Friday, September 30, 2011

Boo Bag--You've Been Booed!

The air is cool, the season fall,
Soon Halloween will come to all.

Ghosts and goblins, spooks galore...
Tricky witches at your door.

The spooks are after things to do,
In fact a spook brought this "Boo" to you!

The excitement comes when friends like you,
Copy this note and make it two.

We'll all have smiles upon our faces,
No one will know who "BOO"ed who's places!

Just two short days to work your spell,
Keep it secret, hide it well.

Please join the fun, the seasons here .
Just spread these "BOO's" and Halloween cheer.

It's a tradition at my school to give anonymous bags of goodies and trinkets to one another in the month of October. Once you receive yours you make up one of your own and pass it on to some who hasn't gotten one yet. A ghost appears on your mailbox when you get yours so you know who still needs one. Personally, I think it's a lot of fun. And SOOOO...I've already assembled mine!

Woo Woo, someone's gonna get Booed!

U.S. Department of Energy's 5th Bi-Annual Solar Decathlon

Today I spent the morning visiting the 5th Solar Decathlon sponsored by the United States Energy Department. It allows teams from Universities to compete in designing and building an energy efficient, ecologically friendly home. It's a two year long vetting process, and only a handful of all the teams that apply get accepted. This year there were 19 entries that are assembled like a little village from the future on National Mall parkspace. This year that was not on the Mall proper but in a large open area off of Ohio Avenue near the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Park.

Join me on my tour. The map below shows the layout and I have marked my trek along it. I managed to visit 14 of the 19 models. I missed 4 and Team Belgium's entry was closed to the public for some reason.

As you can see, I entered the exhibition from the south. Even though I arrived at the time it opened, I ended up having to park nearly a mile away and walk in (my doctor would be happy!). My path was both directive and random. I naturally moved north through the exhibits, but I didn't pay any attention to which group built which home or gave anythought about wanting to see anyone in particular based on its origins. I did make some judgments based on aethetics as I went along.

But the first place was just because it seemed to be the first. It was University of Ohio's "enCORE" house. Most of the groups provided visitors with some sort of tchochke or brouchure or something. This one gave you a game card with word jumbles that you could figure out as you went through the house. It also involved paper punches to keep track of your score--clever and child-centered. The design was simple and straightforward with an exterior that I found to be ugly. An experience that took 4 minutes to have after a 15 minute line wait.

To help keep the peace in line, informative placards explaining various details about the home were mounted off of the hand railing all along the entrance. In fact, this was the case for all of the homes.

My second model was the result of the first of many joint venture homes. This one by a team made up of students from The Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology. Of all the entries from the United States, it was the only entry from a team based west of the Mississippi River. And it may just be that California sensibility, but I thought it was very ugly and very weird to be inside. It felt more like a tree house or a space station than a home.

The exterior was covered in a quilted vinal blanked stuffed with recycled blue jeans (I'm neither high or halucinating here) And as all of the homes are filled with members of the various teams who are overly eager to chat with you about every possible concept behind their design and function, this "cube" was not different. What was different were the personas of the students: I swear barefoot and bathing suit clad they all looked like they'd rather be surfing than stuck here in their little odd home. My wait this time was about 20 minutes, and that's when I added wait time to aesthetics in making future choices along my Solar Decathlon 2011 experience.

I gave a glance at the City College of New York's entry; the exterior was nothing great and the line was way too long.

Next stop Team Massachusetts (Massachusetts College of Art and Design & the University of Massachusetts @ Lowell).

This was the first of the models to adopt a more traditional design aesthetic for its exterior. It was intended to look like a streamline Cap Code house.

The other thing that is pretty true for all of the homes displayed, they are small! They basically come with a kitchen area, a dining area, a living area, a bathroom and one or two sleeping areas. Sometimes there are walls between the areas and sometimes not. The unique thing about this model was that the walls were hung and could be slid to create more space for living or dining when necessary. I saw mobile walls in the Chinese and Tidewater Virginia models, too. It's a noteworthy amenity given the lack of size.

I next wanted to go to the Belgian model (big flag indetifying it in the crowd), but inexplicably it was closed. I then glanced at its neighbor and the line for that model was the longest one I'd seen thus far. SOOO, I crossed the street and hit the remaining three models on this the second block.

The first of these was designed by the University of Illinois @ Urbana-Champaign, and although adequate, it didn't really come off as anything special.

The second was Team China's entry from Tongji University. This one was the first one that I really liked.

I like the aestethic. I loved the use of containers. I could really see creating a community around this model. I could see using it to create living spaces for people doing research in remote areas. It just spoke to me and inspired me.

Next was Team Canada from the University of Calgary.

This was the coziest home off all. While most carried a sense of openness even seamlessness with the outside, this one felt like a cave. Like a warm, safe, fantastic place to be in the depths of winter. All it needed to be perfect was a fireplace!

The ceilings were lined with Native American motif painted fire-retardant canvis-like material. The effect was not only to give the inhabitant a cavish sense, but a teepee sense, too. The teepee was that metaphor for the design: function, sustainability, zero carbon footprint. I really liked this one, too.

I'm on to the next "street" and a visit to the model designed by the University of Tennessee. I did this for my friend Joey. It was a home in the mode of the University of Illinois entry. It was completely adequate, nothing special. The tchochke was a pin on button, and that was something special! I'm a cheap date.

The next model was the work of another New York City based Team. This time it was a collaboration between Parsons The New School for Design & Stevens Institute of Technology. I really like Parsons. I really wanted to be impressed. I really wasn't.

The interior was small. The foyer was without purpose--a seemingly wasted space. There was no bedroom, only a "shelf" unless you added a second floor which they did not. Did I mention how disappointed I was with this model? I also encountered a tour group--there were many around. This one consisted of a teacher and 5 pupils.

When I first entered the home, I lingered in the entrance wanting to ask the student designer there what the function of the space was, but a kid jumped in and chatted him up regarding the energy efficiency of the appliance contained in the closets that lined the space. So I turned as entered the next space. As I was ready to leave, the kid's teacher saw him and scolded him without discretion for leaving the perceived safety of the "group" and her watch. Her group blythely blocked the exit, so I had to verbally and physically pardon myself through them.

The last house on this side of the street was designed by the Florida International Unversity. I really liked it for its use of space and flow.

Crossing the street, I entered the model designed by Appalachian State University. I also encountered the most enthusiastic docent on the property. As a crept my way up the entrance ramp, I found myself part of a collection of visitors that included the afore mentioned group of children. After the presentation on the use of tree bark as an exterior panelling, the student asked for questions and I asked what was the tree species that the bark was taken from. My question was lost in a sea of questions and I chose not to pursue it. When the line moved forward, so did I. In the first room, the same kid from the foyer of the Parsons model caught my attention and said, "It was Tulip Popular wood... on the exterior." My face lite up and I replied as generously as I could image sounding, "Thank you."

From there I managed to visit 4 more models. Nearly 3 hours had passed, and I was getting tired. And yet, the last 3 were among the best.

Team Tidewater Virginia (a collaboration between Hampton University & Old Dominion University) was a really well planned and well constructed home. The exterior aesthetics were attractive and the interiors no less well designed.

Team Florida was another model that I could totally see myself living in.

And the last model I visited was Team New Jersey's entrant, a collaboration between Rutgers University, The State University of New Jersey, & New Jersey Institute of Technology. As concrete was their medium, it had to be the heaviest home in the exhibition. And it really reminded me of work done by the French architect Le Corbusier.

This is an amazing exhibition and you get lots of stuff!

It is a competition: and Here's My Top 5:

#1) Team China, Tongji University
#2) Team Florida, University of South Florida, Florida State University, University of Central Florida & University of Florida
#3) Team Canada, University of Calagary
#4) Team Florida Int'l, Florida International University
#5) (TIE) Team Tidewater Virginia, Hampton University & Old Dominion University AND Team New Jersey, Rutgers University & New Jersey Institute of Technology

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Washington Memorial Repairs

While on the Mall to visit the Solar Decathlon today, I happened to catch a glimpse of the brave engineers who are presently repelling down the sides of the Washington Monument in search of earthquake damage. Cool pic, eh?

Bambi's Father

After years of living with Does and in season Fawns, I saw my first Buck today. The Circle of Life is complete.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

One of my favorite actors working today. He does amazing work and is involved in wonderful creative projects. I'm looking forward to seeing 50/50.

Vintage Postcards of Southern Cities

My next installment of vintage postcards celebrating the places I've been in the United States. This time it's the southern states east of the Mississippi. I have, in fact, been to all of the states east of the Mississippi except one: Mississippi.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


These are some of the inspiring, delicate, intimate photographs by Seamus Murphy of Afghanistan included in his new book "A Darkness Visible: Afghanistan." I've already bought all the copies still available on tonight to send as gifts. Enjoy, and I will pontificate briefly at the end.

To me we are one people. One race. One species. Our core set of needs are the same. Our essential aspirations are likewise recognizable in spite of the barriers that separate us. I feel this idea in these pictures. I hope you do, too.