortex and increasing the holes in the  ozone layer .  But let’s say the production, storage and transportation problems could be overcome and hydrogen’s efficiency safely tapped into. Before there’s a hydrogen-powered auto in every garage, the costs will have to come down and the convenience will need to go up. Right now, the three premier hydrogen-powered  cars  — the Toyota Mirai, the Honda Clarity and the Hyundai Nexo — cost between $50,000 and $60,000. You could buy about three Civics for that. And you’re not going to get very far in a hydrogen-powered vehicle unless you have somewhere to refuel. For now, in the U.S., that means cruising through California or tooling around Wallingford, Connecticut, according to the  U.S. Department of Energy  website. Whether or not major oil companies will ever willingly add hydrogen tanks to gas station offerings remains to be seen. In addition to competing with their prime commodity — gasoline — companies also face the issues of safe storage and, so far, low demand. We obviously need to make some big energy changes, and there’s hope for hydrogen. But for now, better hold onto your Civic. Or, better yet, your  bike . Via How Stuff Works: Science , Physics World , and U.S. Department of Energy Images via Matthew Venn

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Hydrogen fuel cells good or bad for the environment?

Top cities and countries for vegans

January 11, 2021 by  
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If you’re already vegan — or you love Veganuary so much you decide come February to move to a more veg-friendly locale — here are the top places in the country and the world to live. Every year, the website Chef’s Pencil uses Google search statistics to rank the best cities and countries in the world for vegans. The site, which covers industry trends and news as well as recipes , calculates values on a 0-100 scale, with 100 being the place to go if you’re in the mood for jackfruit tostadas or vegan pho. Note that Chef’s Pencil only included cities with a population of more than 100,000 in the study. Portland , Oregon reclaimed its top spot after being knocked off the list for two years by Bristol, which has fallen from vegan grace this year and didn’t even make the top 15. Portland is a great city for vegans, because there are more than 10 places that make their own vegan ice cream, plus hard-to-find specialty restaurants for items like vegan Israeli food and vegan Sri Lankan dishes. Related: Fun, eco-friendly things to do in Portland Edinburgh, Scotland took the No. 2 spot with a score of 94. Next up, Germany aced the vegan test with third, fourth and a tie for fifth place —Hamburg, Berlin and Leipzig, respectively. Amsterdam tied for fifth. Vancouver, Manchester, London and Seattle rounded out the top 10. If you’re contemplating a diet-based international move, the U.K. took top honors for vegan-friendly countries for the third year in a row with a perfect 100. In the past four years, U.K. Google searches for vegan restaurants have tripled, and demand for vegan cheese is through the roof. Google searches also reveal that people in the U.K. are keen on vegan perfume, makeup , shoes and bags. Australia came in second with a score of 88. Meat consumption has been decreasing in Australia, but the country still has a higher-than-average rate of meat eating, and only 1% of the population identifies as vegan. Israel, which took third place on the international list, scored two points below Australia with 86 but has a much larger dedicated vegan community of 5% of the population. With 85 points, New Zealand came in a close fourth, followed by Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Canada and Ireland. The U.S. didn’t make the top 10 list, but it ranked number 12 with a score of 57. + Chef’s Pencil Image via Chris Kr

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Green design meets glamping in Queenslands Lamington National Park

December 4, 2020 by  
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Located in Lamington National Park in Queensland,  Australia , O’Reilly’s Campground is a community center and campsite that features what the designers call “architectural ecotourism.” Sustainable building practices include minimally invasive and lightweight construction, passive solar access, sustainably sourced materials and more. The campground is designed to include visitors who want an authentic camping experience but don’t have the equipment. There are glamping safari tents available as well as powered RV campsites and unpowered, standard campsites for traditional camping. The guests who stay in safari-style tents can rent kits with bed linens and firewood and even have food delivered from the adjoining O’Reilly Rainforest Retreat. The campsite follows universal design principles for easy access to people who have disabilities. Related: Get away from it all in gorgeous solar-powered glamping tents in Australia Designed by Aspect Architecture, a firm from Kingscliff in New South Wales, Australia, the project includes a camp kitchen, gathering spaces, a fire pit and amenities buildings. In order to protect the natural building site, the facilities were designed and constructed using sustainable practices. This included lightweight construction techniques to preserve the vegetation, sustainably sourced timber materials and onsite sewer treatment and rainwater collection systems. Passive solar design and cross ventilation help save natural resources. In order to stay connected to the environment, the skeletal structure of the campgrounds is reflective of a tree canopy, providing shelter while protecting views of the surrounding mountains. Situated inside of a  forest  clearing, the site is also designed so that guests can connect with each other and share stories around a communal campfire. O’Reilly’s Campground, previously known as the Green Mountain Campground, was historically a public campground operated by the Parks and Forests division of the Queensland Department of Environment and Science. Now, the Queensland government has partnered with O’Reilly to help run the facility in a unique public-private partnership. The family has considerable experience in Australian  eco tourism  as they helped pioneer the industry by hosting visitors in Lamington National Park in 1915. + Aspect Architecture Photography by Andy Macpherson via Aspect Architecture

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Saving the Scottish Wildcat from extinction

February 24, 2020 by  
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In the wilds of Scotland lives the elusive Scottish wildcat, denoted scientifically as Felis silvestris grampia and colloquially as the “Highland tiger.” Considered as one of the planet’s most endangered animals, and possibly the world’s rarest feline, it is estimated that there are fewer than 50 purebred F. s. grampia individuals left, which accounts for their vulnerability. Meager population estimates, and a lifespan averaging 7 years in the wild, lead many biologists and conservationists to conclude that there might no longer be a viable enough Scottish wildcat population extant in Scotland’s wilderness. Ruairidh ‘Roo’ Campbell, priorities area manager for the Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA) program, said, “There are very few pure wildcats — the worry is that none are left. About 12% to 15% of cats we see look like they could be pure.” Related: How hobbyists are saving endangered killifish from extinction F. s. grampia is unlike the domestic cat in several ways. The species is a larger, more muscular relative to the tamed housecat, with the former exhibiting a powerful, stocky body conducive for pouncing. Its legs are longer and larger. The Scottish wildcat is also highly adapted to survive in the wild with its thick, dense fur. This fur tends to have tabby markings with distinctive black and brown stripes, yet no spots. Plus, its feet are not white, nor is its stomach. The tail is blunt at its end rather than tapered. The F. s. grampia ’s head is flatter, with ears that stick out of the side. Evolutionary-wise, F. s. grampia has been isolated from other wildcats for millennia. It is surmised to be “a descendant of continental European wildcat ancestors that colonized Britain after the last Ice Age (7000 – 9000 years ago),” according to the Scottish Natural Heritage . F. s. grampia is unlike its continental cousin, Felis silvestris silvestris , for example, by being even larger. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) , curiously enough, does not consider the Scottish wildcat as a subspecies, which is why on the Red List , it is grouped together with other Felis silvestris . Yet authorities elsewhere recognize the Scottish wildcat as a distinctly different wildcat. Some would say the moniker “Scottish” might be slightly misleading, given that only recently has this feline been restricted to the Scottish wilds, for it had previously roamed more widely in Great Britain. Nonetheless, because it can now only be found in Scotland itself, this feline wonder is highly regarded, particularly by Scottish biologists. As David Barclay, cat conservation project officer at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), described in The Tigers of Scotland , F. s. grampia “is Scotland’s only native cat, [but it’s] more than a native cat species . It’s a symbol for Scotland, a symbol for the wild nature that we have.” Unfortunately, historical persecution, habitat loss from mismanaged logging and genetic integrity dilution from interbreeding with either domestic or feral cats have all pushed the Scottish wildcat closer to extinction in the wild. Mismanaged logging has adversely affected the Scottish wildcat, particularly in altering the landscape it has called home and the food web it relies on to thrive. In fact, the Scottish Natural Heritage reported, “Scotland has much less woodland cover than other countries in Europe, although it did increase in the 20th century. In 1900, only about 5% of Scotland’s land area was wooded. Large-scale afforestation had increased this figure to about 17% by the early 21st century.” Environmental advocates have been diligently pushing for conservation of this treasured feline. This wildcat has not only become an icon and legend for the Scots, but F. s. grampia has likewise come to represent the need for wildlife conservation and reforestation to restore the Scottish, and by extension the British, countrysides. “The reality is we just don’t know how many wildcats we’ve got left,” David Hetherington, ecology adviser with the Cairngorms National Park Authority, said in The Tigers of Scotland . “Estimates vary from as low as 30 to as high as 400, but we just don’t know. We’re still trying to ascertain just how many there are, where they are and where they’re not.” Several conservation plans have been implemented, even at the national level, to save the Scottish wildcat from extinction . These include initiatives to restore the feline’s habitat and its population numbers. By expanding the woodlands of Scotland through reforestation programs with the help of organizations like the Scottish Woodland Trust , it is hoped the wildcats have a better chance of averting extinction. Woodland expansion would create viable habitats, in which the wildcats can flourish. But rewilding Scotland by planting trees is not enough, because Scottish wildcats are also being threatened by other factors. Threats of hybridization with domestic or feral cats, minimizing disease transmission, reducing accidents (trapping, road impacts, mistakes by gamekeepers) and boosting genetic integrity all need to be curtailed. The Aigas Field Centre , for instance, has the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Breeding Project that endeavors to mitigate the “greatest threat to the gene pool of the Scottish wildcat.” With a captive population at Aigas, the genetic purity lines are safeguarded. When the captive breeding progeny lines are viable, they will be reintroduced into the wild in regions that are heavily forested and protected to ensure survival success. Additionally, the Aigas Field Centre has an adoption program that encourages donations toward food, veterinary costs and healthy stewardship. Barclay said, “We know the road ahead for wildcat recovery will be challenging, but our strong partnerships with SWA and international conservation specialists give us an incredible opportunity for success.” Images via Peter Trimming ( 1 , 2 and 3 )

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Saving the Scottish Wildcat from extinction

Britain celebrates first week without coal power since 1882

May 9, 2019 by  
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England has officially gone seven days without using any coal-powered source of electricity for the first time in centuries. Britain was the cradle of the industrial revolution, opening the world’s first coal powered plant in 1882. In an attempt to transition to renewable energy , the country removed its last coal generator from the power grid on May 1 and has effectively survived a week without needing to tap into coal resources. According to the National Grid Electricity System Operator, which runs the electricity network serving England, Scotland and Wales, Britain still maintains backup coal-powered plants when high energy demands are needed. Otherwise, cleaner energy sources, including wind, solar and natural gas have been able to meet energy needs for the first week in May. Related: Renewable energy surpasses coal for first time in US history Coal plants emit nearly twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas plants. In the 1950s, Britain moved the last coal plant out of major cities in order to improve air quality, however the damage to the environment continued. In 2015, Britain closed its last coal mine, an industry that used to employ 1.2 million people nationally. Now, the country relies on coal imports. Due to rising prices, the coal industry is no longer a lucrative competitor to renewable energy . High international prices have led to investment and interest in solar and wind technology. The U.K. government has pledged to phase out all coal powered plants by 2025. In 2017, the country celebrated its first coal-free day, proving that government commitments and investments in technology can make meaningful progress in a matter of years. “Just a few years ago we were told Britain couldn’t possibly keep the lights on without burning coal,” said Doug Parr of Greenpeace told Reuters. “Now coal is quickly becoming an irrelevance, much to the benefit of our climate and air quality, and we barely notice it.” Some British environmental advocates believe a more ambitious plan to achieve zero-carbon operation of the national grid through investments in offshore wind farms and household scale solar facilities is also possible by 2050. Via The Guardian , Reuters Image via  jwvein

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Britain celebrates first week without coal power since 1882

This Costa Rican treehouse is built entirely out of locally sourced teak wood

May 9, 2019 by  
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There’s a good reason why this beautiful, natural wood treehouse blends in perfectly to its surroundings on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica — the entire structure was built using the trees from the property site. Nestled in the jungle and complete with ocean views, the house, designed by Tom Kundig of Olson Kundig , was inspired by the owners’ love for surfing and environmentalism. There are three floors to the treehouse , with the top floor visible from above the tree canopy, and the bottom two levels hidden among the dense trees. Occupants are able to check the surf at nearby Playa Hermosa Beach from the comfort of the top floor. Related: A rustic, surfside home connects a young family to the beach Wood has the power to be a green, renewable resource when used with sustainability in mind. Nowadays, there are plenty of companies that offer certifiably sustainable wood that comes from forests that are responsibly managed to avoid things like erosion, pollutants and habitat loss. Locally harvested trees, like the ones used to build this surfer’s treehouse, can reduce the environmental impact of construction projects. Apart from contributing to social aspects of sustainability by utilizing local employment, green construction using locally harvested trees also helps to minimize carbon emissions from transportation. The designers took advantage of the natural sea breezes and tropic environment through the passive , open-air design of the structure. The lush vegetation is accessible from the bottom floor, which opens to a courtyard that helps blend the house into its setting. A double-screen shutter system, also made of teak wood, allows the two bottom floors to either open up to the elements, ventilation and natural light, or close to provide privacy. The treehouse is powered using a 3.5 kW solar array, and a rainwater collection system helps reduce the house’s  carbon footprint . In the evenings, the lights shine through the slatted walls to create an ethereal glow that shimmers through the thick leaves and trees that surround the property, making this unique treehouse an even more beautiful addition to the area. + Tom Kundig Photography by Nic Lehoux via Olson Kundig

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This Costa Rican treehouse is built entirely out of locally sourced teak wood

President Trump attacks wind turbines, claims the noise causes cancer

April 5, 2019 by  
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Speaking at an event for the National Republican Congressional Committee, President Trump took a shot at wind power as he continues his war against renewable energy. In a surprising statement, Trump claimed that having a wind turbine near your home will devalue the property and cause cancer. “If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations, your house just went down 75 percent in value,” Trump told his fellow Republicans. “And they say the noise causes cancer. You tell me that one, okay? Rerrrr rerrrr!” The allegation that wind turbines cause cancer is simply false. According to EcoWatch , some studies have looked into the issue but have found no link between wind turbines and health-related issues; this includes strokes and heart attacks. Simply put, the only real issue with wind turbines is that they might be a minor annoyance and create about as much noise as traffic. Trump also doubled down on his previous claims that wind power results in massive bird deaths. Although wind turbines do kill birds on an annual basis, they do so at a much lower rate than traditional energy sources. A study conducted in 2009 discovered that fossil fuel facilities kill almost 15 times the amount of birds as wind turbines. If wind turbines do not cause cancer or kill birds on a large scale, then why is Trump so against them? Turns out, Trump has a history with fighting wind turbines that dates back to 2006. At the time, Trump had purchased some land in Scotland that he intended to turn into a golf course. A nearby farm ruined those plans when it decided to put up a wind turbine. Trump sued the farmers but lost in court. Trump’s stance against wind power also sits nicely with the Republican party’s policy on energy. His administration has initiated plans to boost fossil fuel production in the United States and has made it clear that renewable energy is not high on its priority list. Exactly how this will affect the future of wind turbines in the United States is unclear. Via EcoWatch Image via Pixabay

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President Trump attacks wind turbines, claims the noise causes cancer

Sleep in this restored WWII air control tower full of historic charm

February 15, 2019 by  
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A unique Airbnb listing in Scotland is inviting guests to stay at an amazing restored WWII air traffic control tower. Located in the Scottish Highlands area of Tain, the HMS OWL Air Control Tower dates back to the second world war, when it was used as an airbase for planes coming in and out of the country. Now, the tower has been renovated into a vibrant guesthouse with design features that pay homage to its military past. The old air tower is located in Tain, a former WWII air base that sits adjacent to the North Coast 500 Scenic Route. The former military structure was bought by Justin Hooper and Charlotte Seddon, who converted it into their family home. The family lives on the first three floors, but the top floor of the building is available for rent starting around $100 per night. Related: Sleep hundreds of feet in the air in this renovated air traffic control tower The five-year renovation process was extensive, but the couple went to extreme lengths to retain the military character of the building. To blend the tower into the expansive grassy landscape, Justin and Charlotte painted the exterior a jet black. They also left the original steel-framed Crittal windows that let in optimal natural light into the property. On the interior, large concrete pillars and exposed brickwork gives the living atmosphere a chic,  industrial feel. Large leather sofas and chairs, along with a wood-burning stove, make the living space extra warm and inviting. The top floor’s  unique guest room sleeps up to two people in a comfortable king-sized bed and beautiful en suite. The room has plenty of large windows to let in natural light as well as to offer the stunning views of the Scottish countryside. + HMS OWL Air Control Tower Via Curbed Images via HMS OWL Air Control Tower

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Sleep in this restored WWII air control tower full of historic charm

Drone operators disturbing wildlife incur fines and jail time in Scotland

September 4, 2018 by  
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The number of cases in Scotland involving drone interference with animals on nature reserves has increased, causing police and wildlife experts to become “increasingly concerned” for the welfare of the protected animals. While nature reserve managers and wildlife specialists are encouraging outsiders to watch and enjoy the environment and animals in the sanctuaries, mounting numbers of injuries caused to the creatures by drones are leading Scottish lawmakers to impose fines on or even arrest individuals caught disturbing the peace. Drones are being flown inconsiderately according to Andy Turner, wildlife crime officer with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). “There have been several incidents involving drones disturbing seals at designated haul-out sites,” he said. Seals that have protective considerations during breeding season are having their pups crushed in these haul-out zones, where they tend to flee when scared into the water by drones. Related: Daan Roosegaarde reveals vision for air-purifying Smog Free Drones “Likewise, there have been anecdotal reports of drones being used to film seabird colonies and raptors,” Turner continued. “While the footage from drones in these circumstances can be very spectacular, the operator must be mindful of the effect on wildlife.” The interference with some birds , such as guillemots and razorbills, has “almost catastrophic” implications according to nature reserve coordinators RSPB Scotland . Drones that fly in too quickly cause birds to panic and dive headfirst into the cliffs or plummet into the sea. Ian Thompson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland, had a message for wildlife observers. “Watch the animals. You will get a sign if you are causing them any stress, you’ll see from their behavior,” he warned. “You might see birds take flight or suddenly lift their heads and run off or walk off. If the birds start altering their behavior, that shows that you are disturbing them, and then it is time to move a drone away.” Fines for harassing wildlife in the nature reserves can cost disrespectful droners up to £5,000 (about $6,425 USD). Alternately, severe infractions can earn individuals up to a six-month sentence in a Scottish penitentiary. Officers of the U.K. National Wildlife Crime Unit are taking the disturbances very seriously, regardless of the perpetrator. “Irrespective of whether the offender is an egg collector, boat skipper or drone operator, the possible sentences are the same,” said PC Charlie Everitt of the crime unit. “It is therefore essential that drone operators understand the law, research the legal status and behavior of any wildlife they intend to film and obtain the necessary licences to keep on the right side of the law.” Via BBC Image via Joe Hayhurst

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Drone operators disturbing wildlife incur fines and jail time in Scotland

Energy-savvy art museum is anchored atop a historic Dutch dike

September 4, 2018 by  
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Rising out of a historic dike, the new Lisser Art Museum pays homage to the landscape’s context while offering a new contemporary cultural destination in Lisse, The Netherlands. Dutch architecture firm KVDK architecten headed the recently completed project and embraced smart, sustainable solutions from the optimization of natural daylighting to gray water collection systems. Wrapped in earth-colored Petersen bricks, the modest, light-filled building feels like an extension of the forest, and ample glazing provides connection with nature on all sides. Commissioned by the VandenBroek Foundation, the small-scale museum is located in the Keukenhof, a former country estate dating from the 17th century that had featured a terraced garden with an artificial dike — unique in the Netherlands at the time. The estate was later redesigned in 1860 by landscape architects J.D. and L.P. Zocher, who transformed it into a cultural park that has since achieved national heritage status. The recently completed museum was an addition in the Keukenhof cultural park masterplan drafted in 2010. “One ingenious but also complicated strategy involved placing the foundations in the historical dike core, thereby making the museum the pivot point between a landscaped approach, the historical terraced landscape, the open sandy area and the wooded dune ridge,” the architects explained. “Intensive consultation and careful dimensioning ensured that the plan for a museum on this sensitive spot was wholeheartedly embraced by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, the government body that oversees the register of national monuments.” Related: Daan Roosegaarde uses light art to breathe new life into an iconic Dutch dike The museum comprises two main volumes, the lower of which is set into the dike — glass curtain walls emphasize and embrace the land form — and supports the upper, cantilevered volume enclosed in brick . The interior is flexible with multipurpose spaces and follow the Guggenheim principle in which visitors experience all the exhibition spaces by winding down from the highest point. In addition to natural lighting, the museum is equipped with thermal energy storage, a green roof and a gray water system for toilets. The museum depot is located inside of the dike to take advantage of the earth’s natural cooling properties. + KVDK architecten Via ArchDaily Images by Sjaak Henselmans and Ronald Tilleman

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Energy-savvy art museum is anchored atop a historic Dutch dike

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