Thursday, November 23


I've been occupied with non-blog activities and I'm facing more of the same. In lieu of a new post of my own, I thought I'd offer some links to other sites I like.

5th Avenue in Brooklyn at 10th Street, 1909. From Forgotten NY.

Forgotten NY
is the first (and usually only) place I go to answer my questions about the history of New York's physical environment. The site is, in fact, much of my inspiration for starting the Built Environment Blog in the first place. Not only is the content brilliant, but the balance of imagery and prose is almost perfect. Also, the new Forgotten NY book by Kevin Walsh looks like the best thing ever.

Photo by Mitch Epstein from Pruned.

Pruned is probably my favorite blog. (Polis and Bird to the North are great too.) The guy that runs this site has a pretty amazing perspective on the world; he's changed my definition of what a landscape is and my understanding of how people shape it. Be careful going to this site, it's possible to get lost there for hours.

'Painted Ladies' in San Francisco from Witold Rybczynski's column on Slate.

I first encountered Rybczynski's work in my freshman year of college when I had to read City Life for an introductory Urban Studies course. It won the bronze for my favorite book of the class, losing only to The Death and Life of Great American Cities and The Social Life of Small of Urban Spaces. Several years passed before I discovered Rybczynski wrote for Slate -- now it's hard to endure the weeks between each post.

The Rolling Bridge by Thomas Heatherwick Studios.

A versatile designer who reminds me of Charles and Ray Eames, Thomas Heatherwick is at the start of what is hopefully a long and prolific career. Equally skilled in sculpture, design, and architecture, Heatherwick's work is a study in clever elegance. I first encountered his work watching a TV special that his discussed rolling bridge in London. My favorite project of his now is probably the Blue Carpet, which was built with the support of England's Commissions North (which almost made this list in its own right.)

Screen shot from Tekkon Kinkreet from PingMag.

PingMag is a Japanese design zine. I have an infatuation with Asian design and these guys seems to have their finger on the pulse of it. Even if I'm not riveted by the topic of every piece they publish, the design and writing is consistently high quality.

Wednesday, November 15

contain yourself

Container shipping is awesome. The containers themselves look like colorful building blocks, but they're hardly playthings. Without them, globalization would not exist as we know it today.

Photo by MarielleDeLosAngeles

In 1956, the first container ship set sail from Newark for Houston with 58 standard inter-modal containers. Today, 90% of the world's manufactured cargo is carried in containers -- in 2005 18 million containers were carried on the world's ships, trucks and trains.

Hong Kong2.06_58.JPGKowloon Container Port in Hong Kong, China

Unlike the infamous urban docks of the 1800's, the container ports of the 21st century are places of precision. The giraffe-like gantry cranes that ring every container port hoist containers directly onto trucks, trains, and shuttles. The entire process is conducted without goods ever leaving the containers and cargo is loaded and unloaded at an unprecedented pace.

IMG_5146bPort of Oakland from BART

Perhaps due to the specificity of their design, container ports are particularly susceptible to disasters. In 1995, the Great Hanshin earthquake hit Kobe Japan, one of the world's busiest container ports.

The earthquake turned reclaimed land around the city's waterfront to mush: retaining walls tilted towards the sea and the ground level dropped. Almost all of Kobe's 77 gantry cranes were rendered inoperable, their outer legs perched on the retaining walls and their inner legs sinking into the fill.

kobecranes1995Kobe, Japan (1995)

Container ports are also a US national security vulnerability. Their whole advantage, however, lies in operating at an efficiency that even the smoothest bureaucracy would have trouble keeping up with.

Earlier this year, Congress indirectly prevented a Dubai-based company from operating U.S. container ports. This jingoistic maneuver, which provided a false sense of security but little else, highlights the challenges of creating effective security policies for container ports.

Port Elizabeth, New Jersey

One of the best ideas in containers is just that. In 2001, Australian architect Sean Godsell came up with the Future Shack, a temporary housing unit recycled from an old cargo container. Self contained, easily transportable, and assembled in less than 24 hours, it has potential to help nations deal with disasters that displace large populations -- disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

Godsell has also designed a Bus Shelter House where the homeless can spend a night in comfort.

On the one hand, designing with containers seems to somehow miss the point. Containers are just part of a system -- it is the design of the system that can change the world. On the other hand, maybe container-based designs could lead to the greater globalization of ideas, not just products.