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July 21, 2006

The New Home & Garden


An Inconvenient Truth, the sad and inspiring documentary of Al Gore's battle to explain the links between human behavior and a devastating global impact, begs viewers to rehab their thinking and make small daily changes that would help us reduce the amount of CO2 we send into the atmosphere.

MIT architect Mitchell Joachim of the Media Lab's Smart Cities group and his colleagues, environmental engineer Lara Greden, SM '01, PhD '05, and architect Javier Arbona-Homar, SM '04, have given Gore's audience a new goal, far beyond the standard of leaving the car at home whenever possible. They've conceived of a living home.

It's a home made from trees. Trunks trained and woven together to create a skeleton would be covered with thick vines and made stable with clay and additional plants. The home has natural systems for drainage, water and heating and cooling.

This is still in the "someday" phase.

But as Tracy Staedter reports in MIT's Technology Review__

For now, Joachim concentrates on a current project called MATscape, a house project in California incorporating about half recycled materials and half living materials, such as grasses, plants, and soil. But Joachim and his team hope to plan a Fab Tree Hab community someday, creating homes that don't interrupt the surrounding ecosystem but become integrated with it. "Design intervention only guides the growth," he says. "Nature -- life -- does the rest."

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July 20, 2006

Glass Kitchen Cabinets in Periwinkle

Scavolini_crystalperiwinkleSome time ago we did a story on distinctly Italian design -- and Scavolini exudes that as it constantly explores new materials and hues, in this case, glass cabinetry frosted in periwinkle. The combination is stunning and sophisticated. It is not that overused colonial blue that you see in every house in the Northeast, or an insipid baby blue -- but a true periwinkle. A pale purply-blue that is cool yet exciting. My hand automatically reached out to feel the coolness of the glass, my eyes peering through it to take in the color. It was a funny reaction given my personal preferance for warm shades, but there was something about being surrounded by periwinkle that made me feel right at home.

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July 19, 2006

REAL Smart Washers

Dryer Not Turned On
Rinse Cycle Complete

In a test with 3 Atlanta families who have at least 2 kids and 2 computers, Whirlpool Corp. has begun looking for ways for you to monitor and control appliances from your computers, cell phones & televisions.

A recent demo of the pilot project, called "Laundry Time," has messages from a specially equipped front-loading washer popping up in real time on a TV screen in a different room. At the press of a button on a cell phone, families participating in the test can extend a drying cycle and perform other laundry tasks while running errands.

I'm not sure what other applications are available when loading a washer and turning it on is rather binary. The idea that when it is complete you can start barking out orders to the family through the TV is somewhat appealing however. My version of reality would be that my text message would appear on all monitors and tv screens until a DONE box is filled in with a unique user id so the affirming party could be held accountable. Ah, that would be progress.


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July 18, 2006

Huge Fridge Cools Modern Kitchens


For big families or just big appetites, the new GE Monogram refrigerator takes up more space, and delivers more storage, in America's ever expanding kitchens.

Design shows and home magazines tout small space living as a great way to save energy, purchase unique designs with maximum functionality, and emerge with the truest expression of personal style, hopefully while using some sustainable products along the way. Meanwhile, GE chases McMansion consumers for whom bigger is always better.

We can't argue with the convenience of being able to fit the inventory of the average corner store into a kitchen. And the space created by enormous great room/kitchen combos can only be filled with so many cabinets. Plus, GE's double Monogram fridge, a 72" unit that's essentially two refrigerators, side by side, will probably use less energy than two separate fridges would. (It's not uncommon for Americans to buy a new refrigerator but keep the old one in a basement or garage.) With the double sized Monogram, GE invites consumers to ditch those energy inefficient models, stocked with beer and frozen foods, and bring our excess to a room with more access.

The GE Monogram in 36” and 72” models will retail for between $6,799-$6,999 and $13,999-$14,499 respectively and will be available in August 2006.

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July 17, 2006

Architecture & War & Creating New Conflicts


The open roof of Architect Bernard Khoury's nightclub in Beirut opened to the beautiful night skyline only a few months ago in this photo by Alfred Seiland for The New York Times.

It is ironic and poignant to re-read NY Times Architecture Critic's Nicolai Ouroussoff's tour through Lebanon with native architect Bernard Khoury. Through Ouroussoff's words, and Khoury's controversial architecture, we learn that there is as much a schism in how to rebuild an area after war as there is in the tensions leading up to it. It is hard not to think of our own World Trade Center -- those who want to sanitize the site, and others, like Khoury, who believe that scars, like wrinkles, were earned and are part of the soul of the culture.

In Khoury's Beirut there are tensions on how to deal with the public and private spaces, of male and female relationships, of Westerners versus Arabs, of upper class to the common man, of thousands of years of history to the 21st Century.

It is probably, for the most part, a moot point now. The multi-media presentation published in May 2006 of the Sunday Magazine may very well be all that is left of the last incarnation of Lebanon. 

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Mid-Century Made Modern



Renovation of Harvard College's Woodberry Poetry Room designed by Finnish master of modern and bentwood guru Alvar Aalto is creating controversy between the school and preservationists, who want the room kept as Aalto intended.

While any room used by students and scholars since 1949 would show wear in scratched table tops, damaged furniture legs and the like, the 1,030-square-foot study sanctum's once state-of-the-art audio hubs, record players that up to eight people could listen to at once, are woefully out of date to the 21st century scholar. And on June 9 the school set out to update and, it says, renovate the room to meet the needs of the modern student.


But the differences between renovation and restoration create a gap wide enough to throw in all the bentwood chairs in the original interior and replace them with Aeron chairs. Preservationists, who count the Woodberry room as one of just four existing interiors Aalto completed in the US, want to see the gap shortened and the Woodberry room restored to its original look.

They prefer that the school replace Aalto's damaged pieces with modern versions still in production, that they restore where ever possible and avoid creating a look that resonates as just a ghost of Aalto's original work.

The College faces more concerns, though, than the look of the room, and wants it to function in the manner intended by the gift of George Edward Woodberry, which is as a place created for reading and listening to contemporary poetry. Harvard wants modern computers and digital recordings to co-exist with its collection of vinyl recordings. The College argues that it would be doing a disservice to students and the original intention of the donor if it were to ignore advancements in technology made in the 50 plus years since Aalto designed the room. Harvard wants to recreate the room in the "spirit" of Aalto's design and says leaving it as is would amount to turning it into a museum piece frozen in time, something any library should avoid.

The school plans to refinish a large original Aalto study table and create two more by repurposing two units currently holding record players. It will rewire, clean and re-hang most of the existing lighting, send some lighting and furniture pieces to its Busch-Reisinger Museum, and sell some remaining items at auction.

Arguments continue as the renovation continues on pace to end in September as school resumes. But is Harvard sacrificing an important piece of Modern history, or simply giving its students the space they deserve to work in? We obviously can’t say with any real certainty what Aalto would want, but judging from his simple solutions and functional approach, it seems that a room that works for its intended use would top the lists of his concerns.

Images courtesy of Harvard College Library.

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July 14, 2006

Modern Convenience that Saves Time/Water

Let me preface this post with: I love to cook.Pascal_stainless_1

When I saw the new Pascal electronic faucet by Brizo, product manager Bob Rodenbeck was touting the electronic sensors. My experience with electronic faucet sensors had been limited to public washrooms where i frantically wave my hands begging for water to appear. Once running they shut off too quickly, and I have to seemingly pretend I left the basin before I can get the faucet to dein more.

So I met Brizo's declaration that this new faucet would be a boon to cooks -- with a healthy dose of skepticism. One would it work? And two, why would I need it?

To the first, Brizo uses a broader sensor -- the eye is actually in the spigot so any motion that crosses the stream path triggers it. I can attest that I was able to control it with every wave - and calibrate and set the water to the desired temp.

But it was while watching Indianapoiis Chef Chris Liechti prepare fresh vegetables and cheese dishes, that it hit me how often I need running water -- and how I leave it running for convenience to clean produce, peel eggs or trim meat. Instead Chef Liechti waved the utensil, water flowed, knife cleaned and water turned itself off. Now that's a modern convenience -- saving time and natural resources.

The sleek lined Pascal faucet is available throughout North America in stainless or polished chrome. Brizo intends to have more styles available shortly.

Hopefully someone from those public washrooms will read how faucets should work.

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For aquarium hobbyists and open water swimmers, algae is best avoided. But lets not get that confused with Algue.

ModerncurtainsBrainchild of the brothers Bouroullec for the Vitra Design Museum, Algue pieces snap together at the owner’s whim to create screens, curtains, wall art or other algae inspired designs. Sets are available in red, green, black or white in 6 - 50 pieces and range in price from about $30- $200, meaning one could conceivably spend quite a bit to truly capture the underwater experience on terra firma.

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July 13, 2006

Eva Solo Grabs Top Honors from IDEA


The Industrial Design Excellence Awards, sponsored by BusinessWeek gave Eva Solo a Gold Award for their Tea-Maker. A totally self contained tea making cup, the Tea-maker gives tea drinkers an attractive, practical upgrade from the standard steeping methods. The Tea-maker with Tumblers retail for about $99.

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July 11, 2006

Hang it All: Beyond the Eames Coat Rack

Not that I’m ready for winter, but once summer ends, jackets, hats and mittens will be piled high at my front door. So in the interest of being proactive, I'm doing a little seasonal shopping now, when shipping later suits me fine and coat racks just might be on sale.

The Symbol Coat rack from DesuDesign, $395 in Color as shown.


The idea for this came from a domestic squabble about the unkempt look of ordinary coat racks and wall hooks. A strip of MDF with brightly painted steel hooks that pull out when needed, this coat rack is pure art, whether or not it's put to work.

Kotree_2The Kotree by Material Furniture, $450 in four colors.
With tall branches for long coats, a low branch for handbags or umbrellas and a shelf for those always missing keys, wallets and cellphones, this coat rack seems to have it all. And the design is so obvious—plus, it ships flat packed, is easily assembled and made from an eco-friendly SCS-certified wood product called Medite II without added formaldehyde and 100% recovered and recycled wood fiber.

Burtscher and Bertollini’s Twist Coatrack, $278.
A twisted double helix shape holds outerwear in sculptural style. The minimal design allows only what is necessary to make the form function. Note the stabilizing wide base and steel center connector that make this airy design stay strong.

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