Saturday, January 29, 2011

Urban Ecological Design by Dr. Mitchell Joachim

Recently I attended a lecture series entitled Get Smart at Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn. The speaker was Dr. Mitchell Joachim the co-founder of Terreform ONE and Terrefuge. Dr. Joachim has a Phd from MIT and he specializes in ecological design and urbanism.

I thought the lecture was quite interesting and it was totally outside of anything I have heard on the subject. I am far from being a specialist in environmental design, but I could still appreciate the value of the ideas that were presented over the course of the evening.

Dr. Joachim started by talking about “end of the world talks” that we often hear from scientists in order to provoke a change in the way the human population acts on a day to day basis.  The speaker prefers a more positive approach ,one that is a mix of technofix (science will find the solutions) and ecotopic (returning to our early connection with nature).  Dr. Joachim believes we should work on changing the designs around us in order to adapt to our changing world.

Dr. Joachim presented some interesting car prototypes based on the idea that cars should be built around cities rather than cities being built around cars. One of them was a soft car that doesn’t go faster than 30mph and that is so soft that it would not hurt someone getting hit by it.  Then there are the cars that you can stack up.  They don’t take much space because they turn vertical when you get in and out. There were also some house prototypes such as a house made out of trees that are grown into specific shapes.  It would take 7 to 15 years to grow these houses depending on the climate.

Dr. Joachim also talked about the importance of reducing the amount of waste humans produce. According to the presentation, New York City currently produces enough waste in an hour to fill up the Statue of Liberty! An interesting diagram actually showed us the increase in the amount of waste we produce compared to just a few decades ago. It was quite impressive to see the difference between the two eras.

There was also the question of energy consumption.  I knew that New Yorkers had to use less energy than the rest of the United States but it was interesting to finally put a number on it. According to Dr. Joachim, the average American used around 63 MW per year and the average New Yorker only around 42 MW per year.   Mass transit and housing stacked on top of each other (apartments) were some reasons for the efficiency.

Overall, the message was hopeful: there is a way to adapt to our changing environment and there are possibilities for making the way we design our cities more ecological. I learned a lot from the presentation and I would suggest that you attend one of Dr. Joachim’s presentations if you ever get a chance.

His website is:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.

Blog post based on the book Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.

Recently, I decided to read the book Cradle to Cradle. I had encounter the subject before while doing an internship in New York City, but I had never read the entire book, I only looked at the process of obtaining the Cradle to Cradle Certification.

I found the book really interesting, as it challenged my views on sustainability, recycling and environment. First off, lets define Cradle to Cradle: It models nature's industry on nature's process in which materials are viewed as nutrients circulating in healthy safe metabolism. Basically, Cradle to Cradle is an economic, industrial and social framework that seeks to create systems that are not only efficient but essentially waste free.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the discussion about recycling:

Recycling as we know it might not be the best option to save the planet.  Most recycling is actually down-cycling, because it reduce the quality of the material over time. For example, when different types of plastic are recycled together, they are mixed and produce a hybrid of lower quality and the same thing is also true for metal. Also recycling (or down-cycling) can increase the contamination of the biosphere. For example, paint and plastic that are melted into recycled steel contain harmful chemicals. According to the book, paper requires extensive bleaching and other chemical processes to make it blank again for reuse. it also mentions that some people have developed allergies to newspapers, which are often made from recycled paper.

It made me wonder about the actual value of recycling and reconsidered its importance. The book stresses that being less bad is not the solution for our planet and suggests eco-effectiveness is a better approach.

Products can be certified Cradle to Cradle. The certification criteria can be found at: