New Block design offers a low-cost and sustainable solution to urban infill

June 14, 2018 by  
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Los Angeles-based architecture firm Newman Garrison + Partners has unveiled New Block, a patented “green building solution” for urban developers nationwide. Created with affordability and livability in mind, New Block offers a cost-effective strategy for landowners and developers to maximize density on smaller lots, typically two-acre urban infill sites. Elements such as multi-family housing and an abundance of open space are part of New Block’s long-term sustainable concept. All architectural units in the New Block design concept would be built with Type V wood-frame construction, while 24,000 square feet would be leftover for usable open space — 45 percent of that as park landscape. The design also includes a green roof system. The concept’s licensing structure allows developers to hire Newman Garrison + Partners or a local architect of their choice to execute the development. “The difficulties and challenges we face today are quite different than the ones we faced nine years ago,” explained NG+P Chairman Kevin Newman in a statement. “The continuing rise in land costs, construction and materials have created road blocks within the industry to develop and build a more affordable housing type within our urban neighborhoods. New Block is a bridge between lower density three-story garden walk-up apartments and four-story over podium construction typologies, a design concept that ultimately offers developers construction plans that address the constraints surrounding the maximization of density, while meeting the open space and sustainability requirements of smaller land sites at an affordable rate.” Related: Solar-Powered OnTop House Can be Added to the Top of Almost Any Urban Home New Block is a proven design concept. In 2010, Irvine-based affordable housing developer Jamboree Housing Corporation and the City of Buena Park tapped Newman Garrison + Partners to apply New Block in a project now known as Park Landing. The project has won 10 industry awards for design excellence as well as LEED Gold certification for its homes. + Newman Garrison + Partners Images via Newman Garrison + Partners

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Southern California is losing its clouds, increasing the risk of more intense wildfires

May 31, 2018 by  
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The elevated summer temperatures in California  are causing decreased levels of the low-atmosphere clouds that were once common throughout the southern coastal regions of the state. A new study has found that because these clouds are dissipating from the increased heat, the region is now facing an increased risk of wildfire . “Clouds that used to burn off by noon or 1 o’clock are now gone by 10 or 11, if they form at all,” bioclimatologist and study lead author Park Williams told Phys.org . Due to a warming climate and an expanding urban heat island, cloud cover is trapped in a positive feedback loop where less clouds mean higher temperatures, and higher temperatures mean less clouds. Published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters , the new study concludes that there has been a 25 to 50 percent decrease in low-lying summer clouds since the 1970s. “ Cloud cover is plummeting in southern coastal California,” said Williams, “and as clouds decrease, that increases the chance of bigger and more intense fires.” The low-lying stratus clouds in the area typically form in the early morning in a thin, wet layer of coastal air that exists between land and drier air masses. The increased heat from climate change and the urban heat island effect has caused the clouds to dissolve earlier in the day, leaving little cover during the hottest parts of the afternoon. Related: The growing wine industry is threatening California’s Napa Valley To study the changes in cloud cover, Williams and his team analyzed hour-by-hour cloud data gathered by California airports over the past several decades. The data was then compared with vegetation moisture data from the U.S. Wildland Fire Assessment System. This comparison enabled the team to conclude that the decreased cloud cover has led to an increased wildfire risk. “Even though the danger has increased, people in these areas are very good at putting out fires, so the area burned hasn’t gone up,” Williams explained. “But the dice are now loaded, and in areas where clouds have decreased, the fires should be getting more intense and harder to contain. At some point, we’ll see if people can continue to keep up.” +  Geophysical Research Letters Via Phys.org Images via Depositphotos (1, 2)

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This sustainable district in Sweden features carbon-positive towers

May 29, 2018 by  
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Stockholm-based Kjellander Sjöberg Architects  recently won a competition for Nacka Port, a new district between Nacka and Stockholm . Envisioned as a sustainable destination, the urban block would consist of a rich mix of programmatic functions including residential, retail and public spaces that are easily accessible to pedestrians and cyclists. In addition to new green space, the architects plan to insert “carbon positive” towers constructed from renewable materials that promote a healthy microclimate and sustainable lifestyle. Located between the commercial center of Sickla köpkvarter and the district of Hammarby Sjöstad, Nacka Port is ripe for redevelopment with its turn-of-the-century industrial buildings, such as the Klinten paint factory, and backdrop of greenery. Furthermore, the site is located at the intersection of two main traffic routes. The architects designed the new urban block, named “Klinten,” as a “city within a city” and an attractive destination for both residents and visitors at all hours of the day. Two proposed towers feature terraced levels that step down to a shared podium and anchor the site. The staggered glazed facades face the south and will have communal and private terraces dressed in greenery. In addition to residences, the mixed-use development includes a market, restaurants, a bike-cafe, coworking spaces, a hotel and gym, artist studios, workshops and other communal facilities. “The block is designed to generate local urban life, where one feels at home with the freedom to take personal initiatives, where residents are encouraged to use the outdoor environment for co-creation or just meet and socialize,” the architects said. Related: World’s first electric road that charges moving vehicles debuts in Sweden To engage users from multiple directions, the team surrounded the site with attractive green space and strategically located the buildings to maximize sight lines from the surroundings. “The core of the Nacka Port concept focuses on creating a positive vision of the future needs of both humans and our planet,” the architects said. “Nacka Port will be a place to connect and create an inspiring urban and sustainable lifestyle.” The planning process for the project has already started, and the official binding development plan is expected in 2020. + Kjellander Sjöberg Architects Via ArchDaily Images via Kjellander Sjöberg Architects

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Trump administration prioritizes rural areas over cities in infrastructure spending

April 9, 2018 by  
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The Trump Administration has re-prioritized which kinds of communities, and what kinds of projects, receive funding from the popular $500 million transportation grant program known as TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery). “More than 64 percent of this round of TIGER funding was awarded to rural projects, a historic number that demonstrates this Administration’s commitment to supporting the country’s rural communities,” the Transportation Department said when it announced the grant recipients in March. Democratic strongholds such as New York City , Chicago and Los Angeles received zero funding from these grants, while projects in blue states that were funded focused primarily on those states’ Trump-supporting regions. This means much more money for rural roads and rail projects, and less for bike infrastructure, green-ways, and sustainable urban design projects. The TIGER grant program was first established through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the stimulus package or economic recovery bill, under President Obama . While the discretionary funds are an important tool for the White House, they represent only a small percentage of the Department of Transportation’s distribution of $50 billion each year through the highway trust fund. After trying to eliminate the program twice, Trump recently signed a massive spending bill into law that tripled the program’s budget. Now, it seems, his administration has found a use for TIGER. Related: 69% of Republicans believe global warming’s seriousness is “generally exaggerated” Trump is not the first president to be accused of using the program to favor his political supporters. In 2013, at the start of President Obama’s second term, two-thirds of the TIGER infrastructure funding went to districts represented by Democrats in Congress. Much of this Obama-era funding went towards projects such as bike and pedestrian infrastructure while sometimes giving only the bare minimum required by law to rural areas. In addition to its shift towards rural communities, the Trump Administration, with its well-publicized focus on trade, is also prioritizing upgrades to port infrastructure in Alabama, Maryland and Louisiana. Via ABC News Images via Depositphotos   (1)

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Michigan Governor declares Flint water safe, ends free bottled water service

April 9, 2018 by  
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Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has announced that Flint water is once again safe to drink, and the state will soon cease the free bottled water service it has provided to Flint residents in the wake of the city’s drinking water crisis. “The scientific data now proves the water system is stable and the need for bottled water has ended,” the office of the Republican governor said in a statement. “Since Flint’s water is now well within the standards set by the federal government, we will now focus even more of our efforts on continuing with the health, education and economic development assistance needed to help move Flint forward.” Residents and local representatives are reportedly hesitant to trust assurances from the same administration that was responsible for the water crisis in the first place. Even though officials declared Flint water  safe based on scientific assessments, the multi-faceted damage caused by the water crisis will be hard to repair. “Governor Snyder has failed to address the psychological trauma that his administration put the people of Flint through,” said Michigan State Representative Sheldon Neeley, who represents much of the majority-black city of 100,000. “The fact is, the people of Flint don’t trust the Snyder administration or the science they pay for — science that previously allowed our city to be poisoned.” Related: 11-year old inventor becomes “America’s Top Young Scientist” for creating lead-detecting sensor Although the city switched from Flint River water to Lake Huron water — the original source of clean water for the city — in 2015, the community remains wary. “I don’t trust the water. Period,” Flint resident Debra Coleman told WJRT local news . “It could be five years from now and I’ll still never drink this water.” While trust remains an issue, some of those responsible for the crisis are now being held accountable. In 2017, six current and former state and local officials were charged for actions that contributed to the crisis. Via Ecowatch and Reuters Images via Depositphotos   (1)

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Urban Rivers designs a multiplayer Trashbot Game to clean the Chicago River

March 15, 2018 by  
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The non-profit organization Urban Rivers is currently fundraising to deploy a remote-controlled, trash-cleaning robot on the Chicago River. Urban Rivers already has a prototype out in the water and hopes to expand this into a full-fledged, multiplayer internet game. The organization’s “Trashbot Game” would allow players to control the robot from afar using simple keyboard directions to gather trash throughout the river. “We really hope that one day, this game is just so boring, because there’s no more trash left to clean,” said Urban Rivers co-founder Nick Wesley in the project’s Kickstarter video . Prior to its Trashbot initiative, Urban Rivers established a floating garden in Chicago, which was maintained by staff on kayaks . The workers began to notice that trash continuously drifted into the garden and eventually became too burdensome for manual clean-up. “Trash appeared at random times in large quantities. Sometimes we would remove all the trash and two hours there was more,” writes Urban Rivers . The garbage also affected local wildlife that depend upon the river and its floating garden. To solve this problem, Urban Rivers created Trashbot. Once fully developed, users will be able to log on from anywhere in the world to control the robot as it collects trash, which will later be removed by staff. Related: Baltimore’s floating trash-eaters have intercepted 1 million pounds of debris In the envisioned Trashbot game, users will be able to see through the “eyes” of Trashbot and gain points for collecting more trash . If Urban Rivers reaches its $5,000 goal, a second version of Trashbot will be developed while a high-powered WiFi hotspot and a home base trash station will be installed on-site. GPS tracking and a theft-prevention tether on Trashbot will also be funded. Via The Verge Images via Urban Rivers

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Speed breeding technique inspired by NASA grows three times the wheat with less land

January 3, 2018 by  
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Scientists inspired by NASA have found a way to grow wheat at incredible speeds using intense lighting regimes. The method, called “speed breeding”, produces wheat that is not only healthier, but grows in half the time, meaning you could feed more people with less land. The rapid-growing technique not only works on wheat but sunflowers, lentils, peanuts, amaranth, pepper, and radish, which could signal a major breakthrough for feeding the planet’s growing population. By 2050, the planet could host an additional two billion people, but the space for growing and raising food isn’t increasing. So scientists have been looking for ways to tackle the problem of feeding a large population with less space. Scientists at the University of Sydney , the University of Queensland  and the John Innes Center took a look at technology developed years ago by NASA to grow crops in space. Building on this base, they developed their speed breeding technique. Related: Urban Produce vertical farm grows 16 acres of food in just 1/8 acre of space The technique involves growing plants under LEDs with a continuous, specific wavelength to boost photosynthesis. Using this lighting regime, the researchers grew wheat, barley, and chickpeas in half the time of traditional plants – six generations in one year to the two or three that can traditionally be grown. That’s from “seed to seed” in just six weeks. And the plants are actually better quality than traditional plants. This is likely the first time scientists have grown crops this quickly while also improving quality. “In the glasshouse we currently use high pressure sodium vapor lamps and these are quite expensive in terms of the electricity demand,” study co-author and UQ Senior Research Fellow Lee Hickey told New Atlas . “In our paper we demonstrate that wheat and barley populations can be grown at a density of about 900 plants per square meter, thus in combination with LED light systems, this presents an exciting opportunity to scale up the operation for industry use.” The researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Plants . Via New Atlas

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Mirrored home in the woods is hidden in plain sight

January 3, 2018 by  
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Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao has hidden part of a holiday home inside a forest by cladding it in mirrored glass . With a footprint of just under 2,200 square feet, Los Terrenos (Spanish for “The Terrains”) comprises three structures, each built with one of three main materials: mirrored glass, earth, or wood. Despite the diversity in construction materials, beautiful and complementary modern interiors are woven throughout the experimental residence. Located on a forested slope in Monterrey, Los Terrenos currently comprises two structures—the third, which will be built of wood and elevated for treetop views, has yet to be built. The larger of the two completed buildings is clad in mirrored glass and houses an open-plan living room, dining area, and kitchen in a double-height space. The one-way mirrors gives the building a greenhouse feel with floor-to-ceiling views of the forest. Related: Tatiana Bilbao’s $8,000 house could help solve Mexico’s social housing shortage The private areas consisting of two bedrooms and bathrooms are located in the L-shaped building built of clay brick and rammed earth placed diagonally opposite of the mirrored structure. A gorgeous chevron-shaped clay-brick wall in the bedrooms stylistically matches the chevron -shaped ceramic divider found in living room and the paver patterns on the paths around the residence. The bedrooms also look out to sweeping views of the forest. + Tatiana Bilbao Via Architectural Record Images by Rory Gardiner

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Green-roofed village shows a more sustainable way to build in post-disaster rural areas

October 24, 2017 by  
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When the 8.0-magnitude Sichuan Earthquake devastated China in 2008, nearly 5 million people were left homeless. Rural Urban Framework , a non-profit research and design collaborative, saw construction in the wake of disaster as an opportunity to improve the lives of rural villagers through new building typologies. Their recently completed project, Jintai Village, is a socially and environmentally sustainable prototype for earthquake reconstruction that combines rooftop farming, biogas technologies, denser living, and local materials in a self-sufficient community. Developed with support from the local government and NGOs, the Jintai Village Reconstruction project was created as an alternative to the hundreds of thousands of homes rebuilt after the 2008 earthquake and as “an investigation into modern rural livelihood.” Unlike most rural developments, this 4,000-square-meter project takes cues from denser urban living by placing buildings closer together with narrow alleys in between. The architects developed four housing types—varying in size, function, and roof sections—in their total of 22 houses united by their use of brick facades, concrete frameworks, and terraced roofs where villagers can grow food. Natural ventilation, rainwater harvesting systems, and insulation made of straw are built into the homes. Related: Eerie photos show nature swallowing up a Chinese village 7 years after an earthquake “By relating various programs of the village to an ecological cycle, environment responsiveness is heightened, transforming the village into a model for nearby areas,” said Rural Urban Framework to Dezeen . “Because the land available for house building is limited, the village combines dense urban living in a rural context.” The village also includes a concrete community center with space for growing vegetables on the roof. The humanitarian project was completed as part of the studio’s ongoing efforts to provide design services to charities and NGOs working in China . + Rural Urban Framework Via Dezeen Images by architects

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America’s largest urban farm to be planted in Pittsburgh

September 19, 2017 by  
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Pittsburgh , once a site of heavy industry, could soon be home to the biggest urban farm in the United States. The 23-acre Hilltop Urban Farm will be located in the city’s Southside, an area underserved by supermarkets , where it could help supply nutritious, fresh produce to those who otherwise would have little access. Coal, steel, and manufacturing once boomed in Pittsburgh, until the city experienced an industrial decline in the 1950s. The healthcare industry has recently helped revive the city, but neighborhoods on Pittsburgh’s outer ring have yet to see a comeback. That’s where the Hilltop Alliance , the group behind the Hilltop Urban Farm, is working. The city is also home to the largest percentage of people living in areas with low-supermarket access for cities with 250,000 to 500,000 people, according to a 2012 report from the United States Department of the Treasury. Related: 20 kids transform a rough Pittsburgh neighborhood with solar art & charging station The Hilltop Urban Farm could offer an answer to the issues these Pittsburgh residents face. The farm will occupy space that was once filled with low-income housing – and according to Aaron Sukenik, Hilltop Alliance executive director, the land “was just kind of sitting there, fenced and looking very post-apocalyptic.” Soon it will be home to a farm where people will grow winter peas and other produce. There will be a fruit orchard, and an almost one-acre youth farm. There will be a 3.36-acre farmer incubation program, and a 57 plot community garden . There will also be a 3.31 community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm. Also part of the urban farm will be a 200-person events barn and a farm market building, where a seasonal farmer’s market will occur. According to the Hilltop Urban Farm Facebook page , green infrastructure, energy-efficient buildings, stormwater management , and native plants will be part of the design. Hilltop Urban Farm is slated to open in 2019. Via Reuters Images via Hilltop Urban Farm Facebook

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