October 2008 Archives

So last year a bunch of people from the Design Studio dressed up like David Perkes. This year a small number pulled off Jason Pressgrove, our former co-worker who has moved on. Long live the Press. Long live the Grove.

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I <3 my co-workers. From left to right (Nadene Pressgrove, Sarah Pressgrove, and Kristen Pressgrove

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You may be able to guess, but that's Jason in the middle.

Update: Just got another picture entitled "Jason's Fame and Fortune"
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In the first ever edition of Q. and A.rch we'll be featuring a pair of designers Troy Gallas and Colin Kloecker of Solutions Twin Cities (www.solutionstwincities.org). Architects by day and Solutionists by night this duo has been working together since they met while attending the University of Minnesota and has continued their efforts to improve, advocate, and educate for and about design in the Twin Cities. With their events nearing the double digits they work in a variety of ways but predominantly through a series of "Volume" events every 6-8 months and as series of smaller collaborations and interactive events in between. Each of the large presentations is presented in a Pecha Kucha format (they'll touch on that later) and features designers of all disciplines that have a connection to the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. I was lucky enough to speak at there Solutions Vol. 2 event and am pleased to have Troy and Colin as my first of hopefully many guests on the Up Your Architecture Q. & A.rch column. Hope you all enjoy.

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Troy Gallas (on the left) has a background in visual arts, performing arts, and architecture. A Twin Cities native, he graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in architecture. He has learned and practiced traditional methods of building in Mexico, Nova Scotia, and Spain, and has explored other methods throughout Europe and the US. In addition to co-founding Solutions Twin Cities, he is currently working at LHB, a Minneapolis firm focusing on affordable and supportive housing, and is a steering committee member of Architecture for Humanity: Minnesota

Colin Kloecker (on the right) has been living in the Twin Cities for 6 years. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in architecture and has since been working at Cermak Rhoades Architects in St. Paul, a small firm with a focus on affordable and supportive housing. In addition to co-founding Solutions Twin Cities, he is a member of Architecture for Humanity: Minnesota steering committee. You can find his thoughts on architecture and humanitarian issues online at Blog Like You Give A Damn.

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1. In an earlier discussion we talked about how Solutions Twin Cities is almost acting as "city design advocates". With that in mind, give us a short explanation of how you came to be and what you are as an organization.

We founded Solutions Twin Cities about a year and a half ago because we wanted to create spaces for exploring new ideas and drawing awareness to existing solutions here in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Design is a really big part of this, but we're really advocating for people and projects that are making a difference in new and exciting ways, what we like to call "future-positive creativity."


2. It's been a busy year for you guys and this may be a bit of cut and paste after an introduction but tell us a bit about what you've been up to [i.e. Solutions Vol. 3, Solutions for the Other 90%, W(e are) Here]...

It's been soooo busy. Yikes! But it's been a lot of fun too. Going back a little further then a year, we kicked off this crazy adventure with Solutions Volume 1 in May of 2007. The "Volume" series is our flagship program and it's a hybrid event showcasing future-positive creativity in action. It highlights an up to the minute cross section of exciting people, projects, and ideas in the Twin Cities using a Pecha Kucha presentation format. Volume 2 was in October of 2007 and Volume 3 was just last August. We'd like to continue doing these at least twice a year. Last July, we had the great opportunity to curate an event for the Walker Art Center called Solutions For the Other 90%. The event was in conjunction with an exhibit the WAC was hosting called Design For the Other 90% and acted as a local counterpart to this international exhibit.

We've also started to branch out beyond one time events. In early 2008, Intermedia Arts asked us to curate an exhibit for one of their galleries. This led to W(e are )here: Mapping the Human Experience, which ran from March to May of this year. The exhibit explored the intersections of communication, technology, and aesthetics through data visualization, artistic expression, and interactive installations. Our interest in mapping emerged from an underlying desire to make intangible connections visible. Whether it's tracking emotions across the totality of the Internet, or one's personal and biological response to the built environment around them, we really think the artists we found for this exhibit challenged our notions of what a map can be and how it can be used.

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3. Volume 3 was an outdoor event and had an interactive component, how did you like this format as opposed to the interior events you've done in the past? Can we expect more in the realm of interactivity and indoor/outdoor? Solutions TC: Volume 4- Wash & Wear?

We've challenged ourselves to create a unique experience for each new event or program. Our events have taken place in an gritty urban theatre, a cavernous sound stage, a formal art museum "cinema" (not so exciting), and a grungy graffiti-walled parking lot, projecting onto a brick wall. Each event has presented it's own learning curve, and we've never done the same thing twice (however stupid or smart this might be, we haven't decided yet). The event outdoors (Solutions Volume 3) was definitely the most challenging, nearly putting us $8,000 into debt, not to mention multiple near casualties (don't ask). At the same time, it allowed for the most creativity. We asked a local new media artist, Christopher Baker, to install his "Urban Echo" project - an interactive projection that allowed the audience to communicate with each other on a large scale via text message.

We're in the process of narrowing down our thoughts for Volume 4: Hot air balloons, Mississippi river barge, roaming bicycles, or possibly the Xcel Energy Center (OK, give us a year or two for that one).


4. You've been involved in other non-events/games/national events such as Park(ing) Day and Urban Capture the Flag. How can people get a hold of you or get your ear about events they would like you to be involved with?

You're right, beyond the events and exhibits we've done so far, we want to create more informal spaces where people can come together to do a wider range of activities. Like the two examples you cited above, we'd like these to be themed around new ways of interacting with the city. Another example of this was a psychogeographic map making party we hosted during the W(e are )here exhibit. These are all things that we plan on doing on a ongoing basis.

The best way stay in the loop about these events, or anything else we're up to, is to sign up for our mailing list - which you can do here. You can also contact us directly at info@solutionstwincities.org.

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5. Park(ing) Day happened to fall on Talk Like a Pirate Day this year, any interesting anecdotes or overlaps?

Nope, sorry! (We actually weren't that involved in the Park(ing) Day Activities this year, but we have big plans for next year). But we are full fledged advocates for Talk Like a Pirate Day... very future-positive.


6. You've been asked to participate in a collaboration with the Humphrey Institute and Science Debate 2008 similar to the event in coordination with the Walker, can you tell us a little bit more about what's going to be poppin'?

Our event is part of a larger conference called Innovation 2008, a two day conference organized by the Humphrey Institute and Science Debate 2008 taking place at the University of Minnesota on October 20th & 21st. We're putting together an hour long Solutions style showcase that will precede a keynote address by Ira Flatow, host of NPR's "Science Friday" and founder/ president of TalkingScience, on the last day of the conference. 7 local scientist/ artist/ educators will deliver short presentations on their work while addressing some of the key issues raised by the 14 Science Debate 2008 Questions for the President. In addition, these presenters have been asked to think about how art might be used to connect science to the public in more meaningful ways. Click here to learn more about the conference.

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7. This year has been pretty packed for you two, besides Innovation 2008, anything more before the new year rings in?

No! We've been working on events almost non-stop since we started and have decided to take a much needed programming hiatus. This will allow us to focus on some long term strategizing, finalizing our non-profit status with the government, and begin the search for major funding (readers, if you're loaded and think what we're doing is cool... let us know!). That doesn't mean that we're totally stagnant - we're working on an exciting project with METRO Magazine to expand the concepts developed in the W(e are )here exhibit to a monthly feature on their back page. Look for that to start in January! (Fingers crossed!)



8. Moving forward, where would you like Solutions to be in a year? In five years?

Our goals for the next year are to continue the programming we've established while working towards dedicating more and more time to Solutions projects. We're both currently working full time at local architecture firms (Colin at Cermak Rhoads Architects, and Troy at LHB), but hopefully we'll find enough funding to allow us to take on Solutions Twin Cities full time.

One long term goal is to find a storefront space for STC. Using the Storefront for Art & Architecture in New York City and SuperDeluxe in Tokyo as precedents, we're envisioning this space as a "Storefront for Ideas." We'd also like to see Solutions style organizations starting up in other cities around the US. While we'd like to maintain our focus on the Twin Cities, it would be awesome to enable people in other cities with what we've learned. How 'bout it James, Solutions Biloxi?

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9. Whom or what in the design world are you into right now?

Hassan Fathy : http://archnet.org/library/parties/one-party.jsp?party_id=1

Edward Burtynsky : http://www.edwardburtynsky.com/
Cenci Goepel and Jens Warnecke : http://www.lightmark.de/

Theo Jansen : http://www.strandbeest.com/

Sterling Prize: http://www.architecture.com/Awards/RIBAStirlingPrize/RIBAStirlingPrize.aspx

Dave Eggers re: 826 Velencia (a precedent for a future Solutions storefront):: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/dave_eggers_makes_his_ted_prize_wish_once_upon_a_school.html

Wholphin DVD Magazine: http://www.wholphindvd.com/
(they will be represented at Sound Unseen this year)

Archi-blogger Jimmy Stamp interview with Charlie Kaufman about his new movie Synecdoche, New York and the role of architecture in it: http://lifewithoutbuildings.net/2008/10/heres-what-happens-when-you-look-for-truth-life-without-buildings-interviews-charlie-kaufman.html

Museo Aero Solar: The Solar Baloon Project: http://museoaerosolar.wordpress.com/


10. What's your solution for a young designer to up their architecture?

As soon as you can, get involved in architecture, design, or community organizing outside of your formal education or career. Join up with your local Architecture for Humanity chapter. If your city doesn't have one, start it. As students, getting involved with AFH - Minnesota really opened our eyes to the possibilities for good that our education could provide. This was the seed that eventually led us to start Solutions Twin Cities.

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I'd like to personally thank Troy and Colin for all their help in getting this together and being patient as I got it up and out on the site. I encourage you to check out what they and the people that have spoken at their events are doing in the Twin Cities and beyond. Cheers.

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Chapter 485: Don't Let Up!

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Updates coming soon. And just like with my quest to right the ship I urge all Obama supporters to not slow down riding this wave of positive press and not go out and Barack the Vote. Volunteer! Advocate! Educate! Converse!

As for my extended absence, the long and short of it is that I was up in Minnesota for a week to help out. For those of you who read the blog, you know that my Dad had surgery in February of 2007 to remove a cancerous tumor. He recently had a relapse so I went up north to help out for a while. He's doing well now and thanks to everyone for their support.

Today's post is to announce that there will be some changes to the site with regular updates focused on architecture on the web on Tuesdays called *click*itecture as well as a rotating feature on Thursdays between a pair of new segments: Q and Arch featuring interviews with designers as well as Collarquial which is architectural commentary. Science Fridays with Sam will continue as well as the triumphant return of Poetry Corner and Get to Know the Coast.

Thanks to everyone for asking about the blog and checking in. Hopefully you'll be rewarded soon.

COMING TUESDAYS:
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COMING THURSDAYS:
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RETURNING FRIDAY:
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RETURNING SOON:
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Last night Sam and I joined hundreds of people at the Mockingbird and were taken aback when Martin came out and announced that despite scaling back the 'Bird was going to stay open after receiving a last second loan restructuring from one of the local banks! There was much ballyhoo and rejoicing needless to say.

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From the Sun Herald: http://www.sunherald.com/business/story/923428.html

NEW SONG FOR THE MOCKINGBIRD
Bay cafe gets its own bailout plan
By TAMMY SMITH - tmsmith@sunherald.com

BAY ST. LOUIS -- The owners of the Mockingbird Cafe got a real treat for Halloween.

The popular Bay St. Louis coffee shop and restaurant had been scheduled to close Friday. Owners Martin and Alicein Chambers had cited surging insurance rates coupled with long hours as the reason for closing their Old Town business that also served as a gathering place for residents.

But Thursday night, at a last-hurrah gathering, the couple announced The Peoples Bank local branch had provided another option.

"The bank pulled an 11th-hour restructuring of their loan," said Scott MacDonald, a member of local band Full Cyrcle.

"We were playing last night as a benefit and gift to them and the community," he said Friday. "They made the announcement, and the mood of the crowd changed immeasurably."

The Mockingbird has been serving breakfast, lunch and dinner along with coffee and pastries, but that menu will change, at least for a while, MacDonald said.

"They're scaling a little back, not running full schedule, back to a neighborhood coffee shop," he said.

Jeannie Deen, vice president of The Peoples Bank in Hancock County and an Old Town resident, was also at the gathering Thursday night.

"From the city's standpoint, it's important to support each other," she said. "Small businesses are our lifeline.

"It was delightful. People were crying for joy. It was almost like the community would not let them go."

Martin and Alicein Chambers were not available for comment.

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Chapter 483: Mockingbird SOS

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Well, it appears as if the rumours are true and the Mockingbird is going to be closing soon. There's going to be live music and plenty of food and drink tonight to serve as a last hurrah. Come out and celebrate the closing of the best joint in Bay St. Louis.

Here's a great entry from my friend Sarah on her organization's blog: http://lagniappechurch.blogspot.com/2008/10/mockingbird-phoenix.html

And from the Sea Coast Echo...

"Old Towne Bay St. Louis was rocked Tuesday as word spread of Mocking-bird Cafe’s closure this Friday. The unique cafe — owned by Alicein and Martin Chambers— became a staple for many the two years it has been open with the sandwiches, locally brewed beer, live music and poetry readings.

“Financially we couldn’t afford to keep it, we have put everything we had into it,? said Mockingbird co-owner Martin Chambers.

Chambers said the decision to close was made Monday and his phone hasn’t stopped ringing since. Some, he said, have even called with offers of fund-raising to keep the quirky cafe open. But, Chambers said, he and Alicein, are definitely closing the doors to Mockingbird and will go back to “leading a normal life.?

“It’s very sad and unexpected,? said Dwight Isaacs, owner of Shabby Chic Designs on Main Street, adding, “I see more of it coming if more people don’t start supporting Old Towne.?

Chambers agreed, “We don’t have the draw like Ocean Springs gets, we keep losing businesses and we can’t hold the anchor all the time.?

Exhaustion, 16-hour days — which keep them away from their two-year-old son — and a struggling economy were some of the reasons Chambers cited for the closure.

“I don’t think any of us realized after the storm that insurance was going to be so high … our insurance is $28,000 a year now … how much coffee do you need to sell for that alone?? he said."

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As preposterous as it may sound (especially since I still don't have my jet pack, nor my flying car) there is a movement to create a "space elevator" which could eliminate short term rocket travel and facilitate a constant gateway into earth's orbit. Here's the basics at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_elevator . It would essentially be a cable connected to a counter-weight in geosynchronous orbit creating a sort of dumb-waiter system. Hopefully this video from www.spaceelevator.com will help explain further...

From CNN.com: http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/europe/10/02/space.elevator/index.html

LONDON, England (CNN) -- A new space race is officially under way, and this one should have the sci-fi geeks salivating.

The project is a "space elevator," and some experts now believe that the concept is well within the bounds of possibility -- maybe even within our lifetimes.

A conference discussing developments in space elevator concepts is being held in Japan in November, and hundreds of engineers and scientists from Asia, Europe and the Americas are working to design the only lift that will take you directly to the one hundred-thousandth floor.

Despite these developments, you could be excused for thinking it all sounds a little far-fetched.

Indeed, if successfully built, the space elevator would be an unprecedented feat of human engineering.

A cable anchored to the Earth's surface, reaching tens of thousands of kilometers into space, balanced with a counterweight attached at the other end is the basic design for the elevator.

It is thought that inertia -- the physics theory stating that matter retains its velocity along a straight line so long as it is not acted upon by an external force -- will cause the cable to stay stretched taut, allowing the elevator to sit in geostationary orbit.

The cable would extend into the sky, eventually reaching a satellite docking station orbiting in space.

Engineers hope the elevator will transport people and objects into space, and there have even been suggestions that it could be used to dispose of nuclear waste. Another proposed idea is to use the elevator to place solar panels in space to provide power for homes on Earth.

If it sounds like the stuff of fiction, maybe that's because it once was.

In 1979, Arthur C. Clarke's novel "The Fountains of Paradise" brought the idea of a space elevator to a mass audience. Charles Sheffield's "The Web Between the Worlds" also featured the building of a space elevator.

But, jump out of the storybooks and fast-forward nearly three decades, and Japanese scientists at the Japan Space Elevator Association are working seriously on the space-elevator project.

Association spokesman Akira Tsuchida said his organization was working with U.S.-based Spaceward Foundation and a European organization based in Luxembourg to develop an elevator design.

The Liftport Group in the U.S. is also working on developing a design, and in total it's believed that more than 300 scientists and engineers are engaged in such work around the globe.

NASA is holding a $4 million Space Elevator Challenge to encourage designs for a successful space elevator.

Tsuchida said the technology driving the race to build the first space elevator is the quickly developing material carbon nanotube. It is lightweight and has a tensile strength 180 times stronger than that of a steel cable. Currently, it is the only material with the potential to be strong enough to use to manufacture elevator cable, according to Tsuchida.

"At present we have a tether which is made of carbon nanotube, and has one-third or one-quarter of the strength required to make a space elevator. We expect that we will have strong enough cable in the 2020s or 2030s," Tsuchida said.

He said the most likely method of powering the elevator would be through the carbon nanotube cable.

So, what are the major logistical issues keeping the space elevator from being anything more than a dream at present?

Massachusetts Institute of Technology aeronautics and astronautics Professor Jeff Hoffman said that designing the carbon nanotube appeared to be the biggest obstacle.

"We are now on the verge of having material that has the strength to span the 30,000 km ... but we don't have the ability to make long cable out of the carbon nanotubes at the moment." he said. "Although I'm confident that within a reasonable amount of time we will be able to do this."

Tsuchida said that one of the biggest challenges will be acquiring funding to move the projects forward. At present, there is no financial backing for the space elevator project, and all of the Japanese group's 100-plus members maintain other jobs to earn a living.

"Because we don't have a material which has enough strength to construct space elevator yet, it is difficult to change people's mind so they believe that it can be real," he said.

Hoffman feels that international dialogue needs to be encouaraged on the issue. He said a number of legal considerations also would have to be taken into account.

"This is not something one nation or one company can do. There needs to be a worldwide approach," he said.

Other difficulties for space-elevator projects include how to build the base for the elevator, how to design it and where to set up the operation.

Tsuchida said some possible locations for an elevator include the South China Sea, western Australia and the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean. He said all of those locations usually avoided typhoons, which could pose a threat to the safety of an elevator.

"As the base of space elevator will be located on geosynchronous orbit, [the] space elevator ground station should be located near the equator," he said.

Although the Japanese association has set a time frame of the 2030s to get a space elevator under construction -- and developments are moving quickly -- Hoffman acknowledges that it could be a little further away than that.

"I don't know if it's going to be in our lifetime or if it's 100 or 200 years away, but it's near enough that we can contemplate how it will work."

Building a space elevator is a matter of when, not if, said Hoffman, who believes that it will herald a major new period in human history.

"It will be revolutionary for human technology, and not just for space travel. That's why so many people are pursuing it," he said. "This is what it will take to turn humans into a space-bearing species."

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Other Space Elevator Reference Material:
The Space Elevator Blog

Videos from http://www.spaceelevator.com/Open_Wiki/Video_Galleries/Introduction_to_the_Space_Elevator

The Vision-

The Technology-

The Technology Continued-

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From Wired.com- http://www.wired.com/entertainment/theweb/magazine/16-11/st_essay#

Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004
By Paul Boutin

Thinking about launching your own blog? Here's some friendly advice: Don't. And if you've already got one, pull the plug.

Writing a weblog today isn't the bright idea it was four years ago. The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It's almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.

If you quit now, you're in good company. Notorious chatterbox Jason Calacanis made millions from his Weblogs network. But he flat-out retired his own blog in July. "Blogging is simply too big, too impersonal, and lacks the intimacy that drew me to it," he wrote in his final post.

Impersonal is correct: Scroll down Technorati's list of the top 100 blogs and you'll find personal sites have been shoved aside by professional ones. Most are essentially online magazines: The Huffington Post. Engadget. TreeHugger. A stand-alone commentator can't keep up with a team of pro writers cranking out up to 30 posts a day.

When blogging was young, enthusiasts rode high, with posts quickly skyrocketing to the top of Google's search results for any given topic, fueled by generous links from fellow bloggers. In 2002, a search for "Mark" ranked Web developer Mark Pilgrim above author Mark Twain. That phenomenon was part of what made blogging so exciting. No more. Today, a search for, say, Barack Obama's latest speech will deliver a Wikipedia page, a Fox News article, and a few entries from professionally run sites like Politico.com. The odds of your clever entry appearing high on the list? Basically zero.

That said, your blog will still draw the Net's lowest form of life: The insult commenter. Pour your heart out in a post, and some anonymous troll named r0rschach or foohack is sure to scribble beneath it, "Lame. Why don't you just suck McCain's ass." That's why Calacanis has retreated to a private mailing list. He can talk to his fans directly, without having to suffer idiotic retorts from anonymous Jason-haters.

Further, text-based Web sites aren't where the buzz is anymore. The reason blogs took off is that they made publishing easy for non-techies. Part of that simplicity was a lack of support for pictures, audio, and videoclips. At the time, multimedia content was too hard to upload, too unlikely to play back, and too hungry for bandwidth.

Social multimedia sites like YouTube, Flickr, and Facebook have since made publishing pics and video as easy as typing text. Easier, if you consider the time most bloggers spend fretting over their words. Take a clue from Robert Scoble, who made his name as Microsoft's "technical evangelist" blogger from 2003 to 2006. Today, he focuses on posting videos and Twitter updates. "I keep my blog mostly for long-form writing," he says.

Twitter — which limits each text-only post to 140 characters — is to 2008 what the blogosphere was to 2004. You'll find Scoble, Calacanis, and most of their buddies from the golden age there. They claim it's because Twitter operates even faster than the blogosphere. And Twitter posts can be searched instantly, without waiting for Google to index them.

As a writer, though, I'm onto the system's real appeal: brevity. Bloggers today are expected to write clever, insightful, witty prose to compete with Huffington and The New York Times. Twitter's character limit puts everyone back on equal footing. It lets amateurs quit agonizing over their writing and cut to the chase. @WiredReader: Kill yr blog. 2004 over. Google won't find you. Too much cruft from HuffPo, NYT. Commenters are tards. C u on Facebook?

Paul Boutin (paul@valleywag.com) is a correspondent for the Silicon Valley gossip site Valleywag.

Chapter 476: Chensicles

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Aww, my good buddy and former co-worker Emily Chen is in Antarctica for the next four months and we already miss her. She recently sent some pictures so I thought I would share. Also, if she is watching, I'm very excited for my christmas penguin surprise :)


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Chapter 473: Honorary Citizenship

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Craig Ferguson is brilliant. This is an older video judging by Palin's hair, but pretty damn amazing...

Also, in honor of my friend Laura's comment on a previous post cluing me into a great political projection site: http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/ I'd like to give her honorary UYA political correspondent status.

UPDATE: Laura mentioned that she feels she would be more useful as the UYA Information Visualization Geek Correspondent. So *makes goofy Palin hand motion* I hereby make it so.

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Life's been busy in a bunch of ways lately but I had a chance to go and see Atmosphere last night and it was a nice breath of fresh air that really helped give me a piece of mind. Sam, Sarah, and I met up with our friend Jodi who works over at Guild Hardy and headed to New Orleans where we got some mediterranean food at Mona's on Magazine before heading Uptown to Tipitina's. The concert had DJ Rare Groove doing an opening set of DJing while people came in after doors and he continued to DJ for both opening acts Abstract Rude and Blueprint. Abstract Rude was pretty good. I can see that he has a lot of talent but some of his beats and hooks were kind of junk. On the other hand he had great flow and when he got away from the generic west coast type of music he really ripped it up. Blueprint was also quite entertaining and extremely polished. He got the crowd worked up pretty well and by the time Slug and Ant hit the stage with their band the crowd was starving for some Atmosphere. I think that for all the shows I've seen I've never been more enthused afterward. NOLA gave a great reception and Slug was exceptional. In addition to material from the new album then did a lot of classics and some they don't do as often. Trying to Find a Balance was probably my favorite of the night but there were also amazing versions of a number of other tracks including a great medley of different songs and a killer version of Not Another Day (from Sad Clown Bad Spring 12) which he identified as one of his favorite songs he's ever written. It was just what I needed to re-energize.

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The slightly blurry Atmos-crew at Mona's pre-concert

Chapter 470: Architecture Record!

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We're published in this months' Architectural Record under a series of Humanitarian Design. Until it hits news stands, check out the online version. Please check out the Record website and make sure to view the slide show with some beautiful pictures taken by Alan Karchmer that are amazing representations of the work we're doing down here on the Coast. I'll try and get scans when we get the hard copies! http://archrecord.construction.com/features/humanitarianDesign/0810biloxi-1.asp

Biloxi Clues
October 2008
The Gulf Coast Community Design Studio provides a model for rebuilding after Katrina.
By James S. Russell

Almost three years after Hurricane Katrina pushed a 30-foot-high surge of water through East Biloxi, Mississippi, tall weeds grow along streets once lined with houses. Biloxi’s casinos have been reconstructed, larger than their former selves. Many residents have returned to neighborhoods that missed the worst of the flooding. But those weeds rise in the easternmost part of the city, on a low-lying peninsula where almost half the houses were destroyed. It was a neighborhood of modest cottages and bungalows, with longtime residents who lived in the same houses for decades shopping and attending church alongside newer residents, primarily Vietnamese, who had revitalized the city’s fishing fleet. Many lost everything.
Edward Parker

Rebuilding after the disaster has been slow here, but no community has handled the recovery of worst-hit neighborhoods better. Its success has been due to a unique partnership between the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio (GCCDS) and the East Biloxi Coordination Center.

Since London’s Great Fire in 1666 architects have seen disasters as opportunities to cast off the mistakes of the past and build bigger and better. The GCCDS, which has taken on most of the architectural-design duties of the partnership, views its mission as considerably more modest. “We work like a design practice,? says David Perkes, who heads the studio. Yet he rejects the big-picture role designers often choose. “You can’t have any impact without partnering with people already there.? The key question, Perkes underlines, is not what needs to be designed, but “How can we help??

Perkes is an associate professor of architecture at Mississippi State University’s College of Architecture, Art + Design, based in Starkville. He had been helping low-income communities for seven years already, running the Jackson Community Design Studio. But as the enormous scope of Katrina’s devastation became clear, Perkes and his dean at Mississippi State decided to move the studio to the coast within weeks of Katrina’s landfall.

As the Biloxi move was being planned, local city councilman Bill Stallworth and Sherry-Lea Bloodworth—whom Architecture for Humanity (AFH) hired as its Gulf Coast coordinator—set up the East Biloxi Coordination Center in a flooded African Methodist Episcopal church to synchronize the work of dozens of relief organizations. “I met Bill Stallworth early on,? Perkes explains, “and he saw the benefit of having the architecture school involved. For us, it proved a really important decision.? The center not only coordinated the work of dozens of volunteer organizations, but it also surveyed the conditions of homes and helped local residents with cleanup. Since then, it has assigned case managers to help with paperwork for insurance and government grants, and assisted people in scoping out needed repair work and working with contractors. Nowhere else in the post-Katrina landscape do you encounter any government or nonprofit agency offering such systematic and comprehensive aid of the kind residents—especially those of limited means and education—have needed most.

At the start, the work ranged from “GIS mapping to crawling under a house,? Perkes says. The tasks were unglamorous but key: “If you help a community group make, say, a map, they see that architects have design skills. It introduces to people the possibility of improving their own environment.? As they faced utter devastation, many didn’t know they could do better than buy plans from hardware stores or use drawings that church groups had downloaded from the Internet. “It opened opportunities to do things people hadn’t thought about before,? Perkes says.

Only when homeowners’ needs are understood and financing is in place (cobbled together from savings, insurance, and grant programs from state, federal, and private sources) do center case managers refer them to the GCCDS for architectural services. Perkes says he typically has about $70,000 to build a house from the ground up, which means that the house must be small and exceedingly simple to erect, since volunteer labor is essential to stretch such limited funds.

Most of the new home designs subtly upgrade the hip-roofed cottages and small bungalows commonly found in the area. An attractive wheelchair ramp wraps some houses such as Edward Parker’s (opposite), since as many as a third of the residents, many retired, need mobility aid. In other houses, a few carpentry flourishes dress up a screened porch. Studio designers often push ceilings to the underside of rafters and add clerestory windows to aid ventilation and brighten the interiors.

“We’re not looking to make a sweetened vernacular,? Perkes explains. “If anything, we’re looking for something energetic or a bit more robust.? A striking butterfly roof allows the house for Le and Nghia Tran (opposite) to fit gracefully under mature trees and directs runoff to a cistern to water the garden. Working with students from Penn State University, as well as University of Texas, Austin professor Serge Palleroni and Bryan Bell of the Charlotte-based social-outreach organization Design Corps, the studio designed a fretwork of wooden braces to enliven the underside of a house for Patricia Broussard (next spread), which is raised 13 feet. “I love my garden,? Broussard says. Even though it’s now a flight of stairs away? “You learn to adapt.?

One of the toughest problems would be easily overlooked by designers less attuned to the way people live. “We worry that neighborhoods with elevated houses may not be so socially active as when they had porches on grade,? Perkes says. Porches or generous landings at intermediate levels ease the transition. The designers try to program the ground level and encourage the gardening culture that has long flourished locally. “That’s important here, with the lush plantings and long growing season,? Perkes adds.

In contrast to the studio’s low-key pragmatism, in the months immediately after Katrina’s landfall AFH gave the GCCDS a $25,000 grant and provided vital support in establishing operations in Stallworth’s Center, and then, in the summer of 2006, it launched a high-profile model-home program. The prototypes had an ambitious agenda: to be wind- and flood-resistant and to lower environmental impact, and yet be attuned to the owner’s specific needs at an affordable cost. Studio Gang, Huff & Gooden, Marlon Blackwell, CP+D Design Workshop, and MC2 architects participated.

These prototypes were indeed innovative, but most cost too much to be built as designed. AFH, too, had to rely in part on volunteer labor, including the GCCDS’s: The studio created construction drawings for CP+D and designed a house for Louise Odom, her daughter, and grand-nephew, which replaces a more complex scheme by Studio Gang but retains the gestures of the original. Regardless of AFH’s helpmate, realizing the model homes required design simplification. “It’s hard to reconcile making a housing model for the future with the needs of a family still living in a FEMA trailer,? reflected AFH program manager Michael Grote on a visit last year.

AFH’s Biloxi houses are not alone in having to pare down their aspirations. A similarly ambitious prototype in New Orleans built by Global Green was completed largely as designed, but only because fund-raising covered much higher than anticipated costs. Make It Right, also in New Orleans, intends to build 150 model homes designed by prominent architects. It is likely to face similar barriers since government support—scandalously absent—or large-scale charitable funding would be needed to realize innovations yet to be embraced by market builders.

AFH’s seven-house prototype program is nearly finished, and it is winding down work in Biloxi to concentrate on its core mission of immediate disaster relief. “The AFH houses had somewhat larger budgets, and we have been able to learn from what they could devote more resources to,? says Perkes, citing beefed-up foundation designs. The East Biloxi Coordination Center now calls itself the East Biloxi Coordination, Relief, and Redevelopment Agency as it changes its focus to ongoing social services as well as rebuilding.

Grote is now working for the GCCDS, which relocated to larger quarters on the grounds of the East Biloxi Church in spring 2007. The redevelopment agency’s case managers share the studio space as well, tracking their clients on large blackboards. About a dozen people—a mix of full-time Mississippi State staff, interns, and volunteers, mainly from universities all over the country—share drawing boards and computers. Now the studio, having helped rehabilitate hundreds of homes and built about 30 new houses with the Biloxi Housing Authority, the local Back Bay Mission, Mercy Housing, and Habitat for Humanity, is growing. It’s opening branches with local partners in nearby Bay St. Louis and Moss Point, supported by expanded state funding.

With more than 2,000 empty lots in East Biloxi, the work of the studio so far, Perkes admits, “is a small chip out of a huge obligation.? He adds, “We’re trying to get our head around the fact that this could be a fragmented community for quite a while.? In the meantime, the studio is planning on a larger scale, mapping bayous and other vulnerable areas to assist the city of Biloxi in encouraging owners of risky sites to trade their property for plots on higher ground.

Perkes urges architects to “break down the professional structure? that tends to keep citizens at arm’s length. “It often gets in the way of being useful to the community.? The rewards can be different and perhaps more gratifying. Edward Parker says that the many people who designed and built his house “are in my prayers every night. Bless them and their families.?

James S. Russell, formerly an editor at RECORD, is the American architecture critic for Bloomberg News.

Sun Herald recently picked up and published our updated land use and recovery mapping of East Biloxi. Make sure to check out the .pdf and see how the city recovering.

Rebuilding growing in East Biloxi
Annual survey maps progress
By ANITA LEE

BILOXI -- A detailed annual survey in East Biloxi shows the number of vacant lots continues to grow post-Katrina, but so do the number of homes rebuilt or renovated.

"We're seeing that reconstruction is definitely continuing at a steady pace," said Christine Gaspar, intern architect and community planner with the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio, which has completed the survey for the third year.

GCCDS, working on recovery all along the Coast, trained volunteers who went door to door to survey residents.

The number of buildings refurbished or reconstructed since Katrina has grown from 145 in 2006 to 1,002 in 2008. Gaspar said residents who want to rebuild are still showing up daily at the East Biloxi Coordination Center, a clearinghouse for reconstruction efforts.

"I think there are still people trying to find their way back, if they can get the funds to rebuild," Gaspar said.

The number of vacant lots - 1,698 this year compared to 1,174 in 2006 - shows that residents are clearing damaged properties.

But the numbers also indicate a challenge facing residents and the city. Many of the lots, FEMA maps show, are in low-lying areas prone to flooding.

Biloxi needs to start thinking as a community what should happen in these areas, Gaspar said, because rebuilding homes might not be the best use for low-lying properties, a conclusion previously reached in a planning study by the national nonprofit group Living Cities.

Land that rings the peninsula floods at least once a year, but much of that property is in the hands of commercial interests with elevated casinos and hotels. However, residential areas around bayous and inlets that run deep into the peninsula are prone to flooding as well.

"When Ike was out in the Gulf, we were getting flooding on the streets right around our building," said Gaspar, whose group works out of the coordination center on Division Street.

Maps that accompany the survey show that Katrina destroyed 65 percent of buildings lower than 10 feet above sea level and only 25 percent of those higher than 10 feet above sea level.

By the numbers

The Gulf Coast Community Design Studio is a nonprofit research arm of Mississippi State University's College of Architecture, Art & Design. With offices in Bay St. Louis and Biloxi, GCCDS is working with nonprofit groups on the Coast to restore affordable housing.

Some results of the group's third annual survey of Katrina relief efforts in East Biloxi:

Vacant lots: 1,174 in 2006; 1,698 in 2008.

Vacant buildings: 330 in 2006; 280 in 2008.

Buildings being repaired: 935 in 2006; 272 in 2008.

Completed buildings: 145 in 2006; 1,002 in 2008.