Self-shaping Urbach Tower twists itself into a unique, curvaceous shape

May 29, 2019 by  
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Wood warping typically creates unwanted and undesirable effects, yet the creators behind a unique new landmark in Urbach, Germany have found a way to harness the naturally occurring deformity into an unexpected architectural possibility. The University of Stuttgart completed a nearly 47-foot-tall timber structure that gets its curvaceous form from the “self-shaping process” of its curved wood components. Constructed from spruce wood cross-laminated panels, the Urbach Tower is the first wood structure made from self-shaped components and offers a more sustainable alternative to energy-intensive, mechanically formed structures. Created as one of 16 architecture-designed installations for the Remstal Gartenschau 2019, the Urbach Tower offers high performance and strength with low environmental impact . The landmark building’s prefabricated, self-shaping components are made from spruce wood CLT sourced regionally from Switzerland and CNC cut into 12 flat panels that deform autonomously into predicted curved shapes when dried. Computational models were developed to design, predict and optimize the material arrangement that would achieve the desired look through moisture-induced swelling and shrinking. “The Urbach Tower is the very first implementation of this technology on building-scale, load-bearing timber parts,” the designers said in a press release. “The distinctive form of the tower constitutes a truly contemporary architectural expression of the traditional construction material wood. It celebrates the innate and natural characteristics of self-shaped wood in its upward spiraling shape.” Related: Playful gable-roofed home in Atlanta champions the power of CLT The design team also clad the tower in a custom-made protective layer of glue-laminated larch with a titanium oxide surface treatment to protect the wood from UV radiation and pests. Four craftsmen assembled the tower in a single working day without the need for extensive scaffolding or formwork. The Urbach Tower, which is a permanent installation, serves as shelter, a landscape overlook and a showcase for efficient, economical and expressive wood architecture. + University of Stuttgart Images via University of Stuttgart

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Self-shaping Urbach Tower twists itself into a unique, curvaceous shape

Tibetan antelope are being decimated to produce opulent shahtoosh scarves

May 2, 2019 by  
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Poachers are taking advantage of a fashion trend to turn Tibetan antelope into expensive scarves. It takes four Tibetan antelopes to make the single opulent wrap known as a shahtoosh, and the hunt is decimating the antelope populations. These scarves, once used as dowry items in India, are seeing an increase in demand by Westerners willing to pay upward of $20,000 a piece. Over the past century, conservationists have measured a 90 percent drop in antelope numbers, mostly due to increasing wool demands . Experts believe there was once a million antelope that roamed the Tibetan landscape, but their numbers fell to around 75,000 in the 1990s. Related: These AI-powered cameras can sense poachers and save wildlife According to National Geographic , population numbers started to recover in the 2000s after China enacted tough laws against trading the antelope wool, but the demand for shahtoosh has increased poaching over the past 10 years. Since 2010, border agents in Switzerland have confiscated 295 scarves, which represent the deaths of more than 1,000 Tibetan antelopes. In light of the alarming numbers, officials are asking for other countries to keep a close eye on shahtoosh trafficking with the hope of curbing some of the fashion demand. It takes a trained eye to identify a shahtoosh. The biggest key in properly locating a shahtoosh is looking for antelope guard hairs. These long pieces of hair are difficult to remove in the manufacturing process and are easy to identify under a microscope. Once it is determined that a scarf is a shahtoosh, the owner is fined a few thousand dollars, and the piece of clothing is confiscated. The shahtoosh trade appears to be less of an issue in the United States, at least on the surface. Since 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not confiscated a single shahtoosh, though it is possible that the material has simply flown under the radar. Either way, experts do not believe Tibetan antelopes will be able to make sustained recoveries until the demand for the luxurious scarf is significantly reduced. Via National Geographic Image via McKay Savage and Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Tibetan antelope are being decimated to produce opulent shahtoosh scarves

This minimalist timber writers studio in Switzerland is suspended in mid-air

July 18, 2018 by  
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Most writers need a quiet space to gather their thoughts and work. Tapping into this need for solitude, Oslo-based Rintala Eggertsson Architects designed ‘In Praise of Shadows,’ a minimalist writer’s studio  built primarily of timber and suspended in the air on the grounds of the Maison de l’Écriture, a literature institute in Montricher, Switzerland. The compact timber cabin takes inspiration from the cross in the Swiss coat of arms for its geometric form and is lifted into the air beneath a curvaceous and porous roof. The In Praise of Shadows cabin was developed as part of the Maison de l’Écriture’s writer’s residency program. Rintala Eggertsson Architects was invited — along with 16 other architecture practices — to take part in an international design competition; a total of six designs were chosen. Rintala Eggertsson Architects’ studio was built with a structural steel frame fitted with three layers of insulation to ensure energy efficiency. The cladding and the interior walls were made entirely from lightweight timber. “Shaping a space for a writer is a demanding task, as it has to stimulate the creative process on one hand and represent a firm framework for the physical needs on the other,” Rintala Eggertsson Architects said. “These seemingly distant opposites don’t need to out-compete each other, but rather enter into a dialogue where the shift from black to white is a journey in itself. In our design proposal, we tried to emphasize this connection between the bodily functions of the inhabitant and the mental tasks he or she will take on.” Related: Dreamy light-filled writer’s studio pops up in a lush Brooklyn garden The interior is split into four half-levels with floor space varying from 86 square feet to 183 square feet. The service areas, which include the water and heating equipment, are located on the lowest level. The toilet and kitchen are placed on the next half-level near the entrance, while the living room is just above. The writer’s room can be found on the top-most floor. The cabin’s windows were carefully oriented to allow natural light and views while preserving privacy. + Rintala Eggertsson Architects Images by Valentin Jeck

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This minimalist timber writers studio in Switzerland is suspended in mid-air

This Swiss straw-bale house is completely self-sufficient

July 6, 2018 by  
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Traditional building techniques and modern technology come together in the House in Berne, a self-sufficient straw bale house in Graben, a Swiss village located less than an hour’s drive north of Bern. Trun-based architecture practice Atelier SCHMIDT GmbH designed the modern home, crafting it to blend in with the rural surroundings by taking on the appearance of an old Bernese farming house. Additionally, the self-sufficient house is powered entirely by rooftop solar panels. Completed this year, the House in Berne is set in the middle of a vast and open farming landscape. The dwelling comprises three floors in addition to a small basement for a total area of 1,970 square feet. In response to the client’s request for a modern, self-sustaining home that would be flooded with natural light , Atelier SCHMIDT GmbH designed a building with large yet carefully placed openings, as well as an energy-efficient envelope to ensure minimal heating energy demands that could be satisfied through a photovoltaic array or passive solar means. “Inside the house, glass ceilings ensure that daylight can penetrate fully into the whole building,” explains Atelier SCHMIDT GmbH in a project statement. “The reduction of inside walls allows the owners to live and work in a big open modern space. The 80 centimeter thick straw-bale walls guarantee minimal heat losses. The electrical and thermic energy gained on the solar roof is stored in a home battery system and in a 5000 [liter] solar tank located in the basement. If needed the house can be heated by the stored thermic energy.” Related: Leaky cottage retrofitted with straw bale sees 80% energy reduction Set on an east-west axis, House in Berne is built primarily from unfinished timber for both the interior and the exterior; the timber façade will develop a patina over time and further blend the building into the landscape. Solar panels top the roof, which features long overhanging eaves to protect the interior from unwanted solar heat gain . + Atelier SCHMIDT GmbH Images by Rasmus Norlander

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This Swiss straw-bale house is completely self-sufficient

Warming seas could shift fish habitats out of the reach of some fishers

May 18, 2018 by  
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Climate change is doing more than causing  sea levels to rise or sea ice to dwindle — it’s pressuring  fish to move far away from their typical habitats. Warming waters have already prompted some fish to migrate south or north. As the climate continues to change, marine species’ shifts could be challenging for fisheries as the fish potentially move into new areas altogether — some hundreds of miles away. Fish are already seeking more favorable habitats in a changing world, and a team of six scientists at institutions in the U.S. and Switzerland decided to predict how they might move in the future. In research published this week in PLOS One , the team modeled the habitat of 686 species. Ecologist and co-author Malin Pinksy of Rutgers University told NPR they have high certainty for how far around 450 of those species will shift in the future. Related: Bottlenose dolphins spotted in Canadian Pacific waters for the first time “We found a major effect of carbon emissions scenario on the magnitude of projected shifts in species habitat during the 21st century,” lead author James Morley of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said in a statement . “Under a high carbon emissions future we anticipate that many economically important species will expand into new regions and decline in areas of historic abundance.” Some species might just shift a few miles. But others might move so far that they become out of reach for some fishers. For example, the Alaskan snow crab could move north as far as 900 miles. A shift of just a couple hundred miles could place lobster or other fish out of the range for fishers with small boats — and limited time and fuel. The scientists aren’t sure when the shifts might happen; it depends on how much the waters warm. But the movement could pose challenges for resource management — co-author Richard Seagraves, formerly with the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council , told NPR that states get a catch limit, or quota, for fish. The catch limit is based on where the fish were decades ago. Seagraves said, “Some of the Southern states are having trouble catching their quota, and states to the north have more availability of fish.” + PLOS One Via NPR and EurekAlert! Images via Depositphotos (1, 2)

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Warming seas could shift fish habitats out of the reach of some fishers

This prefab movable house can be assembled anywhere

May 3, 2018 by  
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On the go? Not a problem. This movable, prefab house from Swiss studio Rahbaran Hürzeler Architekten can be built and installed almost anywhere. The architects developed the project as an experiment in designing a space that can be assembled and transported easily and quickly. Every aspect of the project is designed around mobility, including the structure and floor plans. The house can stand alone or can connect to another building. Four timber cores are the only load-bearing structures that support the concrete roof. Related: zeroHouse offers luxurious living in a fully self-sustaining modular home The structure has four main areas organized around a circular central space, which establishes a flexibility that allows multiple occupants to adapt the design to their own needs and preferences. This also allows users to adjust the organization of the house to a specific site. The floor, made from concrete, can be hauled by truck. Four prefabricated timber cores stand on the floor and create five functional spaces — a kitchen, living room and two bedrooms. The first prototype of the movable home is slated for construction in Basel , Switzerland. It will feature a system of sensors that that allow the occupants to monitor the home’s performance over the course of one year. The architects plan to use this data to further develop and enhance the design. + Rahbaran Hürzeler Architekten Via Archinect

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Pakistan just broke the world record for the hottest April day ever

May 3, 2018 by  
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Pakistan hit 122.3 degrees Fahrenheit (50.2 C) this week, marking the highest temperature recorded for the month of April – ever. The city of Nawabshah in Sindh province reported the stunning temperature on Monday, and it was confirmed by the Pakistan Meteorological Department . While Pakistan is getting the worst of it, a huge portion of the planet, from South Asia to Europe and parts of the US, is being hit by a heat wave that threatens to become the new normal. ???Exceptionnel 50.2°C à Nawabshah au #Pakistan ce lundi 30/04/2018, #RECORD national de chaleur pour un mois d'avril ! ???(précédent : 50°C à Larkana le 19/04/2017)*** aussi un nouveau record mensuel pour tout le continent asiatique ! *** pic.twitter.com/GTCOJuDT9Q — Etienne Kapikian (@EKMeteo) April 30, 2018 As you’d expect, the heat was incredibly hard on those living in the area, causing people to pass out, heatstroke reports to increase, and business to shutter. Nawabshah experienced another record just last month, when temperatures climbed to 113.9 F (45.5 C). Areas in India and Eastern Russia have been setting their own records this month as a heat wave moves across the area before monsoon season sets in. Unfortunately, it seems likely that these numbers will become more common. A study completed last year showed that temperatures in India had risen 0.5 C over the past 50 years, with no change in sight. Related: Ocean heatwaves have risen by more than 50% since 1925 In 2011, Santa Rosa, Mexico was said to have hit 123.8 F (51 C), but that number was never confirmed. Pakistan’s measurement is considered to be reliably accurate. However, in order for the figure to qualify as a world record, the World Meteorological Organization will need to verify the number. Just in case you were wondering, Pakistan’s previous April heat record was set last year when temperatures climbed to 122 F (50 C). Via Earther and Al Jazeera Image via Deposit Photos

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Pakistan just broke the world record for the hottest April day ever

After 250 earthquakes in 24 hours, Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano might erupt

May 3, 2018 by  
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Out of the five volcanoes on Hawaii’s Big Island, Kilauea is the most active — and it’s threatening to erupt. After a collapse event at the Pu’u ‘?’? vent, in the volcano’s East Rift Zone, around 250 earthquakes happened. Authorities are warning people to remain on alert, because scientists observed magma flowing under a main road close to houses. Will Kilauea erupt? Seismic activity could result in a lava breakout, but Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists can’t say exactly what time or where it might happen. The crater collapse and earthquakes are “associated with the continued intrusion of magma into the East Rift Zone to locations east of Highway 130. An outbreak of lava from the lower East Rift Zone remains a possible outcome of the continued unrest,” according to the observatory. The Independent said there are homes in that part of the island, and Highway 130 leads to an access point enabling visitors to hike or cycle to a lava viewing area. Related: Mesmerizing volcano “skylights” give a glimpse under the Earth’s surface Local residents have noticed cracks in roads near the Leilani Estates subdivision, but so far neither heat nor steam have been observed escaping from the cracks, which are small. The Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency said areas that could be impacted are Leilani Estates, Nanawale Estates or Kapoho. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory offered resources for those who want to stay updated about Kilauea ; sign up for notification emails from the Volcano Notification Service at this USGS website or sign up for the Civil Defense Emergency Notification System at the County of Hawaii website . The volcano’s activity hasn’t always been explosive in the past, but a 1924 eruption spewed ash and rocks into the air and killed one man. The summit crater gushed rock and lava across 75 acres in 2008, and a view point was damaged. + Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (1, 2) + County of Hawaii Via The Independent and CNN Images via Depositphotos and U.S. Geological Survey

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After 250 earthquakes in 24 hours, Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano might erupt

This alpine hotel is built with modular rooms stacked together

April 13, 2018 by  
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This minimalist and modular hotel in the mountain resort of Lenzerheide, Switzerland offers a streamlined and modern take on the traditional mountain chalet. Carlos Martinez Architekten designed Hotel Revier with prefabricated room modules, each with a glazed end wall and lined in natural, unfinished plywood. The long and narrow larch-clad building comprises three rectangular segments angled to follow the shoreline of the Heidsee and positioned to face panoramic mountain views. An exercise in minimalism, the sports-oriented Hotel Revier is “reduced to the bare essentials,” wrote Carlos Martinez Architekten. “The hotel unites the atmosphere of a mountain chalet with the liberating feeling of a campervan and the functionality of a ship’s cabin. All rooms face West toward the water and bring to mind the image of a VW bus: one park at the lake opens the tailgate and feels a sense of freedom.” Related: Hotel Tverskaya Transforms a Disused Building in Moscow with Sleepbox Modules The hotel’s communal core, made up of the lobby, bar, and restaurant, occupies the ground floor, while the four floors with a total of 96 rooms are stacked above. The 160-square-foot standard rooms, prefabricated and fully equipped offsite, were assembled into a metal framework. Each standard room includes a wall-to-wall bed that can be folded up into a sofa, TV, floor-to-ceiling window , hooks, narrow ventilation wings, a deep windowsill, and a heating unit for drying gloves and clothing. Hotel Revier also includes four barrier-free and 29 triple-bed rooms, also prefabricated. By stacking the modules side by side, the architects create a “double-wall” effect with the advantage of improved acoustic insulation. + Carlos Martinez Architekten Via ArchDaily Images © Marc Lins, Hannes Thalmann, and Revier Mountain Lodge

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This alpine hotel is built with modular rooms stacked together

How volcanic eruptions in Iceland and Alaska affected ancient Egyptians

October 24, 2017 by  
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Volcano eruptions could have helped precipitate unrest in ancient Egypt , according to a new study. An international team of researchers led by Joseph Manning of Yale University discovered volcanic eruptions in northern latitudes can impact the flow of the Nile River . Ancient peoples depended on Nile River flooding to irrigate crops, and if that flood didn’t happen, there could have been political or economic consequences. The researchers connected historical analysis with paleoclimatology – what Yale described as reconstruction of global climates in the past – to make the startling find. Volcanoes in Russia, Greenland, Iceland, or Alaska could have disrupted the daily lives of people in ancient Egypt. While volcanic eruptions weren’t the sole cause of unrest, the researchers think they did play a role. In years with volcanic eruptions, the Nile didn’t flood as much, which Manning said led to social stress. He told The Washington Post, “It’s a bizarre concept that Alaskan volcanoes were screwing up the Nile, but in fact that’s what happened.” Related: The world’s mightiest river is dying Manning and colleagues took an interdisciplinary approach, scrutinizing ancient papyri and inscriptions for descriptions of Nile flooding, and combining that historical information with climate modeling of big 20th century volcanic eruptions and yearly Nile summer flood height measurements between 622 and 1902. Manning told The Washington Post, “It’s an indirect response, but because of atmospheric circulation and energy budgets, we find that large volcanic eruptions cause droughts .” He described the Nile and Egypt as sensitive instruments for climate change , and said the research was important in today’s debate on climate change. The study offers new insight into how climatic shocks impacted societies in history. Manning said in a statement, “There hasn’t been a large eruption affecting the global climate system since Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991…Sooner or later we will experience a large volcanic eruption, and perhaps a cluster of them, that will act to exacerbate drought in sensitive parts of the world.” The journal Nature Communications published the study online this month. Five other researchers, from institutions in Ireland, California, and Switzerland, contributed to the work. Via Yale University and The Washington Post Images via Michael Gwyther-Jones on Flickr and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Flickr

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How volcanic eruptions in Iceland and Alaska affected ancient Egyptians

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