Sunday, December 16

Holiday Like You Give A Damn

[The 2004 St. Paul Winter Carnival Ice Palace as photographed by MNkiteman.]

No matter what you're celebrating this time of year, many of us choose to express our holiday spirit by giving gifts to the people we love. Expanding on last year's short list of alternative gift ideas, here are my picks for the "Holidaze 2008". They might just bring you a little sanity and humanity during the coming hustle and bustle.

Changing the Present on Facebook | For my friend Kristin's birthday this year I sent her a virtual gift through the social networking website Facebook. Just a small image that she can display on her profile page, it's essentially a virtual expression of our real-world friendship. It cost me $1. Well now Changing the Present, whom I featured in last years Holiday Like You Give A damn, has partnered with Facebook so that your $1 gift purchase can go to a non-profit of your choice. If you're linked into Facebook, just run a search for "Changing the Present". Happy gifting!

NEED magazine | Now 4 issues strong, the quarterly NEED magazine has really come into its own since I featured it last year. The magazine proclaims "We are not out to save the world, but to tell the stories of those who are". Stephanie and Kelly Kinnunen, the creators of the magazine (and Twin Cities residents), have been doing an amazing job of it. You can watch Stephanie talk about their work here. A quick and exciting aside: issue 4, now hot off the presses, features a story on the AFHMN/ MNSLFF project in Sri Lanka and photographs by AFHMN's own Richard Koechlein.

Q-BA-MAZE | The Q-BA-MAZE is another very cool gift idea with a Minnesota connection. Andrew Comfort, the inventor of Q-BA-MAZE, studied architecture at my alma-mater, The University of Minnesota. In the same vein as Froebal Blocks and Legos, the Q-BA-MAZE is a beautifully simple set of objects designed to let the user's imagination express itself through the act of building. A gift for children of all ages, I can tell you from experience that you will likely loose hours playing with it. Andrew also writes a blog called Play and Design that features some great posts on the Q-BA-MAZE design and development process.

XO Laptop: Give One Get one | So you probably know the scoop by now: you buy two of these tiny yet robust laptops; one goes to a child in a developing country and the other gets shipped right to your doorstep. Twin Cities blogger Aaron Landry recently "gave one got one" and wrote about his first impressions of the laptop, it's definitely worth checking out if you're interested in the project. The Give One Get One program has been extended through the end of December, but after that you won't really be able to get your mittens on one of these, so act quickly.

Solar Panel Messenger Bag from Voltaic | I can't attest to the functionality of this bag, but I love the concept: 3 photovoltaic panels make it a mobile power generator designed to charge all of your electronic gadgetry while you're on the go. The bag includes a battery so that energy you've collected over the course of the day is stored and can be used to provided a constant charge, day or night. If you're in the Twin Cities metro region, get over to locally owned and operated Sunny Day Earth Solutions to check out this bag and other eco-conscious gift ideas first hand.

Smart Generosity | There are so many non-profits and great organizations out there deserving of your charity that the shear breadth of options can easily become daunting. So how to best figure out where you should donate your hard-earned cash? I think the most important thing is to choose a non-profit working towards goals that are important to you or the people you are gifting. As with any gift, the more thought you put into it, the more it will mean to both you and the receiver. If you're still looking for a place to start, NEED magazine recently published a list that has some truly unique organizations looking for your help.

Happy Holidays from Architecture for Humanity Minnesota and Blog Like You Give A Damn! See you in the New Year!

Friday, December 14

Friday Photography | Andreas Gursky

Andreas Gursky's large scale prints are some of the most expensive in the world, but he's new to me. Sometimes measuring up to 10 or 15 feet long, the thumbnails below hardly do his work justice, but I'm sold regardless.

I especially love the two shots below:

+ Listen to a podcast considering the work of Gursky here
+ More information here

Happy Friday!

Solutions Happy Hour on Friday, Dec. 14th

Over the past year we've heard from audience and presenters alike that they'd like a place to get together and continue the conversations started at previous Solutions Twin Cities events. This is a great idea.

We'd like to invite you to attend the first of many casual gatherings with this in mind. Come to meet presenters from past and future events, talk with other like-minded individuals, and enjoy an end-of-the-work-week happy hour. It'll be fun.

We'll be meeting at the 331 Club in NE Minneapolis between 5 and 8pm on Friday, December 14th (that's today). The 331 Club is located at 331 NE 13th Ave., Minneapolis, MN. Please let us know if you have any questions, we hope to see you there.

BLYGAD 2.0: Predicting the present to better design the future.

Over the course of the day I often come across 6 or 7 items that I wish I had time to write about here on BLYGAD, but I've always felt pressured by the format to only post here when I had the time to do something substantiative, which can leave this place a little on the quite side at times.

As a possible remedy for this, I've been experimenting with Tumblr lately, appropriately at And as you can see from the Tumblr archive image above, I've been having allot of fun with it (56 posts in 12 days to be exact).

I call the site BLYGAD 2.0 and the format is all over the place: images, links, videos, short editorials by yours truly, found quotes... even BLYGAD HEARTS MUSIC, where I've been throwing up a new tune just about everyday, giving the site a pretty fresh soundtrack (in my opinion).

Otherwise, much of the content has been around the intersection of probable technology and culture futures, allowing me to explore a growing thought experiment along of the lines of 'predicting the present to better design the future.' It's also proving to be something of an incubator for future posts here on 1.0.

So if you're looking for a daily dose of Blog Like You Give A Damn, head on over to BLYGAD 2.0 or subscribe to the RSS FEED and thanks for reading!

Friday, December 7

Friday Photography | National Geographic's International Photography Contest

Amazing work over at the winner's page. These are some of my favorites:

Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 6

Report from the field: Hindu Temple Charrette

AFH MN member and charrette participant Maureen Ness has this report for us:

Members of AFH MN and members of the Hindu Temple of Minnesota convened on the evening of October 12th and morning of October 13th to engage in a design charrette for a Garden of Remembrance for the burial of the icons damaged by vandalism last year. On Friday evening, AFH MN toured the temple and met with the priest to learn more about the Hindu religion and appropriate guidelines for the burial of damaged statues.

On Saturday morning, AFH MN conducted a site analysis and then broke into two design teams to develop conceptual ideas for the Garden. In addition to the burial place, the teams were asked to include a flower garden for flowers to be used in worship and a vegetable garden for food to be ate at Temple meals. The two design concepts will be presented to the Temple Executive Committee at an upcoming meeting this winter.

Thanks Maureen! Here are the two conceptual site plans the team came up with (click to see full version):

We'll keep you updated with new developments as they happen.

Tuesday, December 4

Hey there old friend...

... it's been a while. I apologize for the lack of posts lately but I've been a bit busy as of late. Here's the quick version:

Solutions Twin Cities
(my other labor of love) put together two events over the past two and a half months. The first, at the Walker Art Center, was called "Gift to Forever" and focused on how kids can get active in shaping their world. Part of that was the art-making activity you see below. Read a full report here.

The other event was the second installment of the Solutions flagship Volume serious. If I do say so myself: Wow, what a great time. The space kicked a**, the presenters were amazing, the food was delicious, the music bangin, and the drinks cheap (and for a good cause to boot!). Troy and I are wrapping up post-production this week and next - videos should be out before the new year, if not sooner. Read the full Volume 2 wrap up post here.

zAmya Theater Project reaches climax at Solutions Volume 2, 10/19/07.

In AFH:MN news, the Hindu Temple Charrette went really well. Look for a wrap up post soon. As for whats next: we're looking into a handful of possible projects overseas, have started prep work for a few in our own backyard, & are taking the first steps towards getting our own non-profit and 501c3 status. We are also eagerly anticipating the annual Search for Shelter charrette coming up in February.

On the blogging front... well, I haven't been a total slouch! I started to shake off the cobwebs last month with a little bit of guest blogging over at Brendan's blog, Where. I joined a handful of other guest bloggers much finer then myself to keep things rolling while Brendan focused his pen on NaNoMo (Hey B, if you're reading this: I'm still waiting for my autographed copy). I took over the Weekend Reading segment. My posts?

WEEK ONE: Near future urbanism: how an ubiquitous and multi-layered network might effect our urban environment.
WEEK TWO: Skyways, Snap-Shot-City, I heart Jean Nouvel, Slum Rehab in Mumbai, & 250 Million urban planners.
WEEK THREE: I ate too much turkey.
WEEK FOUR: A little shameless self-promotion: I highlight some of my favorite presenters from past Solutions events.

The whole guest blogging thing was a ton of fun and I highly recommend you check out Where, it's truly top-notch urbanism-blogging from the Windy City.

They say a month without a post means death for any blog... it's been two months and a week. So if you're still reading, thank you. There's still allot of kick left in this BLYGAD and I've got some great stuff lined up, so stay tuned.

Saturday, September 29

3rd Annual Architecture for Humanity Minnesota Design Charrette | A Memorial Garden

The site of a future Memorial Garden.

We are happy to announce that the 3rd Annual Architecture for Humanity Minnesota Design Charrette is quickly approaching. Here are the deetz:

Hindu Temple, 10530 Troy Ln N, Maple Grove, MN 55311

Friday, October 12th (6pm to 9pm) - Introduction
Saturday, October 13th (9am to 6pm) - Design & Present

In July of 2006 two young men broke into the then still incomplete Hindu Temple through windows with baseball bats and destroyed many of the sacred deity statues that were to be honored inside the temple.
This MPR article provides a good backstory of the vandalism that was the catalyst for the Hindu Society’s request for design help from AFHMN.

Architecture for Humanity Minnesota connected with the
Hindu Society of Minnesota through Shivanthi Sathanandan, a member of the Pan-Asian Tsunami Healing (PATH) group who we worked with to design a recently completed community center in Sri Lanka (coincidently, the result of our First Annual Design Charrette back in 2005). She is a very active member of the Temple and thought of us when they started talking about designing a Memorial Garden for the burial of the icons damaged in the vandalism of 2006.

We learned that the traditional way of burying icons is to immerse them in water but that due to State and City code, the temple will not be allowed to bury the icons in this way and has asked us for some creative ideas for their burial and a concept design for a memorial garden next to the temple. The garden will be a place for people to reflect on the events that occurred at the temple and will honor the memory of these important deities.

For more information visit or contact Jeffrey at jeffrey[at]swainhart[dot]com.

We hope to see you there!

Friday Photography | Kowloon Walled City

Kowloon Walled City in 1915

We "Go East" in tonight's episode of Friday Photography. I wanted to follow up on a previous post about density in which I mentioned the Kowloon Walled City because it really is a fascinating story. I first learned about the city in reading William Gibson's Idoru, and later learned that he took further inspiration from the city for his amazingly realized anarchic sqautter city built into the Golden Gate Bridge Oakland Bay Bridge in his novel Virtual Light. As a real life local, the city has shown up up in various movies, even a Jackie Chan flick (1993's Crime Story). The Walled City even inspired the virtual settings for the video game Shenmue 2. An abbreviated & slightly annotated Wikipedia entry will weave us a short story about the amazing but now demolished Walled City:

The history of the Walled City (known as Kowloon then) can be traced back to the Song Dynasty, where it served as a watchpost defending the area against pirates and managing the production of salt. The Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory of 1898 which handed parts of Hong Kong to Britain for 99 years excluded the Walled City [which at this point was located in the heart of Honk Kong proper], with a population of roughly 700.

[Throughout the next 50 years] the Walled City remained a curiosity - a tourist attraction where British colonials could have a taste of the old China - [that is] until 1940, when during its WWII occupation of Hong Kong, Japan evicted people from the Walled City, and then demolished much of it - including the wall.

After Japan's surrender, squatters [mostly newcomers] began to occupy the Walled City, resisting several attempts by Britain in 1948 to drive them out. With no wall to protect it, the Walled City became a haven for crooks and drug addicts, as the Hong Kong Police had no right to enter the City. Mainland China refused to take care of it. The foundation of the People's Republic of China in 1949 added thousands of refugees to the population.
This is my favorite paragraph. By this time it is the late 1970's and 1980's:

Square buildings folded up into one another as thousands of modifications were made, virtually none by architects or engineers, until hundreds of square meters were simply a kind of patchwork monolith. Labyrinthine corridors ran through the monolith, some of those being former streets (at the ground level, and often clogged up with trash), and some of those running through upper floors, practically between buildings. The streets were illuminated by fluorescent lights, as sunlight was rare except for the rooftops. The only rules of construction were twofold: electricity had to be provided to avoid fire, and the buildings could be no more than about fourteen stories high, because of the nearby airport. A mere eight municipal pipes somehow provided water to the entire structure (although more could have come from wells).
... the story continues:

Over time, both the British and the Chinese governments found the massive, anarchic city to be increasingly intolerable - despite the low reported crime rate. The quality of life in the city, sanitary conditions in particular, was far behind the rest of Hong Kong. After the Joint Declaration in 1984, the Peoples Republic of China agreed with British authorities to demolish the City and resettle its inhabitants. The mutual decision to tear down the walled city was made in 1987. At that time, it had 50,000 inhabitants on 0.026 km², and therefore a very high population density of 1,900,000 / km². At its height, it was one of the most densely populated urban areas on Earth.

Evacuations started in 1991 and were completed in 1992. The 1993 movie Crime Story starring Jackie Chan was partly made in the deserted Walled City, and includes real scenes of building explosions. Kowloon Walled City was destroyed in the same year. Also, as the Walled City was beginning to be torn down, a group of Japanese explorers took about a week to tour the empty walled city, making a sort of map and a cross section of the city.
That last part is fascinating. Whoever that group was, I really hope they published their research. If anybody has any information on it, or on the Kowloon Walled city in general, get in touch! Until then, I'll be keeping my eyes out for it...

OK! Enough chit chat, on with the pictures (all of which were found with a simple Google search):

Kowloon Walled City in 1973

City Of Darkness: Life in Kowloon City seems to be the definitive book documenting the city and what it was like to live there with beautiful full color photographs - this has been on my wish list for years. The only other online resource worth mentioning, besides the Wiki entry above, is this page from Twenty4 - there are some great photographs (presumbly taken from City of Darkness) there.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 27

Extreme divides between rich & poor

Disparity manifest in land use patterns pulled together by the always interesting deputydog.

The first two come to us from Caracas, Venezuela.

This one is taken on the edge of the Paraisopolis Favela in Morumbi, Sau Paulo.

Full post here. Thanks Maureen!

Saturday, September 22

Talk about mixed use

This is right up there with the Kowloon Walled City in terms of jaw dropping examples of shear density. I have no idea where this video was taken, but it's incredible. File under further evidence of ingenuity in the face of massive over population.

Skip to the end of this one for some beautiful shots from the side of train.

Saturday, September 1

The role of design in global, social, & humanitarian crisis

The lovely Cassie Neu on why design matters and our approach to it here at Architecture for Humanity: Minnesota - let it be local, let it be sustainable, let it be appropriate, let it be collaborative.

Recorded on May 2nd, 2007 at Solutions Volume 1 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Friday, August 31

Friday Photography | AFHMN in Sri Lanka

As reported earlier, 4 lucky AFHMNers recently took a trip to Sri Lanka to represent Architecture for Humanity: Minnesota at the grand opening of a new community center in the new village of Hikkaduwa.

Read more about our community center project with the Minnesota Sri Lanka Friendship Foundation here and here.

The built community center.

Inside the library.

Young dancers getting ready to perform at the opening.

Back row - the AFHMNers: Cassie, Jeffrey, Maureen & Rich / Front row - Sri Lankan children (with ball)

They also got to spend some time touring the region and have some great pics to prove it:

Check out the whole set on Flickr. (Thanks to Maureen for making her photos available!)

Happy Friday!

Thursday, August 30

Prefab or Prefad?

The always thought provoking Witold Rybczynski has compiled a short slide show essay on why the modernist prefab movement hasn't caused the architectural revolution so many are hoping for. (coughDwellcough)

The, in my opinion, superbly designed LV Home by Rocio Romero.

On why this might be so, he quotes Colin Davies’ book The Prefabricated Home:

The strength of the prefabricated house lies in its popularity, its cheapness and the industrial base from which it operates," he writes. "These are precisely the areas in which modern architecture is weakest. Modern architecture is unpopular, expensive and divorced from industrial production. That is why whenever it has tried to extend its field to include the territory of the prefabricated house it has failed and been forced to retreat.
As much as it pains me to say so - Witold, Davies, and other are right. At present date, the reality of the situation is such that the prefabricated modernist movement is not fulfilling its promise of bring good design to the masses. Homes like those pictured above will remain in the realm of second homes and "cabins" for the wealthy while those picture below will remain not only more accessible, but more desirable, to the so called masses...

That is, unless we begin to realize that the systems that make the above suburban monotony possible can also lead to other far more intriguing design outcomes.

[insert shameless plug here]

One example comes from St. Paul based Cermak Rhoades Architects (whom I do happen to work for). They've gone back to the drawing board to design a series of modern homes that utilize the same smart growth principles and well designed house plans already developed for a Greater Minnesota Housing Fund program called Building Better Neighborhoods.

Though none of these homes have yet to be built, the fact remains that good contemporary design can be affordable when you use existing construction standards. From the website:
... these affordable homes are designed in a manner that reinforces a livable and efficient community. Smaller lot sizes, welcoming front porches, and alley access garages all contribute to help make these communities walkable and inviting... clean lines, simple forms, and rich colors.

The problem now is of course that pesky little thing called the "market". It doesn't matter how affordable or well designed it is if people won't buy it.

Check out the other side of the argument, as presented by local prefab gurus, Alchemy Architects (whom again, I think do great work), recorded at Solutions Volume 1:

Brief disclaimer: The contents of this blog reflect only my opinion and not those of any other organization or business, present employer included.

Black Balloons - Making CO2 Real

The Alliance for Climate Protection has a great advert up on their site called Black Balloons - Making CO2 Real (click for video).

The piece does a great job of making something invisible and possibly hard to comprehend very real and accessible.

(Thanks Jeffrey!)