Monday, October 18, 2010

Silent Evolution on the ocean ground

British artist Jascon de Caires Taylor has put over 400 life size sculptures cast of real people on permanent exhibition at the MUSA (Museo Subacuatico de Arte), a monumental underwater museum near Cancun in Mexico. With this piece the artist aims to become one of the largest artificial underwater attractions in the world.
“Each of the sculptures is made from specialized materials used to promote coral life, with the total installations occupying an area of over 420sq metres of barren sea bed and weighing over 180 tons. The Cancun Marine Park is one of the most visited stretches of water in the world with over 750,000 visitors each year, placing immense pressure on its resources. The location of the sculptures will promote the recovery of the natural reefs, relieving pressure on them by drawing visitors away.”
The artist has also sunk other artworks into the sea: Vicissitude are 26 sculptures that form a circle in 8 meters depth in the West Indies.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fantastic Norway

Fantastic Norway are two young Norwegians traveling around the country in a red caravan, looking for architectural adventures. Already before having finished their initial degree, Håkon Matre Aasarød and Erlend Blakstad Haffner decided to forget about the conventional practice of competing for projects. So they left school to pursue the rather experimental approach of “going out to find your own”.

Wherever they are, their little mobile office is always open for local communities and clients to have their say or bounce off ideas. With the history of the Norwegian cultural heritage firmly engrained, Fantastic Norway tries to bring architecture as well as architects closer to its communal grassroots. Besides the guys love to take on what they call “urban challenges”. And sometimes this proves to be not only difficult but also dangerous.

One of their most memorable stories from the road includes their van getting shot at 20 times in an attempt to stop them having great ideas about revitalizing a run-down place somewhere in the far North. Luckily the intrepid architects never accept no for an answer.

Both started off together in 2003 by working hands on with locals from Brønnøysund to rescue a public square from being sold off to a private developer. Since then the creative pair has completed many more fantastic projects: the visually stunning Siren, a restaurant placed by the Oslo waterfront with a transparent, floating façade or Polar Night, light sculptures warming up abandoned public spaces during Arctic wintertime that brings 24 hours of darkness.

In the following interview for South Africa's One Small Seed Magazine Håkon and Erlend are looking back at six years of living a Fantastic Norway life.

OSS: What is it like to work „off the beaten track“ and what as architectural pioneers has been your most import discovery?
In short, you can easily compare architects with dogs: Most dogs fetch the stick the owner throws and brings it back. On the other hand, you have dogs that run around in the bush to scare birds for the owner to shoot down. Fantastic Norway aims to be hunting dogs.
We’re living in a time of globalization and centralization, and the notion of the unique, is more important than ever. Together with the environmental issues and challenges, this is one of the most important features that architecture can address. Architecture is a wonderful tool to amplify and clarify the unique, the strange and the powerful notion of local identity.

OSS: What was one of the most revealing aspects that you learned about your own country and culture?
Norwegians are scared of the urban and the complex issues of city life. This might be tracked back one hundred years ago when Norway regained its independence. At this point it was imperative to find something that was truly Norwegian. Our cities were viewed as places built by and for elite outsiders, while our dramatic nature was something truly unique and special to our country.
The romantic idea that nature is good and cities are bad was cemented in this period and is still a strong part of Norwegian identity. This is why most of our celebrated architecture, both contemporary and traditional, is in contrast with or inspired by nature, not urban or socially complex problems. This issue makes it difficult to create enthusiasm and positivism towards urban challenges, which is one of the reasons we bought our caravan in the first place.

OSS: A place in the world where you would like to go because you think it has great potential for change?

Often, it’s not the places that are most obvious that needs attention. Every place needs an open debate and socially aware architects, even if it’s a wealthy or poor community. However, we would love to try out the method in areas dominated by a strong centralized government. These are the places that tend to ignore the unique and local, and that truly needs open debates and creative cooperation’s. So North Korea would be an interesting challenge.

OSS: What do you enjoy most about your work?

Our main ambition with running Fantastic Norway is to explore the field of architecture, evolve and have fun at the same time. We don’t want to be frozen in one position, and find great joy in discussing and revaluing our company that is founded on being an open and socially aware practice.

OSS: Did it affect you at all that you didn’t finish your architecture degree or do you think you benefit more from „doing the job“ and being directly involved with people/local communities?

Even though it was great going back to school for a few years and finishing our degrees, I would say we learned more from being “out there”. We believe the contact between “real life” and the student (in most schools) is neglected in favor of the abstract knowledge.
We are currently teaching at Bergen School of Architecture (a workshop called Fantastic Studio), and are focusing a lot on this issue. Many students get depressed and shocked when meeting the realities of professional architecture. Most of them feel they have to change into machines, leaving the interesting debates, ideas and the creative surroundings they had at school. Our ambition is to show the students that there are a vast number of ways of being an architect. We challenge each student define their own ambitions and to see themselves as professionals. Fantastic Studio is about bringing these ambitions to life.

OSS: Can you imagine settling down in an office?

Not in a traditional sense. We always want to keep our work socially aware and closely connected to the clients and societies we work in. However the last years we have focused on self initiating projects (projects we believe are important and interesting) and anchoring them economically and politically.
Running a firm this way naturally means you need to seek and find your own clients, instead of waiting around for the next competition or commission, so to speak. This idea of the caravan, the public architect, is very much part of this way of working, but not necessary in a physical sense. Moving from town to town, and spending months at each place, isn’t compatible with having a personal life in the long run.

Text and interview: Sandra Pfeifer
Published in One Small Seed Magazine, South Africa, Winter 2009

Monday, October 11, 2010

Van without man drives from Italy to China

Parma based VisLab (University of Parma’s Artificial Vision and Intelligent Systems Laboratory) has sent an orange van equipped with sensors, cameras and heavy computer gear on a 13,000 km test drive to China.
The expected amount of collected data, between 50 - 100 terrabytes, will provide breakthrough information to improve and perfect current navigation systems in order to implement them in commercial use.

From IEE Spectrum:
Two vans travel in line. The first uses maps and GPS to drive itself whenever possible, but a human driver is in control most of the time. The second van uses its cameras and navigation system to follow the first; it visually tracks the lead van, plans a trajectory in real time, and generates controls for steering and accelerating or braking. A key piece of software is the one that processes the 180-degree frontal view.
Sponsored by the European Research Council, a group of 20 staff researchers and students travel in a convoy that includes four vans (two pairs of leader-follower vehicles) and six support trucks, which provide a mechanic shop, storage, accommodation, and satellite communications.
The vans are fully electric, and the researchers drive them in the morning, recharge in the afternoon, drive some more, and recharge again overnight.

“When you do things in the lab, it all really works. But when you go out in a real road, with real traffic, real weather, it’s another story,” says Alberto Broggi, VisLab's director and an engineering professor at Parma University.
Even with all the planning, some problems are unpredictable. To cross the Russian border the group was held for 22 hours by custom officers, who took a huge number of pictures of the vehicles and the equipment and demanded a pile of paperwork. During a recent stretch of the trip, the convoy found itself in the middle of the notoriously bad traffic of Moscow. Because of the congestion, a two-lane road had three rows of cars. The van's system insisted in staying on its lane, so the researchers had to turn to manual driving.

The group is now about halfway through their trip, which started in July and will end in late October, at the 2010 World Expo in China.

Follow the orange van live:

Sunday, October 10, 2010


That positive global climate change only comes about by small actions from all of us is demonstrated by citizens from Fiji to Wales, Lithuania to Sri Lanka, New Zealand to Azerbaijan, who are dedicating their Sunday to baking low carb cupcakes, cleaning up beaches, planting trees, folding tetra packs into wallets, switching off heaters and wearing jumpers instead.
There are many more notable and inspiring examples of people getting creative with materials around them, leaving low carbon footprints throughout the year:
Buddhist monks in Thailand's Sisaket province collected thousands of Heineken and local Chang beer bottles to build a magnificent glass shrine. Meanwhile in Novoshakhtinsk, Russia, Olga Queen spent six months collecting 5,000 glass bottles to built her low-cost, ecofriendly dream house.
In Argentina, a family built its home using more than 1200 PET bottles
1300 Tetra Pak cartons. The house also features 140 compact disk cases in its doors and windows, 120 plastic bottles in couches, and another 200 bottles in a bed. "This is not just a project, but a reality," says Alfredo Santa Cruz, who also offers DIY courses using recycled material. Check out his website.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Jack Daniels' secret green streak

Convincing hard nosed country folk clients that love fishing and hunting about sustainability can be a somewhat sensitive issue. Whiskey legend Jack Daniels has proven that old fashioned shrewdness still comes a long way. Offering tours through their distillery, it discreetly sells the "green message" to visitors by gently reminding them of their connection to nature and traditions passed on from grandfather to father to son.

From greenbiz: " excellent example of how to sell sustainability to the consumer segment we call cautious conservatives and skeptics. Here’s what we can all learn from the folks at Jack:
Without the natural, limestone-filtered spring from which the water for the product comes, there would be no Jack Daniels. So they bought up 1,000 acres to make sure they could protect the land around the spring and, thus, protect the quality of the product.

They don’t believe in wasting anything and make their own charcoal through which the product is filtered -- and when it’s time to replace that charcoal, it gets remade into briquettes you can buy in the store to throw a steak over. Same with the mash that ultimately becomes the whiskey. If there’s a quality control issue, they scoop it up and sell it to a bunch of local farmers who, in turn, feed it to some very happy cows and pigs.

At the end of the tour you can purchase some of the high end stuff in a special bottle -- and a portion of your purchase will go directly to fund the conservation efforts of Ducks Unlimited. Which means by buying Jack Daniels, Cautious Conservatives can help make sure there are plenty of duck hunting trips in their future."

Who would not get that message?

Monday, October 4, 2010

David Graas - designing better garbage is not an old hat

How to best reduce and avoid waste has been discussed in some environmentally conscious countries already in the late 80s. I remember teachers in primary school urging to leave bulky boxes and the mass of plastic in the supermarkets to help put pressure on the retailers who should put pressure on to the producers to rethink materials used for packaging. Although the idea didn't catch on, it was worth a try.
Designer David Graas for example is all for making the package into the product. Below some interesting thoughts on the psychology of package design and our personal amortization system of products we buy.

"What do most of you do to the shoe boxes that you ‘bought’ together with your shoe purchases? Do you keep them or throw them away? For me, I generally keep them. I will use them to store my old shoes. In my shoe closest rests many shoe boxes with shoes that I no longer wear. The purpose of their existence now is no longer to provide comfort to my feet but to collect dust."

Economist Richard Thaler suggests:

“The more expensive they were, the more often you’ll try to wear them. Eventually, you’ll stop wearing them, but you won’t get rid of them. And the more you paid for them, the longer they’ll sit in the back of your closet. At some point, after the shoes have been fully ‘depreciated’ psychologically, you will finally throw them away.”

This is what Mr. Thaler calls “sunk cost”.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Laurie Anderson's Delusion

It was a real treat to finally see Laurie Anderson, live at the BAM with her latest piece Delusion.
Watching from a (far away) gallery seat she appeared like she had performed 'O Superman' or 'Mach 20' only yesterday. As if time in her personal cosmos never was of any relevance. The same (trademark) short hair, tie, smooth, cat-like movements, her familiar second personality - the sarcastic-electronic narration voice, her engagement with current affairs and human issues.
Delusion is an acoustic and poetic tale presented in short chapters. Sounds collected in Tibet, Arabic strings, a violin and a saxophone player behind two screens frame the minimal stage set. The audience appreciating the ‘built in’ humor featured in her keyboard-monologues that genuinely question why idioms like ‘get off my back’ have never been reversed into ‘get off my front’...or why nobody ever complains that one’s front hurts at all.
Sitting on a sofa covered in meditative visuals (reminiscent of 1980s stage use) Anderson intimately discusses the ownership of the moon, how the mother’s maiden name has become a code word used to log into your online banking; and catches those off guard who did not expect her show a somewhat difficult form of entertainment, in the most positive sense.
Delusion carried a note of a quiet retrospective of the artist’s personal live when telling about the familiarity of Iceland, exploring her Irish and Swedish roots in a kind of fairy tale. Not matter if tale or not, Laurie Anderson has long ago created and kept her superlative artistic truth.
Laurie Anderson at 2010 Next Wave Festival