Sand Castles


Written by RallJaisk Friday, 16 December 2011 19:21

In South Africa, designers are using surprising materials to house locals

Every year, Cape Town's Design Indaba conference draws together high-profile architects from around the world to muse about the power of contemporary design. In 2007, Indaba's organizers decided to use that concentrated creative energy to address a problem in their own backyard: the thousands of impoverished people living in makeshift shacks in South Africa's townships. Looking to create low-cost houses that could serve as models for the future, they launched the 10x10 Housing Project, which paired 10 leading international architects with 10 local architects, and tasked each team with developing an appealing house that could be built for about $7,000.

Luyanda Mpahlwa, a partner in the firm MMA, and his team decided to build theirs with an unlikely but abundant source: sand. "African industry usually uses bricks and mortar, or clay brick, or concrete block, which is more expensive," says Mpahlwa. "As architects and professionals, we should be leading the search for different ways of building. Not everyone can afford the normally available material."

It was a wise design decision. Not only is MMA's house the sole design to be realized so far, but sponsors have funded the construction of 10 individual units for 10 families, rather than the originally planned single residence. The project also won the inaugural Curry Stone Design Prize, an annual $100,000 award for humanitarian design, in September. The houses are now nearly complete in Freedom Park, a community on the outskirts of Cape Town that was previously a warren of shacks.

Starting from a shell of EcoBeam timber framing, which uses a minimal amount of wood strengthened with zigzagging steel bars, the houses use row upon row of stuffed nylon sandbags to give the structure heft and permanence. Using sandbags for walls has a number of advantages. It's a readily available material, and it has good thermal qualities, which protects from the heat. Sand is also very sturdy when packed, and is good at dampening sound-an important consideration for communities where houses are clustered tightly together. But perhaps most importantly, MMA has designed a house that "can be built by hand by anybody," says Mpahlwa. The houses in Freedom Park are constructed with volunteer help from local women.

After all the bags are stacked, most of the exterior walls are wrapped with a wire mesh that gets coated with a thin layer of plaster, while a few sections are covered with wood or metal to achieve a desired look. The modern design of the 580-square-foot house offers something distinctly different for the area, with two floors of living space and a balcony that provides the basis for future expansion. "It's not high-science in terms of design," says Mpahlwa. "But for the area, it's very different, and for a family that has never had a house, it is spectacular."

The 10 houses are being given away for free to families who were selected via lottery, and MMA has ambitions to expand the project beyond Freedom Park. "This is a pilot project," that could be a model for other areas, says Mpahlwa. "We wanted to find something that could be a low-cost housing solution for the future."

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Move Over, Dubai


Written by RallJaisk Friday, 16 December 2011 19:21

Abu Dhabi is bridging the gap to the west with by bringing art (and biopsies, and Econ 101 classes) to its own shores.

1. The Louvre

It's still unclear where the Mona Lisa's going to live, but one thing is certain: By 2012, Abu Dhabi will have its very own Louvre, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel. The Emirate forked over $520 million just for the name, and is paying France another $700 million-plus in consulting and execution.

2. New York University

In the fall of 2010, NYUAD will join La Sorbonne as prestigious universities creating eastern facsimiles of themselves. Touted as the first liberal arts and science college of its caliber in the east, NUYAD It will open on Saadiyat Island with 2,000 students in fall 2010, with unrestricted curricula.

3. The Cleveland Clinic

The world-class cancer hospital brings its expertise to a space-age-looking outpost in Abu Dhabi, slated to open in 2011. It will start with 360 beds, scalable to 490, and all doctors will be western-trained. Now, the superrich have another reason to head for AD and never leave.

4. The Guggenheim

Aiming to be the first ever museum of global contemporary art, this $780 million behemoth will be the Guggenheim's sixth. Its director-poached from the New York homebase-calls the thing "pharonic," promising art space as well as hotels, golf courses and residential units. And it wouldn't befit the locale if it wasn't the largest Guggenheim on earth: 452,000 square feet designed by- who else?-Frank Gehry.

5. Sotheby's and Christie's Auction Houses

Following a growing demand from Middle East collectors and continuing the trend of arthouses in the Emirates, big-money auction houses Sotheby's and Christie's have already started exhibitions and sales in Abu Dhabi, as well as its trailblazing cousin Dubai.

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The Anti-Consumers


Written by RallJaisk Friday, 16 December 2011 19:21

Five Groups That Aren't Buying It

The Amish
Estimated Membership: 232,000
Homeland: U.S. & Canada
The Amish have been partying the same way since 1693, and though less-strict communities allow for some use of technology (solar energy, hydropower) their commitment to simplicity is impressive: most travel by horse-drawn buggy, sew their own clothes on foot-powered machines, and cook on wood-fired stoves. This level of immaterialism is not for the hasty. As one Amish farmer told the Institute for Environmental Studies: "We often joke that where tractors can plough a six-acre field in two hours, I figure two days-but my time includes listening to vesper sparrows and meadowlarks and watching clouds scud across the sky."

No Impact Man
Estimated Membership: 3 known, countless inspired
Homeland: New York City
Of the multitude of bloggers bent on sitting at a computer to champion their sustainable lifestyle, No Impact Man (44-year-old writer Colin Beavan) is arguably the most serious: he has given up producing any sort of trash, using carbon-fueled methods of transport, shopping for anything but food grown within a 250-mile radius of his apartment, and-here's the best part-toilet paper. His wife and daughter are along for the ride, which is documented on his blog and a forthcoming book and documentary, due out year.

The Church of Stop Shopping
Estimated Membership: 20,000
Homeland: Worldwide
When performance artist Bill Talen (aka "Reverend Billy") started preaching to the bag-laden shoppers in New York City's Union Square in the late 1990s, little did he know he'd launch a new religion. There are now members of the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir in every continent but Antarctica. Their credo: The Shopocalypse is nigh, and they'll do anything to stop it, from marching (and singing anti-corporate songs) down Disneyland's Main Street to releasing a Morgan Spurlock-produced documentary-What Would Jesus Buy?-just in time for the holidays last year.

More on The Church of Stop Shopping from GOOD: "Shop Till You Drop?"

The Compact
Estimated Membership: 9,802
Homeland: Worldwide
Here's the challenge: buy nothing new for one year-no clothes, no toys for your kids, no half-off DVDs. You can buy food, health and safety items, and underwear (shopping for worn panties would just be gross), but that's it. In an effort to curb consumption, 10 San Franciscan friends did just that, and inspired people all over the globe to do the same. It's not easy, but the community they've forged online and at monthly meetings helps them get what they need. As Compacter John Perry told the SF Chronicle, "We had a little crisis when Matt and Sarah had to replace their shower curtain liner and we said no, but we put the word out and someone found one for them."

More on The Compact from GOOD: "The Compact"

Estimated Membership: Countless
Homeland: Worldwide
A burgeoning group of educated, often middle-class people who root through trash to cull usable waste. Obviously, not everyone who dumpster dives is a Freegan-most just do it to survive-but Freegans will tell you that their process is less about acquiring things than it is a total boycott of an economic system that's put profit above everything and everyone else. See for foraging tips and a city-by-city dumpster directory.

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The Planet Is Burning!


Written by RallJaisk Friday, 16 December 2011 19:21

And changing your lightbulb isn't going to fix it. See what other countries are doing to curb their impact.

China, the world's biggest consumer of plastic bags, has banned them nationwide. Rwanda has a similar ban.

German manufacturers are required by law to foot the bill for mandatory recycling of their products and packaging.

Sweden pledges to kick the oil habit completely by 2020.

The island of Sumatra has pledged to halt the logging of their forests, preventing billions of tons of carbon from entering atmosphere.

venture capital film Kleiner Perkins has invested $1 billion to find and fund the "Google" of clean green energy.

Denmark generates 20 percent of its electricity from wind power, making it the world leader.

A third of all of New Zealand's land has reserve or national-park status, protecting it from loggers.

In what is possibly the largest environmental lawsuit ever, 30,000 Ecuadorians are suing Chevron for massive pollution.

After bumping up coastal no-fishing zones from 4.5 percent to 33 percent Australia sees fish populations like trout rebound by 60 percent.

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Rise of the Global Middle Class


Written by RallJaisk Friday, 16 December 2011 19:21

America has had the biggest demand in the global economy for so long that we can't remember what it was like when that wasn't the case. But that's all about to change.

I'll let you in on a little secret about globalization: It is demand that determines power, not supply. Consumption is king; everybody else serves at will. So it ain't about who's got the biggest military complex but who's got the biggest middle class. Everybody's got the dream. What matters is who can pay for it.

For as long as we can remember, that's been America-the consumer around which the entire global economy revolved. What's it like to be the global demand center? The world revolves around your needs, your desires, and your ambitions. Your favorite stories become the world's most popular entertainment. Your fears become the dominant political issues. You are the E. F. Hutton of consumption: When you talk, everybody listens. That was the role the Boomers played for decades in America and-by extension-around the world through their unprecedented purchasing power. But that dominance is nearing an end.

In coming decades, it won't belong to Americans, but to Asians. So say hello to your new master, corporate America: Mr. and Mrs. M. C. Chindia.

The rise of the Asian middle class, a binary system centered in China and India, alters the very gravity of the global economy. The vast sucking sound you hear is not American jobs going overseas, but damn near every natural resource being drawn into Asia's yawning maw. Achieving middle-class status means shifting from needs to wants, so Asia's rise means that Asia's wants will determine our planet's future-perhaps its very survival. And as any environmentalist with a calculator knows, it isn't possible for China and India to replicate the West's consumption model, so however this plays out, the world must learn to live with their translation of the American dream.

As for the new middle class's relative size, think bread truck, not breadbasket: Over the next couple of decades, the percent of the world's population that can be considered middle class, judging by purchasing power, will almost double, from just over a quarter of the population to more like half. The bulk of this increase will occur in China and India, where the percentage shifts will be similar. So if we round off China and India today as having 2.5 billion people, then their middle class will jump in numerical size from being roughly equivalent to the population of North America or the European Union to being their combined total.
The vast sucking sound you hear is not American jobs going overseas, but damn near every natural resource being drawn into Asia's yawning maw.

No, it won't be your father's middle class-not at first. Much of that Asian wave now crests at a household income level that most Americans would associate with the working poor, but it will grow into solid middle-class status over the coming years through urbanization and job migration from manufacturing to services. And for global companies that thrive on selling to the middle class, this is already where all the sales growth is occurring, and it's only going to get bigger. As far as global business is concerned, there is no sweeter spot than an emerging demand center, because we're talking about an entire generation in need of branding-more than 500 million teenagers looking to forge consumer identities.

There are also essentially two unknowable wild cards associated with the rise of China's and India's middle classes: First, how can they achieve an acceptable standard of living without replicating the West's resource-wasteful version? And second, what would happen if that middle-class lifestyle was suddenly threatened or even reversed? The planet must have an answer to the first question, even as it hopes to avoid ever addressing the second. Here's where those two fears may converge: As their income rises, their diets change. Not just taking in more food, but far more resource-intensive food, like dairy and meat. Right now, China imports vast amounts of food and India is just barely self-sufficient in the all-important grains category. Both are likely to suffer losses in agricultural production in coming years and decades, thanks to global warming, just as internal demand balloons with that middle class. Meanwhile, roughly one-third of world's advanced-lifestyle afflictions-like diabetes or cancer-will be found in China and India by 2030. Toss in the fact that much of the population lives along the low-lying coasts, and our notional middle-class couple could eventually cast the deciding global votes on the issue of whether or not global warming is worth addressing aggressively.

Whoever captures the middle-class flag in coming years will have to possess the soft power necessary to shape globalization's soul in this century, because humanity's very survival depends on our generation's ability to channel today's rising social anger into a lengthy period of social reform. This era's global capitalism must first be shamed (populism) and then tamed (progressivism), just as America's rapacious version was more than a century ago. Today's global financial crisis simply marks the opening bell in a worldwide fight that is destined to go many rounds.

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