May 8, 2008

End Extreme Poverty and Hunger Response

This group demonstrated the aim of the assignment. They applied their goal to a geographical location utterly unfamiliar to them and remotely investigated the situation. From this distance, they relied on published data from governmental sources, then studied the work of large-scale philanthropic and humanitarian organizations. Ethiopia is a country which certainly requires our attention and understanding and we should all feel better-informed on their plight, thanks to the efforts of this presentation.

Ethiopia is one of the most under-privileged areas of the earth. The UN has created the Millennium Development Goals to motivate countries just like this to raise their standards and improve the quality of life for the citizens. Particularly relevant to Ethiopia, the goal to end extreme poverty and hunger is a commendable effort. Ethiopia is dependent on agriculture, which is directly related to the climate and the recent droughts in this region of the world. They are dependent on foreign aid for existence, and much of this is misapplied due to corruption in the governmental structure. One organization which has attempted to make a difference is the World Bank. One necessity to the country was an improved transportation infrastructure, which required a passable road system. The World Bank began work and tried to maintain a self-supporting institution involving Ethiopians which would continue the work. Apparently, the system was not particularly successful, as the report indicated that the venture is only nominally operating. This is unfortunate, as the agriculture market could vastly improve is transportation were possible. The subsistence farmers could expand their productivity if they were able to sell to more people.

The presentation ran short at this point, but several other organizations were mentioned: the Strategic Development and Poverty Reduction Program, the Ethiopian Strategy Support Program, and the Amhara Credit and Savings Institution.

The design of the slides was not particularly outstanding. Rather, it was dull and relied on moving images for interest. The content was not consistently assembled, and each page was organized differently. There were no charts or graphs, and a lot of text made each slide especially confusing.

This group performed the aims of the project – to examine an unknown foreign country and attempt to develop some affinity and comprehension of a situation far removed from our experience. If the information was vague, the attitude disinterested and the overall effect apathetic, that was not the fault of the group. It was a clear example to me that compassion and understanding cannot be truly developed merely through an assignment. Four months, a lot of reading/research and a group project combined with lectures demanding social justice do not achieve empathy.

Environmental Sustainability Response

This presentation addressed a broad range of conventional, generic responses to the environmental condition of the planet. It unstatedly reflected the standard measures that government programs advocate and the type of action they approve. Obviously, as this assignment was a government-based initiative, this type of response, while somewhat uncreative or whole-hearted, was appropriate to the prompt. The group was also able to involve a specific project (incidentally only a few miles from my home town), and this made their presentation more interesting, more comprehend-able and more exciting.

The region discussed was the United States, since that location was most relevant and most easily accessible. The unit of measure of environmental crisis is the amount of carbon emissions released by a nation. The group first addressed a policy response, examining how the government is responding to the crisis. The government is creating a variety of policies which are intended to lower the overall emissions of the nation. A specifically approved beneficial advance is photovoltaic technology. From this, the group moved on to an architectural case study of the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center in Baraboo, WI. This was the most interesting part of the presentation and incorporated all of the various responses into a focused, relevant and effective examination of how to achieve environmental sustainability. After this, the presentation concluded with general suggestions of how to further improve government policies and a short list of ways we can contribute to lower carbon emissions.

The layout of this presentation was the most professional of all that we saw that day. A uniform border on two sides of each slide contained the title information as well as the navigation system. The remainder of the area was appropriately-sized to contain the necessary information. Overall, the effort was thought out and consistent. I admired the attempt to sculpt the project prompt into a realm of response which involved the group's enthusiasm and held our interest.

March 25, 2008

Graphical Information in Three Forms

The myriad ways in which lyrics can be displayed within the little square booklets that slip in the front and give the album a cover interest me. These three images display the same information in different ways. Each is unique and true to the featured artist (Mika, Andrew Bird and Josh Groban).

March 5, 2008

My Weekend Built Environment

The phenomena of precipitation shaped my weekend activities. I was able to return home to Southwest Wisconsin to visit my parents, reunite with H., and have some nature experiences to inspire me to continue working and complete this semester in good form.

On Sunday afternoon, we experienced an unseasonal thaw, followed by an inch or more of rain. The septic drain of my parent's basement was frozen, so icy water began seeping across the floor. Now, a basement is about as built an environment as can be conceived, and as it absorbed the life of my entire family for about eight hours, its impact cannot be denied. The water entered in the back corner of the basement, but instead of running straight to the drain in the middle of the space, it instead dribbled across the floor to the carpeted, panelled section of the basement. Those who laid the concrete did not slope the floor to the drain. In fact, every corner of the basement would be wet before the drain could function. We mopped, sponged and swept the water into the drain and dried the floor and were able to move all the boxes and books into drier places, but icy cold water was still visibly running in, and two people with sponges had to work constantly to keep up with the inflow. As this was promising to continue all night, and none of us were enthused about spending the night on the basement floor, we looked for another solution.

I got out a roll of duct tape, and oulined a channel from the source to the drain. The tape was waterproof, and by folding up an edge, we were able to control the flow. By 10:00 PM, water was actually trickling into the drain at the same rate as it was leaking under the wall. Success! By morning, the temperature had dropped enough that everything refroze.

The next day, I was determined to build a snow fort. In St. P., there was never enough snow to realize this ambition, but the piles all over Southwest Wisconsin promised differently. I chose the biggest heap in the backyard and, in an amazingly short time, H. and I had hollowed it out enough that we could both almost stand inside it. The light shining through the thinner patches on the two of us seated comfortably within fulfilled my desires for a snow cave and companionship.

My experiences caused me to consider how my ideas of satisfaction result from my interaction with the built environment. Usually, the built environment is a problem, and I am able to implement a solution -- and what can be more satisfying? Interaction with the natural environment of course. My interventions in the basement were a short-term solution, and since the paint on the floor peels up with the tape, it actually causes another problem for the future. But my mound of snow in the backyard could be entirely my own creation. My net impact was zero, but the results were big.

All images by Caleb Hendrickson

Precipitation: Phenomena & Clockwork
Snow Cave: Thing

February 28, 2008

Alternative Education of Choice

If I were not exiled in St. P. in order to attend the only school which can accredit my choice of career, I would be investigating the concept of impacting the environment in a rather unconventional, modest, introspective way.

I have always been inspired by Thoreau's experiments by Walden Pond. I have often mourned the fact that such pristine, untouched nature is unavailable to me, until I considered another perspective. Thoreau took advantage of the most available location to live in a way which had arisen from his past experiences. Utilizing the same principle, I realized that I didn't require a land area miles from the last sign of civilzation when such a thing is impossible for my immediate circumstances. Instead, I have access to places immediate to my family's home, our neighbor's agricultural land and my employers' residences. This proximity to a community is a part of the environment I wish to impact. Separating myself allows me to impact the interior environment of my psyche, which is the source of all external influences. I believe in moderating change from an individual foundation up, with the most important change subject being myself.

This location represents these ideas, and I see myself as independent and approaching self-sustainablility in this place. It is separate, but not isolationist. I can perform my own experiments, raise my own garden, read books in a hammock, cook over an open fire, and have a pet duck.

I can retreat here to be alone, to study, to be inspired and to breathe. I can leave here to earn money, access books from the library, take long showers at my parent's home, meet friends and professors and generally interact with the community most important to me.

This is how I wish to develop myself and explore the ideas of Architecture, and this is how my environment would be impacted by these actions

All images by Caleb Hendrickson

Living in the Woods: Phenomena
Ducks: Things

February 21, 2008

Millennium Development Goal

My chosen Millennium Goal is addressing the need for universal primary education. The process of young children beginning to learn fundamental skills has fascinated me for years. When I think of education, I think of reading and mathematics, as the most basic of necessary curriculum. Reading (which blends into writing) is a tool required to expand minds abstractly and for the introduction of multiple points of view. Mathematics is the foundation of logical, ordered thinking, once again abstract and conceptual in nature which develops the imagination.

“Through literacy you can begin to see the universe. Through music you can reach anybody. Between the two there is you, unstoppable.?
-- Grace Slick

I have had a life-long passion for children's literature. This genre was/is the single most influential component of my life. When I think of the hundreds of thousands of books, representing the values and ideals of hundreds of thousands of thoughtful individuals, I overflow with the desire to share these points of view with everyone. Through exposure to concepts beyond concrete experience, a mind can be formed and motivated to begin shaping personal values and informed choices to fulfill a lifetime. To me, education is first and foremost the ability to explore the world more broadly. Reading (and mathematics) put this opportunity in the hands of those who need it. With these skills, a child can take responsibility for their individual future without relying on their environment to shape their choices.

However, merely being capable of comprehending symbols on paper does not inherently give a child this chance. The primary focus should be encouraging a child to begin a unique path through learning, not preaching these skills as an end in themselves. This is a vital distinction I doubt the United Nations has comprehended. The greatest benefit is raising children who benefit and explore through reading, not merely making literacy a common skill.

Out of my personal experiences, I find that these songs best represent my attitude and values concerning primary education. They are fun, creative, unconventional, and related to my favorite influential stories.

Anything Can Happen – Mary Poppins (Demo Recording by George Stiles & Anthony Drewe)
Download file

Where Do They Make Balloons – They Might Be Giants (No!)
Download file

Walking My Gargoyle – The Gothic Archies (The Tragic Treasury)
Download file

All image and music rights reserved to publisher/illustrator/author/musician/record label/etc.

Books: Thing
Literacy: Phenomena

February 14, 2008

Community Gardens

Communnity gardens are places of beauty and productivity, bridging generational gaps and contributing to community diversity, benefiting the environment while improving the health of participants and rooting the members of a location to their place on the earth. Through pragmatic thinking of urban residents, community gardens enrich the social atmosphere of a neighborhood. This is social design in action – motivating citizens and yielding tangible results beyond expectations. I am proud to begin my Spring Fever by joining the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and Celeste's Dream in the Summer 2008 community garden.

All images from the Summer 2007 garden.

Summer: Clockwork
Gardens & Plants: Framework
Growth & Community: Phenomena

February 7, 2008

Change, Energy & Flow

These images show the most vivid awarenesses of change, energy and flow in my life in the past week. It was an awesome experience to watch citizens line along the sidewalks in freezing weather on Caucus night. So many people waiting to make little marks on a scrap of paper was an embodiment of transformational ideas. Mika's concert at 1st Ave was a pit of excitement, containing the energies of a artist and his surging, screaming, steaming fans. Flow is a subtler concept, harder to capture. I recognized it in the evolving graffiti on the back of a bench at a bus stop. The combination of the independent elements of weathering paint, and individuals with permanent markers is fascinating.

All images by Caleb Hendrickson

Ballots & Graffiti: Thing
Live Music: Phenomena