Category Archives: sustainable architecture

Ghost Town Ecoaldeas

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91pBFyLWIx4&[/youtube]

It’s a utopian fantasy- discover a ghost town and rebuild it in line with your ideals-, but in Spain where there are nearly 3000 abandoned villages (most dating back to the Middle Ages), some big dreamers have spent the past 3 decades doing just that.

There are now a few dozen “ecoaldeas” – ecovillages – in Spain, most build from the ashes of former Medieval towns. One of the first towns to be rediscovered was a tiny hamlet in the mountains of northern Navarra.

It was rediscovered in 1980 by a group of people living nearby who had lost their goats and “when they found their goats, they found Lakabe”, explains Mauge Cañada, one of the early pioneers in the repopulation of the town.

The new inhabitants were all urbanites with no knowledge of country life so no one expected them to stay long. At first, the homes weren’t habitable so they lived 14 in a large room. Slowly they began to rebuild the homes and the gardens.

When they first began to rebuild, there was no road up to the town so horses were used to carry construction materials up the mountain. There was no electricity either so they lived with candles and oil lamps.

After a few years, they erected a windmill by hand, carrying the iron structure up the hill themselves. “Even though it seems tough and in some ways it was, but you realize you’re not as limited as you think,” says Mauge. “There are a lot of things people think they can’t do without a lot of money and there’s never been money here.”

In the early years, they generated income by selling some of their harvest and working odd jobs like using their newfound construction experience to rebuild roofs outside town. Later they rebuilt the village bakery and sold bread to the outside world.

Their organic sourdough breads now sell so well that today they can get by without looking for work outside town, but it helps that they keep their costs at a minimum as a way of life. “There’s an austerity that’s part of the desire of people who come here,” explains Mauge. “There’s not a desire for consumption to consume. We try to live with what there is.”

Today, the town generates all its own energy with the windmill, solar panels and a water turbine. It also has a wait list of people who’d like to move in, but Mauge says the answer is not for people to join what they have created, but to try to emulate them somewhere else.

“If you set your mind to it and there’s a group of people who want to do it, physically they can do it, economically they can do it. What right now is more difficult is being willing to suffer hardship or difficulties or… these days people have a lot of trouble living in situations of shortage or what is seen as shortage but it isn’t.” (Source)

The East African Solar Entrepreneurs

A couple hours drive on a dusty road outside of the southern town of Masaka, Uganda, you’ll find Musubiro Village. Miles from the closest electricity grid, there is little hope of government power coming this way anytime soon.

In Musubiro, like so many other villages across Africa, the main source of light is kerosene- which is not only expensive, but has a myriad of negative health side affects, and the risk that always comes when you mix open flames and straw thatched roof dwellings. Typically, the day’s chores are done, children’s studying is over, and small shops are closed when the sun goes down at 7:30 p.m.

Not anymore.

Barefoot Power, a for-profit social enterprise operating across East Africa, has built a network of “Solar Entrepreneurs” who are responsible for bringing solar lighting to towns and villages like Musubiro all across Uganda. Their products, ranging from the extremely popular “Firefly Mobile”, a small 1.5 watt panel with 12 small LED lights and a phone charger, or their full “Village Kits” that can provide lighting to an entire house, are making solar power affordable and accessible to those at the base of the economic pyramid. The small solar panels are portable and once charged, act like a battery.

Barefoot Power currently has 160 Solar Entrepreneurs operating all over Uganda, and an extensive distribution network which makes its products available to customers across Kenya, Tanzania, India, and several other parts of the world. (Source)

DIY : Build an Earthship

Cultivated in the 70s, earthships are made of tires, cans, bottles and adobe and are a real option for people in developing nations looking to build a very cheap home that can catch rain water. Check out Dan Richfield’s site as he blogs through the build into October 2011- and if you want to head to Taos, New Mexico, he’s looking for volunteers!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMavGzWfjjI[/youtube]

Sky Farms – Aeroponics

When life is disrupted and the food supply chain is broken, people trapped in Manhattan must resort to farming on their roofs. Sky gardens become the norm, and, are a major source of food for the remaining citizens.

This is the scenario presented in Brian Wood’s DMZ, a comic book based in a war-torn alternate version of the United States. Of course, we all have heard of the possible benefits of rooftop gardening: how it could revolutionize the world’s food supply because people would start becoming aware of where their food comes from; how it could help erase global warming by reducing embedded carbon emissions amongst other claims. It is in that regard, that I have included the excerpt below, about Singapore’s sky garden’s.


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I first heard about this project on the discovery channel and went on to do some research on it by myself. The thing that most interests me is the introduction of the idea of ‘aeroponics’ (as pictured above) which basically entails growing plants in thin air, soil-less, and spraying them periodically with the minerals, nutrients, and water they need. Aeroponics solves several problems facing sky farming, including the embedded energy use of cooling the water in hydroponic systems. I know this is old (2005) and may have developed further by now, but it’s still hella interesting. Check it:

The Ngee Ann findings and the Changi Hospital example highlight the great need for a similar economic study of the potential of another Singaporean innovation – the “sky farm” concept, which would blend in well with both the food-producing potential of Singapore’s rooftop spaces, plus the potential of “vertical farming” down the sunlit faces of apartment buildings.

Professor Lee Sing Kong, Dean, Graduate Programmes and Research, National Institute of Education, of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, has been advocating “sky farms” that use the aeroponic technology so well pioneered by Singapore’s AeroGreen Technology Pte Ltd., initiated by the Sime Derby company.

Aeroponics is where a hydroponic nutrient solution is sprayed onto plant roots dangling in light-proof boxes. It allows temperate-climate fresh vegetables to be produced economically in tropical and sub-tropical climates.

Professor Lee’s good idea is sunlit bridges between high-rise apartment buildings or even office towers. They could be retro-fitted as single or double units at first or second-floor levels, or part of a tier of vertical structures servicing the food (and organic waste management needs) of multiple stories.

.::Read the story at -> Green Roofs

My real question is this: how will the absorption of polluted air affect these plants. The discovery channel made a point of showing us crisp and leafy green lettuce the reportedly tastes delicious – but is it safe? I haven’t found an answer. Drop a comment if you know anything about this.

2008 Dwell Wacom Live Ecodesign Challenge

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On Friday, June 6th [yeah, we slept - my fault] Dwell held the 2008 Dwell Wacom Live Ecodesign Challenge – challenging 8 rendering artists to create renderings of sustainable + modular room designs. Yes, LIVE – the artists competed in two 45 minute rounds as spectators watched their progress on large displays positioned throughout the event space. The designs were required to adhere to the Dwell design principals: relying on green technologies for energy efficiencies, featuring plenty of natural light and color, restricting building costs to under $300K and limiting total square footage to 3,000 sq ft.

The judges selected the winner who ranked the highest for both rounds based on aesthetics, light, flow, eco-friend efficiency, layout and cost parameters: Olek Novak-Zemplinski.

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Olek’s entry was, for starters, siiick [look at these images, done in two 45 minute session? My ninjas, please], and met the Dwell area + budget requirements – but also utelized the following sustainable features:

Passive Lo-Tech Energy Saving Solutions:
* a wind catcher for ventilation and cooling
* greenery on walls for better insulation

Lifestyle:
* living spaces on 2nd floor (more light)
* bedrooms on the 1st floor
* home office (2nd floor)
* greenhouse integrated into the roof and attic
* a goat (lives here)

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Here’s some more info on the competition, and the contestants + judges.

GreenPix Zero Energy Media Wall

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Installed on the Xicui entertainment complex in Beijing [near the site of the 2008 Olympic Games], GreenPix is a sustainable LED media display applied to the glass curtain wall. with integrated photovoltaic cells. The largest color LED display in the world, GreenPix will also incorporate the photovoltaic system integrated into a glass curtain wall system in China. The intention is for the building to ‘mirror a day’s climatic cycle’, harvesting energy from the sun to power the LED display after dark.

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Designed by Simone Giostra & Partners Architects along with the ninja masters over at Arup, the LED media wall will “provide the city of Beijing with its first venue dedicated to digital media art, while offering the most radical example of sustainable technology applied to an entire building’s envelope to date” says Giostra. The building opens to the public in June of 2008, marked by special video installations and performances by a number of different artists. Here’s some additional info:

GreenPix is a large-scale display comprising of 2,292 color (RGB) LED’s light points comparable to a 24,000 sq. ft. (2.200 m2) monitor screen for dynamic content display. The very large scale and the characteristic low resolution of the screen enhances the abstract visual qualities of the medium, providing an art-specific communication form in contrast to commercial applications of high resolution screens in conventional media façades.

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All this information + seriousness aside – is this thing actually green / sustainable? I mean, it’s siiick, sure – you’ve got to love beautiful displays of modern technology, and the integration of digital media in architecture. But, does using all that PV to power a giant LED display really make the project green or is it just a wash? Just a thought…