Green-roofed luxury home blends historic Spanish influences with contemporary design

August 2, 2019 by  
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In between the Mediterranean Sea and the coastal mountain range in northern Spain, Tarragona-based architect Guillem Carrera has completed Casa VN, an energy-efficient luxury home that pays homage to the region’s historic heritage. Set on a steep slope, the modern home uses terraces to step down the landscape and is faced with walls of glass to take advantage of panoramic views. To reduce energy demands, the house follows passive solar principles; it is also topped with insulating green roofs and equipped with home automation technology. Casa VN is located in Alella, a village near Barcelona that was historically used for farming and marked by large estates and stonewall terraces. However, in recent years, changes in the economy have led to increased urbanization in the area. Given the landscape history, Carrera strove to conserve the original character of his client’s property while introducing modern comforts. Related: Minimalist home in northern Spain uses geothermal energy to reduce energy consumption The goal was to “preserve the soul and the morphology, to preserve each one of those things that make it unique and characteristic: the terraces, the retaining walls, the different elements of pre-existing vegetation and the dry stone chapel ,” Carrera said. “These elements are delimited and identified to be preserved in the plant, and once they have been delimited, a respectful implementation of housing directly on the existing land is established, so that the house coexists and interacts spatially and functionally with these elements. The resulting ensemble seeks to be a whole, timeless and heterogeneous, that is part of the place and the landscape.” At 869 square meters, Casa VN recalls the large estates that were once typical in Alella. Locally sourced stone — the same used in the preserved stone chapel — and native Mediterranean landscaping also respect the local vernacular. Meanwhile, the residence features modern construction with a structure of reinforced concrete, steel and glass. Passive solar principles also guided the design and placement of the house to reduce unwanted solar gain and promote natural cooling. + Guillem Carrera Photography by Adrià Goula via Guillem Carrera

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Green-roofed luxury home blends historic Spanish influences with contemporary design

Police seize over 10,000 animals in global crackdown on wildlife trade

July 12, 2019 by  
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What do 4,300 birds, 1,500 reptiles, 10,000 turtles and tortoises, 23 primates, 70 truckloads of timber and 30 big cats all have in common? No, they’re not the residents of a new zoo — all of these critical plants and animals were seized in a major international operation that cracked down on wildlife smuggling. Throughout the month of June, international police and customs authorities united for ‘Operation Thunderball’ and rescued an astonishing number of dolphins, sharks, lions, tigers, birds, tortoises, parakeets, finches, ivory and rhino horns. The operation was carried out in more than 100 countries and hopefully dealt a serious blow to the $19 billion dollar illegal wildlife trafficking industry. Over 600 suspects have been identified, with 21 arrests in Spain and three arrests in Uruguay. Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of the World Wildlife Fund, said Operation Thunderball “underscores why international cooperation is so important to addressing this deadly criminal activity.” Related: These AI-powered cameras can sense poachers and save wildlife Wildlife trafficking is a major industry that not only hurts the environment and targets endangered species , but it also supports a far-reaching, violent criminal network. Much of the illegal wildlife trade has shifted online to an internet-based black market. For example, in April of this year, Indonesian police officers detained smugglers who admitted to using Facebook for selling Komodo dragons. International animal rights advocates, police and conservationists agree that Operation Thunderball was a massive success for the fight against the illegal animal trade. But some argue that national authorities now need to pick up where the international authorities left off and fully prosecute the detained criminals. This will help set an example and further debilitate the illegal network. Susan Lieberman, vice president for international policy at the Wildlife Conservation Society, said, “This massive disruption of criminal networks is key to saving endangered wildlife across the globe, but seizures and arrests are only the first step — governments now must follow up with strong, meaningful prosecutions.” + Interpol Via New York Times Images via © INTERPOL

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Police seize over 10,000 animals in global crackdown on wildlife trade

This eco-friendly bamboo restaurant was built in just 5 weeks

July 12, 2019 by  
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Crystal-blue waters, luxury accommodations and tropical appeal aren’t the only draws of Sundy Praia , São Tomé and Príncipe’s first five?star resort. The sustainably minded destination is also home to an award-winning restaurant designed by French architect-designer agency D.L.2.A (Didier Lefort Architectes Associés). Crafted in the shape of a large fish, the restaurant features a bamboo structure that was mainly assembled by hand and built in just five weeks. Located in the Gulf of Guinea off the western coast of Africa, Sundy Praia on the island of Príncipe was created with low-impact luxury in mind. Hidden among tropical almond and banana trees are the resort’s 15 tented villas, each anchored into the ground with retractable screws to reduce impact on the forest. In keeping with this eco-friendly ethos, designer Didier Lefort created a bamboo restaurant that uses local craftsmanship and materials. Related: Bamboo community center empowers the local Brazilian community Crafted to resemble a large fish with an undulating spine and a wide-open mouth, the building structure comprises a series of bamboo arches of varying dimensions that are fastened by hand with natural ties and only bolted at key areas. Measuring 24 meters from head to tail, the restaurant can accommodate up to 100 people inside and on the terrace. The undulating size of the restaurant — from its width to its height — creates spaces for different guests. The narrowest end of the restaurant, for instance, is for VIPs who wish to dine quietly, while the large “belly” area accommodates families. The “mouth of the fish” at the entrance is a popular place for couples wanting to dine by candlelight.  The interior of the restaurant is also dressed in locally crafted products, such as the chandeliers braided from bamboo and inspired by fishermen creels and the large curtains that are held together by strings of large seeds. The long buffet tables are designed by the D.L.2.A agency. + D.L.2.A Photography by Géraldine Bruneel via D.L.2.A

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This eco-friendly bamboo restaurant was built in just 5 weeks

Twisting brick facade fronts an innovative courtyard house near Chicago

June 12, 2019 by  
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In a Chicago suburb full of traditional gabled rooflines, California-based architectural firm Brooks + Scarpa has inserted a modern dwelling that puts a sculptural twist on a humble and overlooked building material: Chicago “Common” brick. Historically considered unattractive and only fit for unseen areas such as chimney flues, Chicago “Common” brick is given renewed attention in a recently completed courtyard house , dubbed the Thayer Brick House. Not only does the contemporary home use the brick for almost its entire facade, but it also shines the spotlight on the local resource with a sculptural, street-facing facade that’s made with twisting columns of stacked brick. Made from indigenous Michigan clay, Chicago “Common” brick has long been considered undesirable and cheap due to its variations and irregularities. Instead of the classic red color, the prosaic material takes on a more yellow hue and has been traditionally used for areas hidden from the street, such as the side and back walls, chimney flues and structural support behind the facades. In making Chicago “Common” brick highly visible in the Thayer Brick House, Brooks + Scarpa is celebrating a local material and inviting passersby to reconsider unexpected uses for everyday materials and concepts. Related: A mountain refuge in Spain is brought back to life with brickwork “By using the familiar in an unfamiliar location and application, the material becomes perceptually both old and new at the same time,” the firm said. “This makes one more aware of not just the building, but also our sense of place. There is a sense of discovery, something spontaneous and unexpected. The object is important, but it’s the experience that has a profound impact and leaves something that lasts well beyond the mere physical and visual existence of the building. This gives us the opportunity to not only learn about design but also about ourselves, our collective cultures and our place in society.” The use of Chicago “Common” brick helps contextualize the building and gives the building an unexpected appearance. The street-facing facade is made up of columns of brick rotated at varying degrees to make the courtyard look open or closed depending on where the viewer stands. Passersby can see the full effect of the facade, which has a moire-like pattern that appears to move as one walks past it. The sculptural facade also has the added benefit of reducing glare and providing privacy to the fully glazed interior volume. + Brooks + Scarpa Photography by Marty Peters and Brooks + Scarpa

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Twisting brick facade fronts an innovative courtyard house near Chicago

An energy-optimized extension pierces a renovated brick bungalow

June 4, 2019 by  
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Having outgrown their single-story bungalow, a family approached Ghent-based architectural firm WE-S architecten for an expansion and renovation that would also bolster the home’s energy performance. The architects responded with an unusual proposal: an extension that appears to pierce straight through the existing structure at an angle. Clad in brick , the House TlL in Pittem, Belgium now spans 3,025 square feet with an east-west addition that follows site-specific passive design principles for improved energy performance. The clients’ former bungalow was not only poorly insulated , but also suffered from poor space allocation: a seldom-used indoor garage had occupied about a quarter of the home’s footprint. After conducting site studies, the architects removed the indoor garage and placed it to the front of the brick house in a covered parking pad as part of the new extension. Part of the volume is cut out of the building to maximize daylight, while the covered terrace protects the interior from cold westerly winds. Related: A mountain refuge in Spain is brought back to life with brickwork Walls of glass bring natural light and air into the interiors, which have been renovated to look bright and airy. White-painted walls and a palette of natural materials with pops of greenery help achieve a minimalist aesthetic. The roofline has also been raised to heighten the spacious feel and bring additional light indoors. An open-plan living area, dining room, and kitchen occupy the heart of the brick house. The raised roofline allows for the creation of two rooms on the upper floor, one of which serves as a bedroom. “The project tries to interweave the existing bungalow within its environment with certain simplicity in planning and materialization,” explain the architects in a press release. “Variable room heights play a game of compression and decompression, which has its center of gravity in the double-height living space .” + WE-S architecten Images via Johnny Umans

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An energy-optimized extension pierces a renovated brick bungalow

Here’s how you can recycle and upcycle your yogurt containers

June 4, 2019 by  
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We all want to do the right thing when it comes to recycling. After all, it makes us feel good to know we’re diverting materials from the already-overflowing landfills . But sometimes we inadvertently cause more problems than we solve when we toss items into recycling that contaminate the rest of the goods in the bin. For example, when a material that has come into contact with food rolls down the conveyor belt at the recycling plant, workers have to pull other perfectly acceptable recyclable items from the line simply due to cross-contamination. Yogurt containers are one such item that leave us feeling a little helpless in our efforts to do the right thing. While they do come into contact with food, they may still be recyclable. Then again, they may not. Even if you understand the policy regarding single-use food containers in your area, you have the added ongoing conflict surrounding those little numbers on the bottom of plastic containers. Can you recycle a number 4? Are the containers of one yogurt brand recyclable while others are not? The answer is not black and white. In fact, almost no two recycling centers have the same standards when it comes to what they will or will not accept. The good news is that you can erase the question mark regarding the best way to deal with yogurt containers in your area. Related: DIY: Make delicious homemade yogurt in your slow cooker Step 1. Know your plastic The first step in the process is to investigate the identifying number on the bottom of your container. Yes, these are likely different from one brand to another. Beyond that even, some brands have more than one plastic type for different products. Numbers one and two are commonly recyclable. Number three is rarely recyclable. Number four is commonly recyclable, but perhaps not via curbside pickup. Number five is hit and miss for mainstream recyclability. Number six is rarely recyclable or recycled and is bad for the environment . Finally, number seven is a mixture of plastics that is rarely recyclable. Yogurt containers are most commonly number 5 or 6 plastic, which does nothing to answer the question as to whether you can recycle it or not. Step 2. Contact your recycle center The most accurate answer to your query will come directly from your local curbside recycling provider. While some will accept packaging labeled one to seven, some will only take non-food plastic . Yet, others only commit to the cleaner numbers one or two. Check out the website or send them an email. You can also give them a call, but note that many times the centralized call center won’t have reliable information about the recycling in your area. Facilities vary widely from one location to the next. Plus, protocol is constantly changing based on many factors, most recently the limitations implemented by China. Step 3. Alternatives The short answer here is that there is no easy answer, and it depends on both the capabilities of the facility and the plastic used in the production of the yogurt container. If your curbside service doesn’t allow it, look for a local facility that does accept lower grade plastic. If you have a Whole Foods in your area, look for Gimme 5 drop boxes near the front of the store or mail your clean, empty yogurt cups back to Preserve . Step 4. Other alternatives If you don’t find a viable way to recycle your plastic yogurt containers, it might be time to switch to a brand that serves it up in glass instead. Alternately, you can easily make your own yogurt with recipes that allow it to sit in the oven overnight. Or you can rely on a yogurt maker or Insta-pot for the same effect. Of course, yogurt containers can be useful around the house, too. Here are just a few ways you can put them to work: If they have a lid, use them to store paper clips, thumb tacks, hair bands, buttons, cotton balls, jewelry when you travel and any number of other small items throughout the house and garage. Used yogurt containers can also be used for other food items. Pack your nuts, berries or Goldfish in them, or take your dressings, sauces and dips on the road. Due to the size and shape of yogurt containers, they’re great for pantry items like flour and also cleaning products like the bucket of Oxy-clean or dishwasher detergent . For gardening , poke a few holes in the bottom, fill with soil and add seeds. Yogurt cups make a great small and available planter when you’re starting out plants prior to transplant. If you have children, yogurt containers might be the only bath toy you need. Prepare for endless filling and dumping or drill holes in the bottom so your child can watch it run through. They are also great in the sandbox when building a castle or just watching the sand cascade to the earth. Crafting— yogurt containers can reign in small supplies like tiny clips, stickers or googly eyes. Plus, they make great containers for Play-doh or fingerpainting when the kids are looking for an artsy outlet. Even without a clear cut answer as to whether your yogurt containers are recyclable, you can have a plan to make conscientious purchases (avoid number 6 and buy glass if you can), locate more information about local recycling resources and find ways to upcycle your containers to provide more than a single use. Via Preserve , LifeHacker Images via Shutterstock

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Here’s how you can recycle and upcycle your yogurt containers

A mountain refuge in Spain is brought back to life with brickwork

April 30, 2019 by  
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In the mountains of the southeastern Spanish town of Jumilla sits “La Casa del Ángel,” a small shelter where outdoor enthusiasts have long sought shelter. To bring more people to the shelter, the local government commissioned Murcia-based firm Martin Lejarraga Oficina de Arquitectura to refurbish the small building, which had been worn down by use and the outdoor elements. In renovating the space, the architects reinforced the structural strength and clad the facade in a variety of brickwork to make the building pop against its lush green surroundings. After decades of use, La Casa del Ángel has become a known fixture in the town of Jumilla. To pay respect to the site history, the architects wanted to turn the building into a “landscape piece” that can be used internally and externally. As a result, a sculptural bench was added to the exterior that wraps around two walls while an extra opening has been added to the covered entrance area to invite passersby to take shelter beneath the roof, which has been reinforced with concrete construction. Inside, the architects improved the building’s thermal and acoustic insulation and added natural materials that create a warm and inviting atmosphere. The wood used in the structure, windows and doors complement the unique original masonry. Vertically laid brick is also used in the interiors for a portion of the walls and the floors, matching the vertically oriented brick that covers half of the facade. The other half of the facade comprises horizontally oriented brick perforated to let in light and natural ventilation. Related: Towering prefab cabins envisioned for Iceland’s rugged landscape “None of the materials are coated, taking advantage of its bareness for giving refuge also to other kind of inhabitants: plants, insects, birds, etc.,” the architects explained. “Because of all this, the refurbishing of ‘La Casa del Ángel’ turns out to be a sustainable and recognizable intervention and, on top of this, a proposal with the goal of being the shelter of people, animal and plants within the wonderful landscape it is inserted.” + Martin Lejarraga Oficina de Arquitectura Photography by David Frutos via Martin Lejarraga Oficina de Arquitectura

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A mountain refuge in Spain is brought back to life with brickwork

Get outdoors with this guide to sustainable spring activities

April 30, 2019 by  
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Spring is that amazing time of year that celebrates new life everywhere around us. Animals deliver babies, trees regain their leaves and flowers burst into full color. That means it’s the perfect time for you to enjoy the splendor of the season, too. If you’re eager to hit the trails and clean up the yard, remember to keep the environment in mind when planning your activities. Here are some ways you can enjoy seasonal activities while promoting earth-friendly practices. Start a garden It seems there is a natural pull toward the garden when the temperatures rise and the sun appears reliably. So don’t fight it; create a plan and dig in. Even early in the season, there is much you can do to prepare your garden space. Pull weeds in the garden beds, rototill larger spaces or tackle walkways with the weed trimmer and pressure washer. With the chaos reigned in, get some fresh soil and plant crops like peas, lettuce, spinach and carrots. Have a picnic Don’t get stuck inside looking out on a beautiful, sunny day. Instead, walk away from the spring cleaning for awhile to enjoy a leisurely picnic. Pack up some favorite foods and hit a nearby trail. Take the kids to the park and enjoy some reading time while they play. Even simpler, just take lunch out back, throw down a blanket in the grass and have a conversation while you munch. Bird-watch An open window in the spring is an invitation to the sounds of active birds . Flocks of geese flying overhead honk as they travel. Smaller birds forage in your yard. Even raptors and scavengers are busy. Enjoy the action with a set of binoculars and your favorite bird identification book. Equally effective is one of several phone apps available for bird identification. Incorporate bird-watching with a hike and a picnic for a spring-loaded day of natural activity. Install rain barrels As the saying goes, April showers bring May flowers. Whether your climate is still bringing frequent rain or has tapered off in favor of drier days, spring is a great time to install those rain barrels . There will be more rainy days to come between now and the summer season, so getting your rain barrels set up now will give you a watering option when the need arises. Rain barrels are easy to install and are a sustainable way to reduce your water bill. Related: 3 ways to capture water for your backyard garden Volunteer You’re not the only one busy with spring clean-up. Many organizations coordinate activities in the spring to enhance the natural space in a community. This can be anything from a community clean-up event to a tree planting function. Whatever your preference, there are ample opportunities to help out. Swap Because spring cleaning is probably on your mind both inside and outside the house, it stands to reason that you’ll have to find a way to get rid of everything you purge. One great solution is to organize a swap with friends, family and neighbors. Simply choose a category of items, send invites and serve some sun tea. Alternatively, you can complete swaps using the internet to connect with others in your area. Swaps offer you a chance to locate a new home for your usable items while finding things that you might need or like. For example, you could have a clothing swap with friends or put together a plant swap to exchange seeds, cuttings or entire plants. Related: Tips and tricks to make spring cleaning more eco-friendly Landscape Step into any yard in the early spring and you’re likely to be assaulted with new growth, both welcome and invasive. It feels like the natural season to get it all under control, so it’s a great time to tackle landscaping projects. Just remember to design with the environment in mind. Plant native vegetation that requires fewer resources to thrive and gets along well with other plants. Also, find some natural plants to draw in the honeybees and butterflies and contribute to pollination in your yard. Get into nature Of course spring means that it’s time to embrace nature, and there are endless ways to go about it. While working in the yard certainly qualifies, why not try something new? Head out for a run or hop on the mountain bike. If you have very mild spring weather, take your first backpacking trip of the season. If there’s still snow, it might be a good time to hit the slopes or brush up on your climbing skills. For a less adrenaline-filled afternoon, download a plant identification app and see how many flowers you can seek out on the local trail. Host a spring fling Each season offers unique opportunities to enjoy our planet and our friends, and spring is no exception. With the yard tidied and the spring cleaning underway, brush off the grill and invite guests for an afternoon of outdoor eating and playing lawn games. It’s a great excuse for everyone to put down the hedge trimmers for a few hours and take in what the season has to offer. Enjoy! Images via Shutterstock

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Get outdoors with this guide to sustainable spring activities

Make your own custom sunglasses from recycled plastic with FOS

April 4, 2019 by  
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This company in Spain lets customers design and handcraft sunglasses, and that’s not even the best part! FOS sunglasses are made from 100% recycled plastic that would otherwise end up in a landfill . Head to the FOS studio in Barcelona to take part in the workshop, where clients can choose the color of the sunglasses and build them themselves with the help of FOS designers. After picking a color and assembling the frames, you then can choose a lens color that complements your design. Related: These marbled Bluetooth speakers are made from non-recyclable plastic waste Even better, the frame is designed to be recycled over again. Customers are encouraged to bring their sunglasses back to the studio instead of throwing them out so that someone else can benefit from the frames. The sunglasses come with frame repairs, screw replacements and even lens restoration. Can’t make it to Spain? You can purchase the glasses online from the FOS website–they ship internationally. If you are lucky enough to attend a workshop (reservations can be made on their website), the designers will lead you every step of the way in making your own recycled sunglasses. Classes are offered in multiple languages, and will also offer insight into different recycling techniques and sustainability practices. Don’t be intimidated if you don’t have any prior design knowledge or artistic skills, FOS promises that anyone can join the workshop. Through the two-hour-long class, participants will: learn the basics of plastic, understand the importance of recycling plastic waste , learn about molds, choose a color, craft, assemble, and polish their own new unique pair of sunglasses. The different plastic flakes allow for plenty of options for different patterns as well. After making the frames, it will be time to choose one of FOS’ five UV lens options (gray, brown, green, faded gray and faded brown). The workshops, held at Nest City Lab in Barcelona, include the price of the sunglasses and only cost 70 euro (less than $80 US). +fosworks Via Designboom Images via  Esfèrica

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Make your own custom sunglasses from recycled plastic with FOS

A modular classroom for environmental education pops up in a Barcelona park

February 21, 2019 by  
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Flexible, transportable and cost-efficient, the modular classrooms created by local design studio Baena Casamor Arquitectes BCQ offer a sustainable new way to activate Barcelona’s public parks. Inspired by timber cabins, the prefabricated pop-up classroom is a multipurpose space sheathed in wood and crafted with a focus on environmental education for school groups and families. The architects recently installed a classroom prototype, AULA K, in the Parc de Can Zam with a built area of nearly 1,200 square feet. Constructed primarily of timber, the prefabricated classroom is designed to blend into the park surroundings with the future aim of providing habitat to certain species of animals, including insects, birds and bats. “It is a pavilion destined to give more life to the parks, complementing the offer of leisure, recreational and sports with the educational dimension,” the architects said in a statement. “It must be a space open to the outside; it is necessary that one could see the trees from the classroom, to perceive the light and feel the climate.” To create flexibility in the design, the classrooms can comprise any combination and configuration of three modules — a service module, classroom module and pergola module — so as to best meet the needs of each site. The modular architecture is prefabricated in a factory and can be installed on site in just a few weeks. The prototype at Parc de Can Zam consists of the service and classroom modules and is topped with sloped roofs optimized for solar panel installation and rainwater collection. Related: Modscape installs a prefab school building that stays comfortable year-round The use of prefabrication helps reduce the time and cost of producing the classrooms, which share a uniform wooden envelope and a large opening on the facade to let in natural light and views of nature. The classrooms can be modified to generate energy, return rainwater to underground aquifers, reuse stormwater runoff as garden irrigation or provide habitat for local fauna. + Baena Casamor Arquitectes BCQ Photography by  Marcela Grassi via Baena Casamor Arquitectes BCQ

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A modular classroom for environmental education pops up in a Barcelona park

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