Sunday, November 30, 2008

Greenbuild 2008 Highlights

Greenbuild 2008 was phenomenal. It exceeded my expectations. It gave me a new sense of direction in architecture and design. I wish it was in Boston every year! Unfortunately it is highly unlikely I will go to the one in Phoenix in 2009. This post is a little late to be labeled as 'news', but that is because I was busy writing this article after my first Greenbuild impressions, and then Thanksgiving weekend dropped from the sky on me. I was wiped after the expo, writing the article, and working another job on Saturday - being seven months pregnant I deserved some rest.

So on to the exclusive highlights, at least those that sparkled in my eyes. First, everyone has to hear the Van Jones speech, you can do so here. If you want to know what it is about and if it is worth your time, click on the article link I mentioned above, I elaborate on his ideas. There are other speeches and lectures worth listening to of course, like the one by Desmond Tutu that you will soon be able to view.

There were hundreds of products and innovations that impressed me at Greenbuild, I will mention a few. I was in awe of the Solaleya dwelling and completely fell in love with it. It deserves its own blog post. That drove me to further research Eco-friendly affordable prefab housing options - I'll go off on that tangent later. BioBased, a soy based spray-foam insulation, was quite interesting too. Finally insulation that is non-toxic. Equally impressive is Energy Peak building integrated photovoltaics that are installed with standing seam roofing to blend in and provide on or off-grid clean power. I personally really enjoyed the Yolo Colorhouse booth of environmentally responsible paint. Out of all the non-profit organizations, one that is definitely worth supporting and exploring is the Biomimicry Institute. Their mission of educating about design inspired by nature has limitless possibilities. At Greenbuild they launched their new website portal - Ask Nature, a fun tool for architects, designers, and kids to investigate the design genius that nature demonstrates.

Visit Greenbuild 2009 in Phoenix, AZ for more sustainable inspiration, training, and hands on investigation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Green Design: recycled homes

One of the ways to be more environmentally sensitive is to recycle what you would normally throw out or what someone else does not need into a new functional object. We do it all the time anyway, but perhaps not on a grand scale. For example, you might reuse a paper bag to cover a textbook or the glass jam jar to make pickled cucumbers. But some people spend all their time and energy just coming up with new ways to use something that would otherwise go to waste.

You might have noticed some Ikea products that are made from 'waste' materials, like the rocking chair out of banana peels for example. How about a whole house made from reused and recycled materials? Pictured above is a house that is made from disposed materials of Boston's Big Dig (yeah, your tax dollars at work). While 4,300 square feet can hardly be considered sustainable, it does demonstrate the possibility of luxury, comfort, and spaciousness, even from reused waste materials. I prefer a more modest approach that creates a living space sized to live modestly but comfortably. An example would be the Eco Label House, made from waste rice husk and recycled polymer. At a modest 500 square feet it is still bigger than a very comfortable one bedroom apartment that I lived in for a year. Great for newlyweds, bachelors, and retires. They also have a 1, 000 square foot design for those of us with kids. This one, unfortunately, is only suitable for warm climates, and they would never ship it outside of southeast Asia.

I am personally a fan of shipping container homes springing up all over Europe, and recently migrating here to the US. These homes can range from very modest prefab to luxury with the involvement of an architect. Just a little creativity and you can design it in a way that nobody would know it is a shipping container, or you can make it evident like in the photo above.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Must Read Book

Have you recently had a conversation with an average twelve or fifteen year old who spends a good part of his day in a public school? Even better, have you heard the conversations of children that age talking to each other? What I have heard from school age children is proof that the public school system is doing what it was designed to do - even if it was not deliberately planned by someone.

I do not usually write book reviews as I spend more time writing than reading. But then I came across this masterpiece type of book that would be wrong not to share. It gave me clear insight into why my years in the American public school were spent educating the teachers instead of getting an education. They were great at giving assignments but most (not all) of them never taught their pupils to think on their own, and when someone dared to have their own ideas and opinions they were caught off guard. I don't mean to blame the teachers, I have had many that are great people but they were just as much victims of a failed education system.

This book is a must read for anyone who has any connection to the public school system (that would be everyone). It is not an expose of some conspiracy theory, neither is it an attempt for education reform. Suddenly things will make a lot of sense, things like why the literacy rate in this country was higher in 1840 than it is now. As John Gatto would say "what is wrong from a human perspective is right from a system perspective". We would not have the workforce this nation needs if children were raised individually (not as a herd) and inspired to think, to invent, to dream. They are now taught to think and be like everyone else, to be productive, and to conform to the image of this decrepit society. I am not surprised that homeschooling is growing at a fast rate in this country, and those who home school are usually adults with higher education who at one point decided to think for themselves. The uneducated don't question the status quo.

Here are a few quotes that might compel you to pick up this book: "The great destructive myth of the twentieth century was the aggressive contention that a child could not grow up correctly in the unique circumstances of his own family. Forced schooling was the principal agency broadcasting this attitude."(chapter 10 summary)

"Spare yourself the anxiety of thinking of this school thing as a conspiracy, even though the project is indeed riddled with petty conspirators. It was and is a fully rational transaction in which all of us play a part. We trade the liberty of our kids and our free will for a secure social order and a very prosperous economy. It’s a bargain in which most of us agree to become as children ourselves, under the same tutelage which holds the young, in exchange for food, entertainment, and safety. The difficulty is that the contract fixes the goal of human life so low that students go mad trying to escape it." (chapter 16 summary)

You can actually read the book online (, but I recommend sparing your eyesight and getting it at the local library.

If you are interested in how this relates to a design blog, I'll give you a hint. The public school system is a threat to sustainability... in other words - if this continues, the sustainability of human intelligence is in great jeopardy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

New LEED worthy materials

If you have worked with the USGBC (US Green Building Council) LEED certification program, you are always subconsciously on the lookout for exterior and interior materials that can get you LEED points. Today I will highlight three interior products that are LEED worthy:

1. SILK DYNASTY WALL COVERING: "Because of this cotton-and-abaca textile's durability, flexibility, and resistance to water damage, it's versatile enough to be used in more than just sunny climes. The pattern is GreenSpec-certified; contributes to LEED credits for its rapidly-renewable, raw, low-emitting, regional material; and comes in six colorways."

Check out for more info.

2. UNICORK FLOORING (pictured above): This great alternative flooring material can score up to 3 LEED points. A blurb about it..."Unicork has exceptional physical properties including acoustical and thermal insulation, durability, resistance to mold and mildew, naturally hypo-allergenic, and easy to clean. Unicork is suitable for use in homes, offices, institutional,
healthcare, and retail environments, including stores, restaurants, and any other
commercial installation." Some of the environmental benefits of using cork are that it is a renewable natural resource, it is a natural thermal insulator, it resists mold and mildew, and is naturally hypoallergenic. What's not to love?

Look at for information.

3. ENVIROSLAB COUNTERTOP (pictured above): These affordable and unique countertop slabs are hand made with 100% recycled glass and porcelain and color-customizable resin in Texas and can be shipped to all fifty states and internationally.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Two Weeks until Build Boston

If you are in any profession related to building, construction, and architecture and you live in the Northeast, attending Build Boston November 18-22 is a must. This event is great for networking, finding the latest in building products and technology, and getting your continuing education credits. Plus, if you registered early, the exhibit hall admission is free - so why not spend a few hours there looking for your new favorite product and mingling with other professionals? There are 350 exhibits, so you'll be sure to find something for your tastes and specifications. Who knows, maybe while you are browsing around for work, you might also discover something for your own home. This is a great place to discover the latest in sustainable products.

What I love most about the Build Boston exhibit is the hands-on experience. All the reps are in one place, they all want your business, and they go out of their way to impress you and lure you. It definitely beats browsing through catalogs where you can't touch and see the product and sometimes have to chase down the reps and play phone tag to get your questions answered. Before you go, be sure to make a list of your 'must see' vendors, although if you are up for it you can spend all three days camping in on the exhibit floor and visit all 350!

Visit for more information.