Flexible Building Facades with Soft House in Hamburg

The Soft House is a winning project that seeks to create a very adaptable and carbon neutral living and working environment.  The project was conceived by the KVA Matx Team and exhibited in Hamburg earlier in the year. The Soft House model incorporates a great deal of customization to meet individual user needs. The ecologically friendly housing model allows occupants to reduce their carbon footprints as much as possible while also offering some very innovative features such as a very movable and functional infrastructure to maximize energy savings and the living space.

Hamburg Soft House Model

Hamburg Soft House Model

The exterior of the housing is designed with the energy needs of the occupants in mind. The model harvests as much energy as possible from the sunlight. The interior is also built with a very flexible and movable infrastructure to configure and manage interior spacing. For example, there are smart curtains in the house which help the occupants of the home with the configuration of the space and management of solid-state lighting functionality inside the home. The house is also fitted with a solar-powered technology that allows one to create interior micro-climates.  It is a housing model that optimizes the natural resources such as sunshine, wind and land and ground water to create a very dynamic and self-sustainable urban living space. It is even possible to carry out urban agriculture on the Soft House.

Construction of the Soft House

The Soft House construction makes use of the more traditional spruce-wood materials. The joints are made of wooden dowel and the whole structure can be recycled in case the building is no longer being used. The wood-based construction is further complemented with flexible PV-based solid-state technology which moves in the direction of the sun’s orientation to maximize on the solar radiation. This intelligent design also sees the house casts a shade inside the house during the summers while maximizing light that gets inside the house during the winters.

LED lighting is provided inside the house via the smart curtains.  The smart curtains can also move inside the house to create a Visual Breeze, a great ambient luminous expression.  The smart curtains are programmable and it is possible to create multiple luminous expressions based on a user’s preference .The Soft House is a demonstration on how intelligent technologies can be used to create very flexible and movable urban living spaces through smart urban building management. You can learn more about the KVA Matx’s Soft House on its web page http://www.kvarch.net/projects/87 .

Want a Lifetime Pass on Public Transit? Just Give Up Your Car!

The city of Murcia, Spain has recently started offering residents a lifetime pass on their newly built trolley system.  There is only one catch:  these same residents must trade in their cars in exchange.  This rather radical idea is only available for a limited time, but apparently has already picked up steam in the small city.  In addition to this promotion, the city of Murcia has also started posting humorous advertisements around the city depicting how troublesome it is to find a parking space for your car within the city challenging the notion of car ownership even further.  You can read more about this radical promotion here.

Are the Richest American Also the Best Educated?


There is a pretty common perception that the wealthiest Americans are also the ones with the highest level of education.  Yet, coming up with a way to measure this is obviously a bit difficult.  Recently, the U.S. Census’s American Community Survey was able to at least partially put this perception to the test.  The Survey was able to create a study that could be mapped on the county level and provide us some key information on high graduation rates, college graduation rates and median household incomes within these counties.

The colours on the map above are created by a combination of three shades.  These shades are described below:

Pink: Measurement of high school graduates.  The deeper the shade of pink, the higher the percentage of high school graduates.

Yellow: Measurement of college graduates.  The deeper the shade of yellow, the higher the percentage of college graduates.Blue: Measurement of the median household income.  The deeper the shade of blue, the higher the median household income.

When you combine these colours, you get a combined measurement of high school graduation rates, college graduation rates and median household income within a given county.  You may notice some counties are almost white in colour while others are almost black.  The white counties are ones that have a lo

w h
igh school graduation rates, a  low college graduation rates and a low median household incomes.  The black counties, on the flipside, have a high high school graduation rate, a high college graduation rate and a high median household income.

What is more interesting are the colours in between.  The blue-ish shades of green highlight a city with a high median household income yet a low college and high school graduation rate.  This would suggest a city that has a lot of highly educated transplants.

Anyways, take a good look at the map.  While it may not fully prove the title of this blog post, it is most certainly a very interesting stud

y.  And please visit this blog postcourtesy of Good.is for more information and a bigger map.

The Fate of Ontario Place

Most adult Toronto residents view Ontario Place with a true sense of nostalgia.    Over the course of several decades, the inner city theme park delighted visitors with it’s water park, IMAX movies and beautiful lake side views.  However, over the last 5 to 10 years, Ontario Place has begun to lost some of it’s lustre.  Despite decent attendance on the weekends, Ontario Place can often be quite empty throughout the week.   Recently, according to this Toronto Star article, the Provincial Crown corporation has started to look at overhauling the entire Ontario Place complex.  The extremely unfortunate thing is that this may mean that all the buildings currently on the Ontario Place property may be torn down.

The Provincial Crown corporation is looking for ideas to redevelop the site and are hoping to make a decision by 2011.   I have heard rumours of such developments as a high end condo complex and a hotel to accommodate all the convention goers at Exhibition Place.  However, it seems quite alarming (and disheartening) that the idea of simply improving the amusement park hasn’t been considered.  There are many buildings on the site already that are considered an icon of Toronto and to destroy all these buildings seem like a somewhat ludicrous thing to do.    Thus, it seems to make more sense that if they want to make better use of the space, they simply need to improve what they already have.

Ontario Place is an extremely popular spot for families and provides Toronto with a central amusement park for everyone to enjoy.  It is also a cheaper alternative to the overpriced Canada’s Wonderland outside of Toronto.   And it seems that there is a growing community who want to make sure that site of Ontario Place continues to be a place for everyone to enjoy.  I have already found (and joined) a Facebook group entitled ‘Save Ontario Place‘ and I urge those who don’t want to lose this important piece of Toronto to join.  And while I am intrigued to hear all the different proposals, I truly believe the best one is one that improves what is already there and not one that takes away a true piece of Toronto history.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr User Canuck with a Camera

Victoria, B.C.:The Anti-Tourist City

Residents of any place have often been notorious for being a bit anti-tourist.  Anyone who has ever lived anywhere for a certain number of years has at one time or another scoffed at tourists taking pictures of the most random sights.  Yet, as much as we hate to admit it, tourists are a big part of a successful city.  Infrastructure, attractions and museums need to be present to support these people. As well, cities may end up with certain characteristics that outsiders may often identify it with.  For better or for worse, Los Angeles is a city of movie stars, London is very proper and full of castles, and Rio de Janeiro is an all day/all night party. Do these characteristics tell the whole story or even a bit of a story?  Not likely but they do often help lure the tourist dollars into the city.

Victoria, British Columbia is a strange case.  Located on Vancouver Island in Western Canada, Victoria has been tagged as a little piece of Britain in Canada.  And I can tell you from being there that the locals hate it.  And even from an outsider’s perspective, I can see why.  It is continuously used as a representation of the city when in fact many of the ‘Britishness’ of the city is for the tourists only.

What’s more is that Victoria has been closing various attractions to the delight of the locals.  Several attractions have closed in the last decade, most prominently, the Crystal Garden, an indoor garden featuring a large number of birds.  More recently, the Royal London Wax Museum has opted to move away from Victoria due to the inability to secure a long term lease on their current address.  And how do the locals feel about all of this?  They are strangely happy about it.  While the wax museum may not be high on class, it does offer a destination for the entire family.  The next attraction under siege in the Undersea Gardens, Victoria’s own aquarium.  Although undersized, it once again provides a welcome attraction for touring families.

Victoria is a beautiful destination with a large number of fantastic sights.  Yet, a city needs to support a variety of tourist needs.  Sometimes, locals of tourist destinations need to understand that tourism and tourists help the city give it another dimension.  So go out there and hug a tourist.  And remember, your city is the world’s to share.   So support whatever wrong notion others may have about your city.

What to do with the Seattle Center?

Photo couresty of Flickr user Being Micheal


The Seattle Center is, for many, the heart and soul of Seattle.  It is also a major draw for tourists to the city.  Yet, shockingly, the center will reach it’s 50th birthday in 2012.  Since it’s beginning as the grounds for the worlds fair back in 1962, the Seattle Center has always been a mixed use development with attractions, museums, shops and open green space.  Recently,  the old school amusement park, Fun Forest, has vacated the Center leaving a large parcel left for possible new development.  Unfortunately, since then everything has been a bit of a mess.

Firstly, a museum developed to the famous glass blower Dale Chihuly, who is from the Seattle area, was proposed.  The museum promoted the fact that it draw a large amount of tourists and would be an extremely profitable edition to the center.  However, as soon as the Seattle residents found out about the museum, they began to protest and protest loudly.  Their main argument was the fact that their public land was being turned into yet another private museum.  They certainly have a point, yet the most popular alternative seemed to be more open green space.  Apparently, someone forgot to remind the residents that the Seattle Center isn’t Central Park.

However, since then, the public has been allowed to submit alternative proposals.  So far, there has been some very intriguing ideas.  One such idea is a mystery and legends museum.  It certainly sounds like a lot of fun and it’s price tag is much smaller for a visitor than the Dale Chihuly museum.  Another proposal suggest moving one of the local independent music stations to the center.  If the residents were angry about a museum moving in, a radio station would seem like an even more outrageous idea.  A third proposal, as expected, asks for more open space.  Big surprise.

So what do I think?  I think the residents are right, to a degree.  What’s best for the center is public space that can also help contribute to the local economy.  In other words, a museum that charges a high admission fee isn’t the answer.  Neither is open green space.   One possibility is to create a new improved and more modern amusement park.  Perhaps one of the most fun aspects of the original amusement park was the fact that people were able to walk around free of charge.  It provided some entertaining people watching and if people felt inclined to actually ride a ride, they could purchase a ride ticket.  Perhaps the reason why the Fun Forest closed was not that an amusement park wasn’t economically viable in the Seattle Center location, but rather that the park was simply too outdated.  Another suggestion is an old style arcade (like the Musee Mecanique in San Francisco) where residents and tourists alike are allowed to go inside, but must pay a quarter or two to actually play or use any of the machines.  Finally, a  Chihuly museum with a far cheaper admission price tag may be able to sway over some of the current protest against it.

In the end, the debate over the Seattle Center continues.  And while the different groups can’t agree on what the right proposal is, it is still very good news to hear that after almost 50 years, the Seattle Center is still very important to Seattle residents.

6th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey:2010

Demographia International recently posted their 6th annual housing affordability survey which compares the median household income to the median housing prices in various metropolitan areas throughout North America, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.  The survey splits the cities into three different categories (the numbers represent the ratio between the median housing price and the median household income):

  • Affordable (< 3.0)
  • Moderately Unaffordable (3.1 – 4.0)
  • Seriously Unaffordable (4.1 – 5.0)
  • Severely Unaffordable (> 5.0)

The most affordable cities were generally those that have high crime rates and a high degree of vacancies.  These include such places as Detroit (1.6), Indianapolis (2.2), and Cleveland (2.4).   However, some less devastated regions throughout United States and Canada still fit into the affordable category including Atlanta (2.1), Houston (2.9) and Dallas (2.7).

On the opposite side of the scale, Vancouver ranked as the most unaffordable metropolitan area at a whopping 9.3 ratio.  Sydney was second at a 9.1 and the Sunshine Coast down in Australia rounded out the top 3 at a 9.0.  Interestingly, while New York City and San Francisco may have the highest cost of living, their higher income levels somewhat make up for this giving them a ratio of 7.0.

A lot of this isn’t anything new, however it does provide an exceptional and entertaining reference for anyone looking to move sometime in the near future.  You can find the full pdf on the Demographia International site.

Finalists Announced for First Ever ‘Reburbia’ Competition

Recently, Dwell Magazine and Inhabitat.com hosted the first ‘Reburbia’ competetion ever.  The competition is aimed at generating new and innovative ideas for how we envision our suburbs.  The finalists have now been announced and are currently being voted on.  I will say that some of the ideas are pretty radical, but all offer some value for what may work in our not too distant future.  One finalist suggests using air traffic as another mode of public transport.  Of course, this may seem inefficient and difficult to envision right now, but does seem like a viable option in the future.  Currently, the ‘Urban Sprawl Repair Kit’ leads in voting.

The Fall of Dubai?

Fast Company posted an excellent article on the state of Dubai during the recession (entitled Bye-Bye Dubai).  During the economic prosperity that took place during most of this past decade, Dubai was the prime example of unnecessary excess.  However, with the prolonged recession, Dubai has taken a turn for the worse.  Some of the statistics the article provide a shocking reality:

  • 50% of the developments have been stalled or are cancelled
  • The stock market has dropped 70% from the peak
  • Housing prices are down 41%

Some of the stalled and cancelled developments include Dubailand (a huge collection of theme parks, hotels and shops), a Tiger Woods golf course and even a underwater hotel.  And according to the article, what is left of the city is empty streets and houses.

With a city that depended on a high amount of immigrants and foreign labourers, it’s not surprising that many of these people that flocked to the city during the good times have left for greener pastures.  Unfortunately, the many South Asians and Indians that were overworked and abused building the hundreds of developments over the last several years now are the ones that have found themselves unable to leave.

For the majority of this past decade, Dubai has been reshaping it’s urban fabric more quickly than many thought possible.  Unfortunately, it’s excessive developments and rush to become one of the world’s great cities may have finally caught up with it.  While the Burj Dubai (now the tallest building in the world at well over 2000 feet) will be a reminder of the good times, the many empty houses and shops will be reminder of the current ones.

Sydney to Introduce ‘Homophobic Free Zones’

Apparently, the Sydney city council has voted in favour of creating ‘homophobic free zones’ in certain districts of the Aussie city.  Measures will be taken at in these distrcits including bars possibly losing late night trading privelages if they places do not adhere to being completely homophobic free.  Interestingly enough, the only member of the council to vote against this idea was the only gay member of the city council calling the plan a gimmick.  Does anyone else think this concept sounds a bit out there?  Shouldn’t all districts of all cities be homophobic free?  To me, this whole concept undermines the fact that gay men and women should be treated fairly wherever they go and perhaps could lead to further segregation.

The full article can be found here.