Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rural Studio's $20K House

For many years, the architecture students at Auburn University have been exploring planning and Design/ Build issues up close via hands-on experience through work done as part of Rural Studio (RS). Rural Studio examines the many facets of planning, affordablity and the challenges of providing real-world replicatable architectural solutions. As part of its project for 2007, Rural Studio (RS) has completed an interesting housing prototype for Hale County (Alabama). The target cost: $20K (labor and materials). Rural Studio (at Auburn's School of Architecture) was the brainchild of architect/educator Samuel Mockbee & D.K. Ruth. Mockbee passed away a few years ago, but the program is still operational and has produced an interesting student project for 2007: an affordable residence built for about $20K for some of the areas' low income residents.

Very much borne out the southern shot gun vernacular, this structure is all about utility and fulfilling basic [housing] needs. The Katrina Cottages (designed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, $30-100K each) share some of the same (albeit abstract) vernacular as the $20K House in a direct response to the problem of readily erected & affordable housing. After all, the lack of affordable housing is probably the single most under-reported and oft ignored socio-economic problem facing the US -- moreso than even health care or exaggerated threats to our national safety. (The US housing market should undergo further, perhaps even more dramatic corrections in the months head, imo. But I digress..)

The students & faculty have briefly documented the project, posted photos on the process, etc., on a blog devoted to the project. Surf over to Auburn's School of Architecture to read and hear more about the $20K House. Also, Public Radio has done a piece featuring this project entitled , "The Architecture of Decency",
(airing November/Dec.). Visit to hear the broadcast (mp3 format).

I'd like to see the ledger on the cost for this particular project, as the number of workers and the time invested if calculated at fair market (or even minimum wage) seems as though it would have pushed the true cost well beyond $20K --even adjusted for regional cost differences. (Info & photos on the blog suggest that about 40 or so people have contributed their work, money and/or time to the project.)

Perhaps RS will publish a data accounting and a more detailed outline of costs, labor supplied, man hours, challenges, etc. Publishing that data would prove far more useful than keeping it limited to the interested participants and sponsors. I mean, if you are really concerned about affordability, you help others make affordable housing a reality in other communities by sharing data, methods, experiences. Otherwise, you create the proprietary mess that surrounds the human genome industry.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Strida Folding Bike - Pedal, Coast

[See 6/08 update, scroll way dooown.]
With former V.P. Al Gore winning the Nobel Prize for work relating to Global Warming awareness, it only seemed appropriate to post a little info about a product squarely in the "Green Transportation" class: the Bicycle. One of my favorite bikes is the Strida Rida []. Invented [at least] some 22 years ago by British inventor/designer Mark Sanders, the Strida Folding Bike is a great little transportation device that hasn't received enough attention here in the States. [Click on the photo left, to open animation in a new window showing how the bike folds.]

The Strida sports an aluminum frame, so it's very light and portable at 19.4 lbs [9kg]-- unlike MOST steel folding bikes. Not only that, but the Strida goes from compact to full working size in literally seconds unlike its cumbersome (and over priced) competitors. (It really is the easiest bike to fold and unfold without the need for special tools or anything.)

The light weight and quick assembly make the Strida easy to ride to the local commuter train/bus station, then fold up the bike and board the train/bus for the trip to work or out of town. (See the photo in the folded position, below.) The Strida folds down to the size of a large tennis racquet sports bag. It's also light enough to throw into the back seat or trunk of the car, so you can unload the bike and take a nice ride along Lake Michigan or your other favorite waterway path.

For apartment dwellers, the compact size makes it easy to store in a closet (instead of a remote common locker room where it might get stolen. You can buy a duffle-sized bag from Strida for storing & toting your bike. )
My Strida has no greasy chain (it's some kind of space age Kevlar or something), so handling the bike doesn't get you (or your clothes or car) exceptionally dirty.

The center of gravity on the Strida is a bit different than a traditional bike. But after an hour or two of riding, you adjust as you would to any new bicycle.

The latest version of Strida has two price levels: Strida 3.2 (starting at $499 USD) and Strida 5.0 (starting at $799). The Strida comes in 12 different colors / finishes -- depending on model. I "tricked-out" my Strida with a saddle bag, some lights & a bell which makes it safer for city riding.

I bought my Strida about 4 years ago and it's still working fine (although I admit I don't ride it as much as I'd like to.) See the web site for videos on its folding action and for more specs and photos...

The Strida comes in basically one size. (So very tall or short persons might not find the Strida comfortable to ride. Strida is not a bike for smaller children. ) It works best for persons over 5 feet tall and under 6'-3", less than 230 lbs.

But, if you live in an urban area & don't want to lose your parking space because you need to run out to get a newspaper, or you just need a quick ( green) way to get to the train/bus station, consider getting a Strida. They're a lot of fun and it beats paying $3.40/gallon for gas.
[UPDATE: gas in Chicago is now $4.80/gal for super a mere 8 months later. Read how I cut my gasoline cost by over 32% at practically NO COST, without buying a new car & without driving less. I just changed my driving habits. Read my upcoming post on how I did it. ]

© 2007

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Uber Wind Turbine

From, "UK's Hottest Ethical Lifestyle Magazine" [their words, not mine], comes an Uber Wind Turbine located in Swaffham, Norfolk. The Wind Turbine stands some 219 Feet [67 meters] tall and boasts an observation deck that is open for public access /viewing. According to Ecotricity (the turbines' operating electric company), the Turbine can power about 1000-1500 houses.

Visitors can climb the 300 steps inside the Turbine's structure to get a view of the town and see the MASSIVE 3-ton, 30 meter long Blade span up close. (30 meters ?? Holy Cow!) The Turbine was made in Germany in 1999. Ecotricity has plans to roll out at least 6 more Turbines throughout the UK. Get a load of the hum made by 9 tons of blades spinning by !

You'll need Flip4MVW or Flash to view the movie, or go to who also has posted clips (in various video formats) of this report.

Home owners should note, space allowing, smaller scaled Wind Turbines can be utilized to help power a single family home. Wind Turbines are a good alternative power source (when solar panels are not feasible.) I'll have more info on Wind Power in coming posts-- including info on a Chicago based Wind Turbine company that is making headlines with their innovative technology.

Post your thoughts -- Shanty Minister

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Designing A Green Thumb

Landscaping and the design of outdoor spaces is just as important as designing structures and their interiors.. So, it's always a challenge finding simple solutions to introduce a bit of greenery into busy urban lives. Who doesn't enjoy a lovely garden? Well, these two products are a long way from being the perfect garden, but they provide a good start for the [good] design conscious among us.

From the UK, the self-watering WET_POT for plants (for those who travel a lot or otherwise kill their plants by watering them too
much or too little.) The manufacturer says the special glaze on the outside of the pot allows --through capillary action-- the water in the surrounding reservoir to slowly be used by the plant as needed.. Kinda like nature, I suppose... (Altho' I can see that clear reservoir getting cloudy and yucky if you don't wipe out the water stains regularly..) Pots come in 3 sizes and I think they'll ship to North America. It's cool looking just the same...

And from RephormHaus (Germany), the Steckling Balcony Flower Pot. it straddles the railing for all you urbanites who need a little green on your balcony. The "Steckling" comes in 3 colors and they even have a Trellis prototype that makes for vertical climbing greenery. At least the pots won't be swept off the balcony by a gust of wind. Sweeeet!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Designed to Love

Sometimes the great abundance of bad design and poor taste can give fans of [good] design the blues. With the pedestrian lakefront housing designs proposed for the Chicago 2016 Olympics, it's easy make the case that poor taste will never go out of style. Then one day, you flip a magazine page and stumble on a beauty -- relieved that some structure or item other than the local Starbucks is NOT the best designed thing in your city or neighborhood. (OK, that might be overstating things, but the beauty of blogging is being bombastic.)

So, from the "Designs I Love" files, I'll be introducing (or jumping on the bandwagon) in presenting some items for creative consideration.

Let's start with the Pedro and Ines Footbridge (November 2006, Rio Mondego) in Coimbra, Portugal. A collaborative design by Cecil Balmond and Antonio Adao da Fonseca. (Thanks to Hugo for the pics.. Check out his site at Flicker.)

Sunday, March 04, 2007

VM Housing - Orestad, Denmark

I was surfing, , and came along this project near Copenhagen. At first glance, the project looks almost hostile-- like steel and glass shards ready to cut passerbys. (That's probably my urban/public housing background bias talking..) After a more careful investigation, the layout shares little with the large American multi-family layouts from the 1950s. Considerably more attention is given to light, air, views (from the units), unit privacy, and even some personal outdoor space (via balconies) for some of the luckier inhabitants.

VM Housing (Orestad City, 2006) was a collaborative design by PLOT Architects (no longer in business). It's got interesting massing and interior layouts, an exterior that channels abstracted Rietveld, and the requisite modernist glass and steel curtainwall vocabulary. This project is part of a larger master planned multi-use development underway in Orestad over the next 17 or so years.

A brief description from the architects' website:
"The manipulated perimeter block is clearly defined in its four corners but opened intrenally and along the sides. The vis-a-vis with the neighbour is eliminated by pushing the slab in its center, ensuring diagonal views to the vast open fields around...All apartments have a double height space to the north, and wide panoramic views to the south. The logic of the diagonal slab utilized in the V house is broken down in smaller portions for the M house. In this project the typology of the unite d'habitation of Le Corbusier is reinterpreted and improved: the central corridors are short and get light from both ends, like bullet holes penetrating through the building."

PLOT Architects is now divided into two different firms: JDS Architects and BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group)--both of whom have more info and photos on the VM project on their respective websites. A quick Google search yields some photos from the forum group "Skyscraper City - The Big Huge Copenhagen Orestad Thread Part 2", showing the complex under construction. Check those photos out as well.

Looks to be partially pre-fab, huh? Can anyone tell me if this is rental or affordable housing? And what is the cost per unit (monthly in comparable USD) ?

Be sure to also check out Buildings All Over the World Photo Pool. (A Flicker photo blog)

Too bad the high-rise condo boom in downtown Chicago isn't as interesting.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Safer Sawing

I saw this saw a few months ago and knew I had to include at least a brief mention of it. I've built my own share of cabinets and other wood furniture, and "Saw Stop" represents a breakthrough in shop safety. Table saws are notoriously dangerous (even for experienced wood workers), and at least one company has introduced a feature that minimizes one kind of table saw injury.

Enter Saw Stop table saw that automatically stops the saw blade -- preventing the chopping [off] of fingers when it senses something is being cut other than wood. The machine does this in a matter of milli-seconds, virtually leaving the user with little or no injury. Of course, safety comes at a cost-- about $2800 plus accessories to be exact. But woodworking companies might find it well worth the investment versus the cost of insurance claims, worker's comp costs, and productivity slow downs.

Check out the SawStop web site, and the demo videos. (SawStop Demo videos are also posted on YouTube/Google Video.)

WorkBench also has a video which explains how the saw works.

If only pneumatic nailers could be as safe.