Archive for the ‘green’ Category

Arhuaca mochila bags of Colombia

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

IMG_5388mochillaxx

I first saw these cylindrical handwoven bags in Medellín, Colombia, worn by a couple of delegates at the UN World Urban Forum. I noticed them because they looked unusually sturdy, very finely handwoven in wool, and beautifully patterned. After I arrived in Bogotá I realized they are actually common. They’re called mochilas and are a traditional artisanal bag made by the Arhuaca people in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Maria mountain range. Traditionally they were made either from agave fibre, hemp or wild cotton, thought after the arrival of the Spanish they were also made from various wools. You can  also see synthetic fibres used (see top left in photo below) as well as disappointing mass-produced versions. Traditionally the patterns indicated families via their totemic animals, often very abstracted.

“Starting in the 1960s, the arhuaca mochila left the geographical arhuaco, penetrated large Colombian cities (especially Santa Marta, Valledupar and Barranquilla), and is used primarily by young people today as a way to claim their indigenous culture. In 2006, the backpack was nominated as the Arhuaco cultural symbol of Colombia in the contest organized by the magazine Semana.” It now seems that the bag has more generally become a symbol of Colombia and have been adopted by a wide range of people dressed in varying degrees of casualness. More here.

It felt a little weird to be following people around and stealthily photographing their bags.

These bags are not cheap in Bogotá, by the way. They’re cheaper in towns where they are made such as Santa Clara, but frankly they shouldn’t be. As with most weaving, it takes an enormous amount of labour to make a single bag and the weavers should be paid appropriately.

The bag I bought is the minimalist white one at right in the very last photo.

Textile museum, Bogota

Mochila bags, Bogotá Mochilas arhuacas - via Wikipedia Photo above via Wikimedia Commons Arhuaca mochila bags of Colombia IMG_5420mochillax Mochila bag, Colombia The one above is particularly beautiful. Mochila bag, Colombia Mochila bag, Colombia Mochila bag, colombia Mochila bag, Colombia Mochila bag, Colombia

Bogotá - mochila

Mochila bag, Colombia Mochila bag, Colombia Mochila bag, Colombia Mochila bag, Colombia

This one is a bag in a different style and from jute:

Mochila type bag, but of jute

Bogotá - Arhuaca mochila bags

mochila (& UN Habitat bag)

mochila

mochila

mochila

Bogotá - mochila, Cafe Color

Bogotá - Arhuaca mochila

Bogotá - men with mochila

Bogotá - mochila

 

Over 1000 dolphins escort ferry near Vancouver

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

Pacific white-sided dolphins

Great video shot on Hallowe’en, October 31, 2013. Over 1000 dolphins swim alongside a BC Ferries vessel on its way to Vancouver through Georgia Strait.

CBC report confirms they’re Pacific white-sided dolphins which usually congregate farther out to sea. Some have suggested that dwindling food supplies have driven them nearer to shore. I saw a pod of about 200 from a ferry in 2011.

Ferry captain is a joker. “Ladies and gentlemen, there’s quite the dolphin show off the starboard side. Tickets can be purchased from the chief steward’s office.”

Why aren’t we using Aerblock when we build?

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Aerblock as an ecological building material like pumice or laterite

Why aren’t we using building materials like Aerblock instead of wood? Habitat Forum 1976 alumni Michael Baron is involved in manufacturing this safe, lightweight, storm-proof, insulating, healthy-air concrete material that mimics ancient pumice building blocks.

Aerblocks are so light they float, and yet they withstand major natural disasters. Their application is almost universal—from disaster reconstruction in Haiti and Jamaica to full-scale luxury housing and large building projects.

Construction lobbies have helped thwart the adoption of this material in North America, but it is used in many parts of the world. Why does North America lag so far behind? The only region to have adopted it in any significant way so far is Florida, only thanks to a hurricane problem that is so severe it has overridden the efforts of business to block it.

In other parts of the world, the adoption of Aerblock would aid in health and community development. Not only does it keep out the heat and other threats to health, it is a simple and intuitive material to build with. Its interlocking blocks fit together so simply that untrained and uneducated builders can put together a decent shelter with the aid of pictorial instructions. Because Aerblock doesn’t require grout, which requires training to apply and is a major a source of failure, it’s more likely to be democratically adopted and buildings are less prone to fall down. It mimics an ancient style of building with pumice blocks, a natural building style. It’s worth noting that some of these ancient pumice buildings are still standing today.

Baron contacted me in relation to my book research on Habitat Forum ’76, and then went on to tell me about his work with Aerblock. I asked if Aerblock would work in a rainy, cool climate like Vancouver, and he said that contrary to popular assumption it would be ideal here. He has in fact been attempting to set up a small manufacturing plant here as a result of his long ties with the city. I asked him why this hasn’t been adopted in construction, apart from the deterrent effects of the wood lobby, and he pointed to something I’ve witnessed myself in my own attempt to salvage my building. There is a great deal of inertia in the construction industry. It’s cheaper to go on doing the same old wasteful things than it is to take the time to reeducate yourself and invest in newer, more sustainable technologies – even when the materials are ultimately cheaper or when they clearly benefit the homeowner. I had to battle subcontractors and suppliers over choosing newer, more ecological materials.

It’s interesting how many alumni of the groundbreaking Habitat ’76 conference are still working on sustainable architecture and appropriate technology 37 years later. Why are we right back where we started when we first began to talk about these things? Rhetorical question.

Aerblock

“Our Mission: We strive to play a crucial role in furthering the advancement of aerated, lightweight cementitious technologies here in the US and around the world, as a legacy building material, for generations to come!”

Below: Vlack Temple in Colorado, constructed with Aerblock; Haiti reconstruction; fully modern, large-scale house;

Aerblock - church in Colorado

Aerblock Haiti

Aerblock - adobe-style mansion

 

New York’s “greenest” skyscaper is actually its biggest energy hog: New Repubic

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Energy hog tower, despite LEED certification

Must read: Bank of America’s Toxic Tower: New York’s “greenest” skyscaper is actually its biggest energy hog in New Republic.

“According to data released by New York City last fall, the Bank of America Tower produces more greenhouse gases and uses more energy per square foot than any comparably sized office building in Manhattan. It uses more than twice as much energy per square foot as the 80-year-old Empire State Building. It also performs worse than the Goldman Sachs headquarters, maybe the most similar building in New York—and one with a lower LEED rating. It’s not just an embarrassment; it symbolizes a flaw at the heart of the effort to combat climate change.”

“LEED has helped create a market for sustainability where one didn’t exist before. The problem is that real-estate developers have been able to game the system, racking up points for relatively minor measures. A USA Today series last October found developers accruing points simply by posting educational displays throughout a building and installing bike racks—and avoiding measures that might be more costly and effective.”

““What LEED designers deliver is what most LEED building owners want—namely, green publicity, not energy savings,” John Scofield, a professor of physics at Oberlin, testified before the House last year.”

See also The End of the Age of Tall Buildings.

 

Coffee

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

Lying in bed at night thinking about the coffee I’ll have in the morning.

Global warming will soon cause a massive decline in coffee production. Since coffee grows in hill areas at a specific altitude and with specific water needs, as conditions get hotter and drier, plantations can’t simply be moved uphill. They will become disused and yield will quickly fall. Will we be fighting over coffee?

What temperate rainforest looks like

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

mossiest rainforest in existence

This photo was taken by my colleague Ken Wu, an environmental advocate with BC’s Ancient Rainforest Alliance. The photo was actually taken in Washington State, not far from here. He says this is the Quinault Rainforest in Olympic National Park, “the mossiest temperate rainforest in existence with almost all the record-size trees of the region, just about my favourite place on the West Coast!”

As part of my other design job with a group called Commons BC, I was involved in the fight against Bill 8 which would have privatized vast areas of BC’s forests. Currently 94% of British Columbia is “crown” or public land. Its forests are divided up into “Timber Supply Areas” but if those are converted to “Tree Farm Licenses” entirely under corporate control, BC will not be able to enforce sustainable forest policy – and that’s if we even had good forest policy the way they almost do in Washington State. And we don’t. We won our fight against Bill 8 but now that the resource-happy party back in power after a surprise victory, we believe this will have to be fought all over again. And this time we may lose.

If you want to see what BC has cut on Vancouver Island alone in the last 60 years, look at this before and after map (via Commons BC). Some of the most lush forest in the world, containing streams harbouring numerous salmon spawning runs.

The yellow-green is the original forest cover remaining in 1952. The pink is the logged area. Only a little in 1952; nearly the whole Island in 2012.

1952 to 2012