Biodiversity Public Service Announcement

We’ve written a great deal about the sobering truth of human created climate change lately; highlighting the difficult science of the increasingly limited options on how to avert worst case scenarios.

There’s something calming about this piece of animation by Sebastian Ramn that addressed climate change as nature’s  SOS, reaching out to creative communities and NGOs who may be in search of ways to get involved in any way possible.

More information at natureneeds.help

 

Design, Taste, Ephemera

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Kitaoji Rosanjin. Square platter with rounded edges. 1954

In preparing to exhibit things we believe represent Costa Rica well enough that we would want travelers to take some such things home with them, MOMA’s The Value of Good Design provides a valuable pause. The image above, from the MOMA show, is an example of good design of a tactile thing. As the video below shows that is what good design means in MOMA’s estimation, namely things that you want to look at as much as you want to touch or use.

Costa Rica, and its visitors, would benefit from an exhibition of things that are useful, inspiring, and/or in good taste.  Our contribution to this effort has focused on coffee, so we are inclined to think about taste in the gustatory sense, as in what flavors and aromas please. This type of pleasure is more ephemeral than something you can look at and touch over and over.

Design2.jpgAnother sense of good taste, which also has value: we do not consider it in good taste to sell things in Costa Rica that are foreign-made replicas of Costa Rican traditional arts and crafts. And that has been very much on our mind. It is a challenge we have signed on to. The MoMA exhibition inspired Nikil Saval to share a few thoughts about How “Good Design” Failed Us and they strike me as relevant to our own current challenge to be tasteful:

In 1958, the American radical sociologist C. Wright Mills was invited to address the International Design Conference, in Aspen. The lecture he gave, “Man in the Middle: The Designer,” criticized a number of its audience members for being willing dupes in the grand illusion that was consumer society. Continue reading

Making Something The Traditional Way

Last week, we visited producers of various arts and crafts on the eastern side of Costa Rica. Our first stop was in the Central Valley, just before crossing over to the Caribbean slope, in a coffee shop. There, a man showed us his ceramic work, which we had seen one example of previously. All of it was beautiful, but the one below was the one we chose to purchase as a sample. And here it is, in the morning sun.

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It brought to mind the old documentary above, which anyone in the USA public school system might have seen in their 7th grade art class. In less than half an hour, that film clinically explains and demonstrates visually what goes into making something the traditional way. This man, here and now in Costa Rica, is hand-crafting these coffee makers. The material is organic, as is the design, which pays tribute to Costa Rican tradition, as well as to pre-Colombian indigenous tradition. The coffee seems to taste the better for it.

Green Building Techniques Inspired By Insects

The air conditioning system of the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, was inspired by termites’ nests. Credit David Brazier, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been quite some time since we posted about biomimicry. Thanks as always to JoAnna Klein for this illuminating story:

What Termites Can Teach Us About Cooling Our Buildings

“We think humans are the best designers, but this is not really true,” a researcher said.

In the capital of Zimbabwe, a building called Eastgate Centre holds nearly 350,000 square-feet of office space and shops. It uses 90 percent less energy than a similar sized building next door.

What’s Eastgate Centre’s secret? Termites.

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Three views of a termites’ nest, including from left, a photo of the nest, a tomography of the the nest’s interior and the networks of galleries and paths in it. Credit G. Theraulaz, CRCA, CBI, CNRS, Toulouse

In the 1990s, Mick Pearce, the building’s architect, took his inspiration from mounds built by fungus-farming termites he saw on a nature show. The insects created their own air conditioning systems that circulated hot and cool air between the mound and the outside.

As architects and builders seek new and improved ways to cool buildings without using more energy in a warming world, a study of another type of termite mound suggests that Mr. Pearce won’t be the last human to take design tips from these cockroach cousins. Continue reading

A Pop-Up Vision Of Nature’s Future

 

Michelle Nijhuis came to my attention in 2014 by making me laugh. She has since been featured in our pages too many times to count. Now, after all those previous (nine, but who’s counting?) shout outs I thank her for bringing to my attention a book that makes me smile at the same time it makes me wince:

…Though Beyond the Sixth Extinction can be enjoyed solely for its dystopian yuks, its elegant paper sculptures tell a deeper story. The book doesn’t spend much time blaming humans for the world it imagines, or spell out exactly what has befallen Homo sapiens during the nearly three millennia between 2019 and 4847. But it does hint at a world in which the human footprint has been radically reduced. Chicago transformed into the diminished district of Cago, and life to some extent has moved on without us…

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The rex roach is one of many lively species that inhabit the Cago district in the year 4847. PAPER ENGINEERING © SHAWN SHEEHY / CANDLEWICK PRESS

076368788X.jpgWhen I first saw something vaguely akin some years ago, the creative approach to a dark topic made me smile. This time, I am drawn in by an artist’s unique vision of the future as it relates to the natural world, and my reaction is to think while smiling.

So, off to Candlewick Press (click the image of the book to the left). Even though I am not inclined to dystopia, I like what the author / artist / pop-up engineer says about what looks to be its hand-made progenitor:

popupbookIn his book The Sixth Extinction, Richard Leakey describes five major catastrophes in Earth’s history that led to significant extinctions—the last of which was the meteor impact that eliminated the dinosaurs. He theorizes that the sixth big extinction has already begun, and that it is human-authored. Be it through over-hunting, global warming, or habitat destruction, humans have the power to destroy species at alarming rates.

PopupBook2.jpgEvolutionary theorists like Stephen Jay Gould have studied and written about the speciation that followed these previous die-offs, like the mammalian bloom that followed the extinction of the dinosaurs. I myself wonder which species might survive and flourish in a new environment if humans are successful in instigating a profound die-off. I wonder what anatomical adaptations they might acquire in their proliferation.

popupbook3All of the creatures in this book are based on organisms that have high survival ratings, including: ubiquity (or nearly so), omnivory (linked to high intelligence), adaptability (especially to human-made habitats), and escape mobility. Since I am interested in representing a single system, they also had to have the potential to entertain plausible interdependencies.

popupbook4Though the content of this book is bleak, the tone is cautiously optimistic. Some ecological theorists believe that humans—being the most adaptable species in the history of the planet—will be the very last species to be exterminated, but there is still hope that a sustainable balance can be found between human resource use and the resource use of everything else. Continue reading

Buoyant Foundation’s Intriguing Architectural Innovation

This is the kind of story that displays the odd new reality of what can count for optimism–finding intriguing solutions for mankind’s self-inflicted catastrophes. From Anthropocene:

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Amphibious Architecture

Float when it floods

By Emily Anthes

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Amphibious structures are not static; they respond to floods like ships to a rising tide, floating on the water’s surface.

Last June, not long after a catastrophic thunderstorm swept through southern Ontario, bringing a month’s worth of rain in just a few hours, a group of 75 architects, engineers, and policymakers from 16 countries gathered in the city of Waterloo to discuss how humanity will cope with its waterlogged future. The timing of the conference was a fitting meteorological coincidence; in a world increasingly transformed by climate change, heavy rains and major floods are becoming more common, at least in some areas. In the summer of 2017 alone, Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 50 inches of rain over Texas; a monster monsoon season damaged more than 800,000 homes in India; and flash floods and mudslides claimed at least 500 lives in Sierra Leone. In the past two decades, the world’s ten worst floods have done more than a 165 billion dollars’ worth of damage and driven more than a billion people from their homes. Continue reading

Authentica, A Few Of Our Favorite Things

FransCoffee.jpegYesterday’s coffee sample from the Brunca region got us thinking about our interest in foods and beverages that represent the taste of a place we have gotten to know through our work. Today I am sampling a friend’s coffee grown a few hundred meters away from where I sit typing this.

It is an arabica varietal, known as Castillo, that has resisted the rust plaguing Central American highland coffee farms. And this glass of freshly brewed Castillo makes me realize that Authentica is also an outgrowth of the much broader array of work that led to our original interest in taste of place.

In 1995 Crist gave a lecture based on some ideas that came out of my doctoral dissertation, ideas which I now simply refer to as entrepreneurial conservation. Costa Rica had recently committed to the then-new sustainable development model. I made sure that the ideas from my dissertation could be clearly understood within Costa Rica’s framework. Based on the lecture he received an offer to lead an initiative, based in Costa Rica and serving the countries of Central America, that would facilitate the adoption of sustainable tourism development strategies in the region.

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In 1996, tourism was limited in Costa Rica but there was enough of an industry to analyze its component parts. This highlighted pre-existing strengths on which to build a national tourism strategy. One of those components was handicrafts. We have not gone back to look at the findings, but memory tells us that handicrafts were a small but thriving sub-sector of tourism, and some of it was spectacular. The bowl to the left was the first we had seen made of the local wood called cocobolo.

Pia pitcherIn the 2+ decades since that analysis, times have been difficult for the artisans of Costa Rica even as the tourism sector as a whole has grown dramatically. It is enough to say that something must be done in Costa Rica to valorize the artisans who have been able to hang on, and to likewise showcase the remarkable renaissance of artesania in this amazing country. The campesino in the photo to the right is from an artisan who carves coffee wood, with coffee farmers his primary subject. We received that carving as a gift in 1998 and we recently met the artisan who made it. He has managed to hang on.

On that same shelf is a small ceramic pitcher made by an artist of the next generation, who is a perfect representative of the renaissance we see, now that we are visiting Costa Rica after many years living in other parts of the world. A platform is needed to share these things that we see and love about Costa Rica, things which we believe represent this place well, and put them in a place where they can be purchased, in order to valorize the artistry and craftsmanship.

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Above is a hand-painted silk scarf made by a local artist whose life on a coffee farm inspired this particular image, and the one below. We will be more specific about these and other artists in future posts. For now it is just enough to say that we believe in local artists, artisans, farmers, roasters, chocolatiers enough that we have formed Authentica as a marketplace for their products, to be sold mostly to visitors who want to take home with them a sense of the place they have visited.

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Coffee-Making Method Matters

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Moka pots … cheap but not cheerful. Photograph: Alikaj2582/Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Gritty … a cafetière. Photograph: Getty Images/EyeEm

Tony Naylor’s story in the Guardian about the merits of various coffee makers catches my attention. Not because the coffee made by French press method, aka cafetière, is pronounced inferior to pods (we have long acknowledged that pods can produce excellent coffee but as noted below are ecologically irresponsible), and not just because of the recommendation to keep:

…a stash of single-origin beans in the freezer…

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Filter … the best home option? Photograph: Getty Images/Westend61

(I thought by now it was commonly accepted fact that the freezer is an enemy of coffee).

Moka pots are thrashed in this review, and I am in agreement with the assessment. And instant? Talk about straw dog. Mainly I was surprised that the pour over is the overwhelming favorite for an ecologically more sound, gustatorily superior method of producing the best cup of coffee at home. I am using a cheap-o brew machine with a mesh filter (i.e. reusable so no waste) in which I put my freshly ground beans and this method is not even reviewed. Hmm. What am I missing?

Moka pot, machine, filter or instant – which produces the best coffee?

The company behind the iconic Italian stovetop gadget is in financial difficulties – is that because there are now better ways of making coffee? We put the most popular methods to the test

Italians may find their morning espresso tastes awfully bitter this week, as the Bialetti group – the maker of the iconic stove-top moka coffee pot – struggles to stay afloat. The popularity of pod coffee machines, along with a sluggish Italian economy, has put the mockers on the moka, with Bialetti, a reported €68m (£60m) in debt, negotiating a bailout deal with the American hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management.

Invented in 1933 by Alfonso Bialetti, the affordable aluminium Moka Express was meant to mimic espresso-quality coffee at home. Water boils in a bottom chamber and is forced up through the grounds to produce an intense hit of caffeine. The pot was once so popular that, according to a 2016 New York Times article, 90% of Italian households had one. Were they on to something? Or is there a tastier, more practical and sustainable way to make coffee at home? Continue reading

Blue New Worlds

As a company we have a long interest with the concept of non-permanent Art Installations .  Installed off the coast of Catalina Island, California, these particular interactive underwater sculptures were a collaboration with artist Doug Aitken , the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) and Parley for the Oceans.

Due to the temporary nature of the installations, they’re no longer in place but will reopen to the public soon, at a new location, in a new ocean.

Underwater Pavilions is artist Doug Aitken’s large-scale installation and collaboration with Parley consisting of three temporary sculptures submerged beneath the water’s surface. As a symbol and catalyst for the Parley Deep Space Program, the sculptures provide a portal into the marine realm that swimmers, snorkelers, and scuba divers can swim through and experience. Continue reading

Moths, Inspiring Innovation

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Deilephila elpenor, commonly called the elephant hawk-moth, has specialized eyes that don’t reflect light. Such moths inspired scientists to invent an anti-glare coating for smart screens. Ullstein Bild/Getty Images

We have lots of reasons to believe in biodiversity, and here is one more important case in point. Thanks to Madeline K. Sofia at National Public Radio (USA) for this:

If you’re standing in the blazing sun struggling to read this on your cellphone, there may be some relief in sight.

And you’ll have a moth to thank. Continue reading

Consumables Containing Consumables

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The design company Ecovative makes a variety of packaging materials using mycelium fungus. Credit Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

Thanks again to Stephanie Strom for a story about ecology that surprises:

Packaging Food With Food to Reduce Waste

For the environmentally conscious eater, they are among the most inconvenient truths: Too much food goes to waste. Too much packaging comes with the food. And too much of the packaging is made to last for ages.

Now there may be a single answer to all three problems: using excess food to make the packaging. Continue reading

Cornell’s Climate Friendly Construction

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A view of Manhattan from the roof of the Bridge building on the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island. Photo VINCENT TULLO

When Cornell University competed in 2011 to develop an applied science and engineering campus in New York City, part of its pitch was that it would construct an academic building that would at least approach making as much energy as it used in a year, a concept known as net zero. It won. Then came the hard work of making that vision happen at the campus, known as Cornell Tech. Continue reading

Ladybugs, Awe & Design Inspiration

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After ladybugs fly, they tuck their wings into a sliver of space between their abdomen and the colorful outer wings for which they are best known. Credit Jean-Michel Labat/Science Source

Even without words this item from the Science section would tell a full story just with the gif below, which captures what any of us might remember being awed by as a kid. Thanks to Joanna Klein for this:

Ladybugs Pack Wings and Engineering Secrets in Tidy Origami Packages

The ladybug is a tiny insect with hind wings four times its size. Like an origami master, it folds them up into a neat package, tucking them away within a slender sliver of space between its abdomen and the usually polka-dotted, harder wings that protect it. Continue reading

Design Worth Reading About

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INGO MECKMANN/PIAGGIO FAST FORWARD

Sometimes it makes more sense to look at a design rather than read about it. This story is in itself interesting (thanks to Wired) and that is because of the combination of the history of Piaggio and the character at the center of the design story:

IN THE SUMMER months of 2015, Jeffrey Schnapp and a few of his colleagues started collecting rideables. The hoverboard craze was in full swing, and OneWheels and Boosteds were showing up on roads and sidewalks. Schnapp and his co-founders rode, drove, and crashed everything they could find. For Schnapp, a Harvard professor and longtime technologist with a shaved head, pointy goatee, and a distinct Ben Kingsley vibe, this was market research. Continue reading

Mobitecture, The Wonders Of Mobile Architecture

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The Starlight Room – Raniero Campigotto

Thanks to Phaidon for its always-interesting new books for coffee table-pondering:

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Adaptable, intelligently put together, responsive to local conditions and able and willing to travel almost anywhere with ease – but enough about you, we’re here to tell you about mobitecture. What’s mobitecture we hear you ask? Well it’s mobile architecture and Mobitecture is the name we’ve smartly bestowed on it in our latest book.

Mobitecture looks at 250 examples of mobile architecture from around the world that enable the almost universal dream of upping sticks, moving somewhere and changing the way your world looks. The structures in it  roll, inflate, unfold, flat-pack or pop-up, slide on sleds and float across water in a book that brings together a spectacular collection of structures in which to revel, live, work, pause – or just simply escape.  Continue reading

Living Walls

As Kochi is awash with participating artists putting finishing touches on their Kochi-Muziris Biennale works, it’s exciting to see art flourishing in other cities on a regular basis.

Atlanta’s Living Walls seeks to promote, educate and change perspectives about public space in local communities via street art.  Dozens of international artists participate in an annual conference on street art and urbanism that began in August 2010 in the city of Atlanta. Continue reading

Remote Living, Well Done

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Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic Ocean michael clarke stuff / Wikipedia

Thanks to EcoWatch for keeping us posted on the greenish news from the bottom edge of the planet:

World’s Most Remote Village Is About to Become Self-Sufficient World’s Most Remote Village Is About to Become Self-Sufficient 

The most remote village on Earth, located on Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic Ocean, is about to get a 21st century upgrade thanks to an international design competition aimed at creating a more sustainable future for the farming and fishing community. Continue reading

Library Reading Room, Luxury, Legacy

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The Rose Reading Room is luxurious in the way that only certain shared spaces can be. Its grandeur attracts its visitors, and is in turn amplified by their presence: the true urban symbiosis. PHOTOGRAPH BY DREW ANGERER / GETTY

It was the room in the photo above where I sat, in the early 1990s, collecting some data for a research project that would eventually become my doctoral dissertation. I had been in that room once or twice in my youth, but as an adult on a specific mission (little did I know the data collected that day would help me develop ideas that we now call entrepreneurial conservation within La Paz Group) the room barely registered in my notice. Except as a very practical place to read some historical documents.

So I am delighted to see that room again after a long time. It looked great to me the last time I saw it. Now I can say wow for different reasons. The legacy of the room is protected, and perhaps renewed for another hundred years. If you click the image and go to a larger viewing with greater detail, you will understand why the word luxury fits in the title of this post on the New Yorker website.

It is not our practice to use the word luxury because it is so laden with old and often inappropriate (considering the ecological condition of the planet, considering advances in socio-economic development, and considering other modern sensibilities) meanings. So we appreciate when others take care in how they use it:

THE ROSE READING ROOM AND THE REAL MEANING OF “LUXURY” IN NEW YORK CITY

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To say that the ceiling of the Rose Main Reading Room, at the New York Public Library’s main building, on Fifth Avenue—the biggest room in the biggest public-library branch in the country’s biggest city—is an ornate piece of work is putting it mildly. Continue reading

Hotel As Showroom

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A prototype for a room in the hotel chain that the furniture retailer West Elm plans to launch in Charlotte, North Carolina, and other cities. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY WEST ELM

This article goes on to make a very specific point about the experience of this company, in the state where it is based, which is not so much what caught my attention (more on which below):

Jim Brett, the president of West Elm, the furniture chain that sells what you might call mainstream modern furniture, was looking for the brand’s next act. He didn’t think he’d find it at the mall; West Elm already has more than a hundred stores. Children’s furniture might have been a logical next step, but it is burdened by complex safety regulations. Where else do lots of people sleep and sit? Brett, a frequent traveller, had spent countless nights in sterile, unwelcoming rooms. Hotels seemed like a good opportunity.

Last year, West Elm opened a commercial division for office furniture, and the company is now making furniture for Marriott’s SpringHill Suites hotels. More significantly, West Elm also signed a deal with a partner to open its own branded hotels. Brett and other executives discussed design ideas and scouted locations in mid-tier U.S. cities whose hotel markets seemed underdeveloped. Charlotte, North Carolina, was especially promising. Continue reading