MAD Architects will ensure that the experience of visiting the new Yiwu Grand Theater in China’s Zhejiang province is unlike anything else in the world, with a highly unusual boat-inspired design. Set on the south bank of the Dongyang River, the structure seems to float on the surface of the water, its sloping glass curtain walls resembling massive translucent silk sails.
A tree-lined pedestrian footbridge offers access from the northern side, while a large plaza dips down to the water on the southern side. Trees dot the facility itself as well, as if nature has overtaken a long-anchored ship. The theater features a passive solar design, with the glass curtain walls acting as both a shading system and a means of optimizing natural light.
This design by MAD Architects bested proposals by Arata Isozaki, Christian de Portzamparc, GMP and others in a contest held by the city as it aims to brand itself as a new cultural hub for the region.
“Positioned with the mountains in the distance as its backdrop, and the water as its stage, MAD’s design responds to its locale, and appears as a boat, floating on the river,” say the architects. “It is defined by a layering of glass sails that are reminiscent of the Chinese junks that once transported goods across the waters, while their subtle curves echo the Jiangnan-style eaves of the ancient vernacular architecture that is typical of the region.”
“The transparency and lightness of the glass express the texture of thin, silky fabric, creating a dynamic rhythm that makes them appear as if they are blowing in the wind. They act as a protective canopy around the building, resonating with the river, elegantly floating above the water’s surface, setting a romantic atmosphere.”
Looking at these renderings, one question that comes to mind immediately is, what happens if the river rises? MAD doesn’t address the issue, but features that deal with the possibility may be built into the design. In any case, it’s a striking new landmark for Yiwu, and somewhat reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House.
The complex will include a 1600-seat grand theater, a 1,200-seat medium theater and an international conference center with a capacity of 2,000. Commissioned by the Administration Committee of Silk Road New District of Yiwu along with the Culture, Broadcasting & Television, Tourism and Sports Bureau of Yiwu, the new theater is set to begin construction in 2020.
Recycling isn’t going to solve our waste problems. Between the contamination that happens when we don’t recycle correctly and the degradation of plastic over time, it’s a band-aid at best, and millions of pounds of “recyclable” materials end up in landfills no matter which bin we put them in. Of course, that doesn’t mean we should just accept plastic pollution (including the micro plastics that litter the oceans and our own bodies) as a fact of life. But it does mean we have to change our approach.
Recyclability Doesn’t Matter Anymore
According to the most recent EPA stats available (which are from 2015), the amount of plastic waste generated in the United States is actually rising. Up to 70% of plastic entering recycling facilities around the world is unusable, and some of it – like plastic bags – gums up the machines, ruining entire loads of potentially recyclable materials.
If you’re wondering where our plastic goes when it doesn’t get recycled, a recent Guardian report from 11 countries tracked how waste from the U.S. makes its way around the world. Hundreds of thousands of tons of it, from plastic bottles to e-waste, are shipped every year to impoverished countries like Bangladesh, Laos, Ethiopia and Senegal in what is essentially a new form of colonization.
We don’t know how to deal with it, so we put it all on ships and send it “away,” where it becomes someone else’s problem, spilling out into their own natural spaces. The toxic fumes that can result from burning or processing plastics contain substances like dioxins, heavy metals and hydrochloric acid.
It’s easy to blame all of this on consumers not taking the time to properly sort recyclables. But the recyclability of plastics can be arcane even to people who are well-educated on the topic, since facilities vary in the types of plastic they’re able to take, and the numbers printed on containers within that meaningless mobius loop recycling symbol don’t necessarily tell us whether they’re accepted by local waste processors.
Planning for a Circular Economy
The solution to all of this is actually pretty simple. The manufacturers who produce products, packaging and even architecture in the first place should have their own plans and systems to take it back when its usefulness to the consumer has ended. Moving toward a circular economy with a closed-loop system would place the responsibility for the waste produced by a given object in the hands of its manufacturer, driving motivation to come up with less wasteful solutions in the first place.
There’s no shortage of innovation when it comes to plastic alternatives that aren’t made of fossils fuels. Among the solutions that have already been proposed are edible seaweed-based materials, bioplastics made of arthropod shells, biodegradable combinations of cellulose and natural resins, mushroom-based foam and more. Some of them, like Sulapac, can be produced on existing production lines, so if companies really wanted to, they could instantly switch from their current plastic materials to a sustainable alternative.
But biodegradable plastics can pose problems of their own. While we might imagine that disposable tableware marked “compostable” is better than plastic or styrofoam, it can still end up in the ocean, where it takes years to break down and can potentially endanger wildlife. It also has to be sent to special industrial composting facilities, which don’t exist in every area. The thing is, with the possible exception of edible or plant-based options like banana leaves, few of these biodegradable innovations actually help if they’re still being used to produce single-use disposable items.
Individual actions still matter, and a big piece of the puzzle is changing our own thinking around convenience and the value of durability, but ultimately, like with climate change, we can’t let corporations off the hook. Just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions since 1988, and 20 companies represent the world’s biggest plastic polluters, including energy companies, beverage behemoths and meat and dairy processors. They have the money and the power to dramatically reduce pollution of all kinds.
Few companies are going to take the initiative to do this until we reach a critical mass of consumer demand, putting pressure on corporations to take responsibility and following up with legislative action. In a time when we’re dealing with so many pressing crises at once, it might be difficult to imagine pulling that off, but at the risk of sounding trite, changing anything for the better starts with imagining the world we want to live in and working from there.
Over a period of decades, the waters of Devils Lake slowly rose higher and higher until they enveloped an entire farming town in rural North Dakota, forcing its inhabitants to leave. Changes to the climate resulted in heavier rain, which spread across thousands of flat acres “like pouring water on a tabletop,” says photographer Paul Johnson, who grew up in a similar community not so far away. Johnson went back to his home state to document the town of Devils Lake in two seasons: winter and summer.
Located in a closed glacial basin unconnected to rivers, Devils Lake has been vulnerable to both flooding and almost completely disappearing over time, but it first began breeching the towns along its borders after long rainy period starting in 1993. The lake doubled in size by 1999. Farmers described the process as “a slow death,” watching their fields and eventually their homes and outbuildings succumb.
Though many of those structures have since collapsed, some are still standing, completely surrounded by water that freezes when the temperature drops.
“Abandoned places hold a wistful appeal to me and I think to many of us,” says Johnson in an interview with Passion Passport. “They are the final chapters of unknown stories where we’re left to ponder the details. Their quiet stillness can spur thoughts about the nature of time and the processes of decay and reclamation. In the case of Devil’s Lake, there’s the added element of these places being completely out of their original context. You just don’t expect to see a house or barn sitting in the middle of an enormous shallow lake and the experience is pretty surreal. The loss of so many farms and livelihoods gives the area a melancholy feel as well.”
Somewhere over the sea lies the abandoned Hotel La Rainbow, a cracked jewel of Japan’s Bubble Era that failed to attract its target market of bridge geeks.
A Bridge, Too Far
The “Hotel La Rainbow & Tower” (to use its official name) seemed like a great idea at the time. Then again, Japan’s lost and lamented “Bubble Era” saw countless such brainstorms bloom into “what was I thinking – or drinking” white elephants before the Asset Price Bubble economy finally burst in early 1992.
Not all of these extravagant mega-projects were busts, mind you. Take the Great Seto Bridge, a four-lane, double-deck, 8-mile-long series of 11 constituent bridges built – at a cost of US$ 7 billion – to connect the islands of Honshu and Shikoku. The Great Seto Bridge took 10 years to construct, saw the loss of 13 workers’ lives in the process, and was considered a true wonder of the world when it opened in 1988.
Ready, Seto, Go!
Surely tourists from across the nation and the world at large would be flocking to Okayama prefecture to take in the jaw-dropping view of the Great Seto Bridge stretching out over the Inland Sea! If only there was a hotel, complete with observation tower, available for these deep-pocketed travelers to rest their bones and spend their yen… and in late-1980s Japan, investors’ dreams all-too-often came true.
Rooms With a View
So it was that in late 1988, a private investment group opened the La Rainbow Hotel & Tower, situated on a prime piece of Okayama real estate overlooking the Inland Sea. The view encompassed the 4,600 ft long Shimotsui-Seto Bridge (the northernmost stage of the Great Seto Bridge) and a number of small islands projected to become a sort of “Japanese Venice” as regional development progressed. Unfortunately, reality set in when the bubble burst and the associated Seto Sea Boom ended with a bang – and more than a few whimpers.
What appears, from a distance, to be a slice of land levitating above the hills of Santorini, Greece is actually an incredible modern home set on a lower level that acts like a mirrored plinth. Living greenery emerges from the roof, and the upper level bears the striations found in cross-sections of excavated earth. What must observers think of it as they approach, squinting at it in disbelief?
This unusual residence is just the latest modern wonder created by the firm Kapsimalis Architects. Located within a vineyard facing the Mediterranean Sea with views of the island’s capital city of Fira, the surreal structure pays tribute to its location with its highly unusual cave-inspired design.
Within that mirrored ground floor are the living and dining rooms, kitchen, master bedroom and bathroom, while the earthen level hosts an attic, office and terraces overlooking the spectacular setting. It’s almost like the architects magically inverted the earth and sky, since the open-plan lower level enjoys panoramic views of the outdoors through its one-way mirrored facade but feels like it’s underground thanks to the thick, heavy volume above it.
“The rough volcanic landscape, the intense alternations of the scenery, the diversity of the materials, the former architecture and the changeable weather conditions have a huge effect in our designing process. We consider that each architectural solution is related to the surrounding and is formed by it in a harmonious or a conflicting or in a totally seperate way. The differnt features and challenges of the place is the spark that leads each time to diverse architectural forms.”
“We are interested in how buildings could become integral parts of the landscape. Apart from the forms and how could be developed on each place, equally compelling is how the use of each building contribute to the environment itself. We seek for the values and the customs , the old aesthetics and the pre-existing memories of each place in order to show them up in a modern twist. Wishes and hidden desires of the future users are mixed with project’s background in search of a new perception of the space.”
Other works by the firm include hotels camouflaged within sandy hillsides, monumental concrete homes, sensitive adaptations of Greek ruins and other structures that play upon the region’s natural textures and shapes as well as the island nation’s vernacular architecture.
Despite the fact that wood has been in use as a primary building material for millennia, it’s being hailed as the material of the future. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
Wooden architecture is most often associated with cabins and other rustic styles, but that perception is increasingly out of date. Recent innovations are producing wood that’s capable of standing in for more environmentally harmful materials like plastic, steel, concrete and even glass. It might seem like increasing demand for wood could deplete forests more rapidly than ever, contributing to the climate crisis, but the key to sustainability lies in preserving large tracts of old growth forest while also maintaining well-managed working forests using modern methods that protect biodiversity.
Wood may seem relatively inflexible when it comes to architecture, but it doesn’t have to be. Researchers at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Computational Design and Construction have found a way to create bending, twisting wooden structures in a process that actually makes the wood stronger than ever. But the best part is, unlike mechanical forming processes that require heavy machinery, this technique requires very little energy. “Urbach Tower” is the result of these efforts, a “shelf-shaping” 46-foot-tall tower in Germany.
The components for the tower were designed and manufactured in a flat state, and once they were assembled, the wood was allowed to go through its natural drying and shrinking process, warping it into a shape of its own creation.
A new type of wood developed by a team at the University of Maryland and the University of Colorado Boulder is capable of passively shedding heat, reflecting sunlight and warmth to lower a building’s electricity consumption. It’s created by removing a natural polymer called lignin, which holds together the molecules of wood’s other main component, cellulose. Then the wood is compressed to create a strong, pale material made up solely of cellulose fiber, and a hydrophobic compound is added to make it water-resistant. Since lignin absorbs heat, its removal gives the resulting material a cooling effect.
Not only have those same scientists at the University of Maryland created cooling wood, they’ve found a way to make bulletproof wood through densification, which also makes it resistant to fire. The team led by Liangbing Hu first chemically treated the timber with sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfite to partially remove its lignin, then hot-pressed it to create a dense, laminated material free of the air changes that increase flammability. When burnt, the modified wood doesn’t catch fire; instead, it becomes even more fireproof by forming an insulating exterior layer of char.
Wood Based Plastics
We don’t have to give up the convenience and versatility of plastic in order to curb rampant pollution. We just have to make it out of different materials. Previously, we’ve seen plastic alternatives made of edible algae, the skeletons of arthropods like shrimp, milk proteins and mushrooms. But wood is another contender. Developed by a research group at the Technical University of Hamburg, “lignopure” is a lignin-based plastic that’s completely non-toxic and biodegradable. The lignin is released using a high-pressure process requiring only CO2, water and enzymes, producing a flexible material that can be molded, 3D printed and formed into thin layers for use as tape and packaging.
Someday soon, wood could even replace glass. Researchers at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm chemically modified wood to make it transparent without losing its mechanical properties – again, by removing the lignin. The team filled the resulting micros coping holes with acrylic to produce a translucent piece of wood with a frosted effect. Then, mixing it with polyethylene glycol, a “phase-change material” that melts at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, they make it fully transparent and capable of releasing energy when cooled, producing a clear “pane” of wood that can absorb energy during the hottest hours of the day and release it at night when it gets chilly.
Now that studies have proven the strength and fire-resistance of cross-laminated timber (CLT), building codes around the world are relaxing to enable the construction of super-tall timber towers. So many of these wooden wonders are under construction, it’s hard to keep track of them all, each vying for the title of “world’s tallest wooden building.”
CLT is an engineered material created by stacking and gluing small pieces of structural lumber, with each layer perpendicular to the one below it. The result is so durable, it’s seen as a viable alternative to steel and concrete, while being competitive in price and far less energy-intensive to manufacture. It’s also a lot more fire-resistant than timber in its natural state. All of these qualities point to the possibility of increasingly wood-filled cities in the near future.
Lots of modular building systems use stackable components made of composite materials to eliminate the need for nails, screws and other fasteners. But almost none of them use wood like Brikawood, a a system of wooden bricks that lets you build an entire house with just a handful of tools. The interlocking pieces of wood snap together so firmly, they become totally rigid with mechanical, acoustic, thermal and anti-seismic properties, and you don’t even have to add any cladding or membranes. The walls are instantly finished on both sides.
Removed from their context, the strange concrete monuments dotting the landscape of the former Yugoslavia can seem abstract, inscrutable, even “alien.” Called “Spomeniks” after the Serbo-Croatian word for “monument,” the massive sculptures were virtually unknown to the rest of the world before photographer Jan Kempenaers documented them with these striking photographs between 2006 – 2009.
With renewed interest came the spread of misinformation, as some claimed the monuments were Communist propaganda. But in truth, they weren’t displays of patriotic nationalism; they each commemorated specific local events, often antifascist uprisings by local citizens. Though many of them were built by and for the victims of fascist regimes, they’re often seen online alongside Nazi monuments with no references to their true meaning.
In many cases, the monuments were commissioned, funded and chosen locally, and their aesthetic reflects a shift in Yugoslavia towards an interest in modernism. In an age of rising international neofascism, these monuments have much to tell us, argues Hatherly, and “deserve better than to be glimpsed for a few seconds on Tumblr.”
“For Tihana Pupovac, a major problem is also the depoliticized framing of the monuments. Left without any indication of what they commemorate, or even of who designed them, the results are ‘deliberately oblivious’ to the anti-fascist struggle that they commemorate, or to why the artists and communities thought they were appropriate – which, once, they evidently did. ‘If we want to revive whatever we think can be found of politics in the aesthetic of these monuments, we have to go past nostalgia and past the sheer fascination.”
“Because, again, these monuments in themselves are not that unique, what was unique was the lived historical experience of socialism. And I think this is what lacks crucially from Kempenaers’ work. You can see this in the way he presents his work in former Yugoslavia and his total oblivion of the problem of anticommunism. And this makes him incapable of grasping the situation with these monuments today’, which in Croatia, is currently acute, not only with many of the monuments crumbling, but with a right-wing administration openly nostalgic towards the Ustaše and intent on burying whatever anti-fascist legacy might remain today.”
Erasing the context of the monuments also erases the scale of the atrocities that occurred in Yugoslavia, activists argue.
“’Yugoslavia was the fourth highest country in Europe in terms of civilian casualties’ during the Second World War [says Pupovac], and was also, along with Greece, the only country with a resistance movement – the multi-ethnic, Communist-dominated Partisans – that was large and strong enough to liberate the country almost without help from the Allies. The federal Yugoslavia that came out of this broke with Stalin and the USSR in 1948, and instituted a ‘self-management socialism’ of extreme complexity and decentralization.”
“This is what disappears in the Spomenik photos – as she puts it, ‘our lived historical experience of a revolution becomes only a cultural artefact’. [Architect and writer Dubravka] Sekulic argues that ‘a better way to engage with these monuments would be to use them as a tool to re-connect to the near past in which, as a society, we did not see space only as a commodity.’”
The state-of-the-art Arnold Home helped ease generations of retired Detroiters off this mortal coil before changing demographics dulled its once-cutting edge.
Hasta la Vista, Granny
The Arnold Home on Detroit’s Seven Mile Road opened in 1931, and was the final iteration of a succession of “Arnold” elder care homes dating back to 1899. Reverend Charles Arnold conceived the idea of a live-in care home after noting that the soon-to-be-Motor-City’s industrial boom was a bust for the old, the ill, and others in need of a social safety net.
The Big House
The penultimate Arnold Home was designed and built by Weston and Ellington, a Detroit-based architectural firm whose portfolio included the Metropolitan Building, The Wardell hotel (now the Park Shelton condominiums), and the New Light Baptist Church. The two-story tall Arnold Home featured four wings housing up to 115 residents, a dining hall, and hospital facilities. 1938 saw the addition of two more stories, increasing patient capacity to 235 beds.
Detroit’s demographics began to change in the late 1950s and early 1960s, however. Middle-class retirees were moving to the suburbs and new residents tended to rely more heavily on Medicare and other government assistance programs. As this trend progressed, the Arnold Home began experiencing funding and budgeting issues that resulted in a steadily declining standard of care.
Japanese art director Yuni Yoshida is well known for her surreal digital creations, particularly those manipulating the human body into unnatural forms, but a new series takes the opposite approach. “Layered” is a collection of food photography in which fruit, burgers and other food items are cut apart and rearranged in pixelated or spliced forms, making them look like Photoshopped images.
For the pixelated series, Yoshida selected the color palette in a given arrangement of food and sourced “pixels” from a variety of other foods to recreate the tones. Look closely at the “pixels” in the pineapple image, for example, and you’ll see that most of them aren’t pineapple at all, but the effect is brilliant.
Yoshida uses a variety of techniques to achieve her signature surrealist style, from obvious digital manipulations to clever use of materials and photography angles. You can follow her work on Instagram.
In Milan, the eyes and voices of immigrants, refugees and marginalized citizens take on a surprising form to interact with the public, telling people their stories. While drones are typically associated with surveillance, war and intrusion, here they become messengers in an attempt to cross cultural divides and encourage empathy.
Loro (Them), a live performance by New York-based, Poland-born artist Krzysztof Wodiczko, came to Italy for the first time on June 6-8, during Milan Photo Week, with support from non-profit public art organization More Art. The multimedia installation anthropomorphizes drones “to reclaim a broader conversation about technology’s relationship to humanity,” equipping them with screens that show only the eyes of people involved in the project. A megaphone-like mouth tells each person’s story as the drones fly at low altitude outside Milan’s Teatro Continuo Burri.
“Each drone represents a person, elaborating on the lived experience not only of immigration, but more generally of social and political marginalization, addressing highly topical issues such as cohabitation, citizenship, representation, and even hospitality. The title of the project Loro (Them) immediately emphasizes the distance that is created by those who are mistakenly considered different—highlighting the all too familiar ‘them’ vs. ‘us’ dichotomy. At the same time, the artist seeks to cancel this divisive space, putting audiences face to face, albeit virtually, with real stories and real individuals.”
For all their good intentions, the drones still have a bit of a disconcerting look to them, at least in the initial renderings, but they’re a tad less imposing in real life, as seen in this video by the Instytut Adama Mickiewicza. Whether there’s a disconnect between the stories of these so-called “invisible citizens” and the technology used to present them may depend on your personal view of drones. If you find them creepy, do you think that view would ease at all when they’re humanized like this?
Loro (Them) is just the latest thought-provoking project from Wodiczko, an internationally known artist, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and former director of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies and of the Interrogative Design Group at MIT.
“Throughout his career, Wodiczko has been instrumental in combining new technologies with art. Working with still images, video and audio, Wodiczko has become famous throughout the world for his large-scale public screenings of iconic buildings and monuments. Since 1980 he has created more than 90 screenings worldwide, including “Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection” in New York City in 2012 commissioned by More Art.”