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The revolution in building materials
Architect Blaine Brownell, the author of Transmaterial, talks about innovative new products in the construction industry
Furniture constructed with plastic made from recycled, pirated CDs. Transluscent, yet insulated, skylights made from featherweight gel. These are some examples of how savvy designers and architects are incorporating cutting-edge -- and often eco-friendly -- materials into corporate, retail, and residential buildings and interior design.
...Q: Why should architects -- and consumers -- familiarize themselves with the latest and most cutting-edge concretes, plastics, fabrics, and other products?
A: I think we will see a trend toward consumer awareness in regard to construction products and materials, parallel to what we've seen in the food industry already. Today, a lot of people consume free-range chicken, organic produce, and antibiotic-free milk, because there's an unprecedented level of scrutiny involved in making creative and consumer decisions. Today, when we go to the deli or the supermarket as a chef or a consumer, we might think more deeply about where our food came from before we buy our vegetables or meat.
Thanks to the media, there's been a change of awareness in our society in general. I believe it will happen in the arena of our built environment, too. More importantly, as energy becomes more and more expensive, consumers will want to know how to affordably heat or light their homes. Awareness is important.
...Today, our society has serious challenges in terms of global warming, resource allocation, peak natural gas, and peak oil. The laws of supply and demand have shifted. I'm interested in how to approach such "gloom-and-doom" realities from a positive standpoint. That's what's so exciting about the flood of new materials into the market now.
It's not any one product that is amazing to me, but instead the collective aspirations and positive endeavors behind so many new products and materials. It seems as if there are many, many people -- designers, architects, engineers -- struggling to proactively mitigate our circumstances.
(28 February 2006)
Making our cities fuel-efficient
Clark Williams-Derry, Elm Street Writers Group via Tidepool
With gas prices that reached new, wallet-straining heights last year, fuel efficiency is back in vogue.
Not only are gas-sipping hybrids flying off the new car lots as fast as they can be built, but for the first time in decades, legislators -- at least at the state level -- have been discussing fuel conservation without fearing for their political lives. In 2005, two Northwest states, for example, decided to adopt California's "clean-car" standards for emissions -- which will reduce emissions up to 30 percent over the next decade or so, giving a huge boost to vehicle fuel economy.
But while improving vehicle efficiency is an important step, it's only one half of the job. The other half -- less heralded, but arguably just as important -- is to design cities and neighborhoods so that we drive less. After all, improving gas mileage doesn't mean much if we have to travel longer distances to get where we need to go.
Urban planners have long understood the key ingredient to fuel-efficient neighborhood design: putting people and the places they want to travel to in closer proximity, otherwise known in planner-speak as density....
Clark Williams-Derry, who writes about land use policy and environmental trends, is the research director of Northwest Environment Watch.
(28 February 2006)
Wind, wave, wood: energy-independent Humboldt Country
John Driscoll, The Times-Standard (Eureka, California)
EUREKA -- One possible path toward Humboldt County's energy independence was penciled out Monday night -- a blend of wind, wave and wood-burning technologies being proposed by the company that owns the Fairhaven power plant.
DG Energy Solutions CEO Steve Mueller told a well-attended meeting at the Wharfinger Building that the county could be a leader in renewable electricity generation by eventually producing most or all of its own energy.
Using about 10 wind turbines on the Samoa Peninsula and a school of wave-power generators off the beach could produce 40 megawatts of power on top of the 18 mw the Fairhaven plant is expected to produce after a rehabilitation in progress, Mueller said. DG is also trying to fire up the 10 mw wood-burning Ultrapower 3 plant in blue Lake. The county uses about 158 mw during peak times.
(28 February 2006)
Willits to star in international film: Town plays key role in localization story
Claudia Reed, The Willits News
"The End of Suburbia," a Canadian film documenting the expected demise of an oil-based, global economy, has sold more than 30,000 DVDs around the world and grossed more than $1 million.
A sequel to that film, "Escape from Suburbia, Beyond the American Dream," will place an emphasis on events in the small town of Willits, California. It will also include footage from Paris, Dubai, Lisbon, Montreal, Ottawa, Havana, Toronto, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles.
"Willits showed up on my radar first as a place where The End of Suburbia was playing and a citizens group had formed," said Toronto-based film writer and director Gregory Green. "But then Willits kept popping up. It was evident about five or six months ago that Willits was really serious (about localizing the economy) and a lot of people look to Willits for leadership."
"If nothing else, Willits appears to have been one of the first communities to not only recognize the coming end of a readily available and affordable oil supply, but to begin making serious plans for a post-oil economy."
(1 March 2006)