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New York to Build Spongy Park to Clean Up Mucky Waterways

Posted by on Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

How would you clean up New York’s waterways? Would you build giant filtration plants? Would you promote green movements that encourage New Yorkers to clean up their acts and pollute less? Would you take the political route and push for legislation that limits the amount of pollution in New York waterways?

There really are dozens of different routes you could take, and virtually every single one of them has already been tried. Cleaning up New York, especially the Gowanus Canal, is a nearly impossible task. With the unfortunate design of the New York sewage system, heavy rain causes the sewers to overflow and spill their unfortunate contents into the waterways.

Gowanus Canal Sponge Park

Image: Spongepark

Designer Susannah Drake of dlandstudio may have come up with a clever solution to the problem by building something that nobody would have expected: a park. Yes, evidently the best way to clean up a stinky, disgusting waterway is to build a park next to it.

Rendering of the Sponge Park

Image: Spongepark

But not just any park. Drake imagines a special marshy type of park that uses special plants, architecture, and dirt to create a sponge-like effect. Appropriately dubbed “Sponge Park,” the park will serve to soak up all of the Gowanus Canal’s unmentionables while filtering it to clean its water in a natural, green way. Did you know that sunflowers can actually filter out heavy metals from the water? Or that pond weed can suck up PCBs? Well, it’s true, and they each do their jobs about as effectively as any manmade filtration system.

Sponge Park from the Street

Image: Spongepark

And on top of all the water purification aspects, Sponge Park has the added advantage of being a naturally beautiful location that can host a range of public activities, and will help to improve the looks (and smell) of one of New York’s stinkiest areas. Plans to get the Sponge Park built are already in the works. The project is being funded by a Department of Environmental Protection grant, and the mayor of New York is behind the project. But I mean, really, what’s not to love about the design? It’s green, it’s natural, it’s beautiful, and it will soak up all of disgusting things floating through the Gowanus Canal.

The Sponge Park Along the Gowanus Canal

Image: Spongepark


New York’s Plan to Avoid Overflowing Rivers of Poo

Posted by on Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Ah, aquatic architecture. It is truly a glamorous art form, allowing architects to build massive hotels made entirely out of ice or floating cities complete with their own tidal power generators and vertical farms. With aquatic architecture, it’s easy to imagine wild, over-the-top structures that would look more at home in sci-fi movies. Because humans naturally love water, it’s easy to make fountains, aquariums, and swimming pools objects of beauty.

New York City Sewer

Image: WNYC

As stunning as some pieces of aquatic architecture might be, it can’t all be breathtaking. Sometimes, you’ve just got to design the boring, ugly aspects of aquatic infrastructure just to keep society operational. Let’s take the New York sewer system, for example. The sewer system isn’t exactly a lovely feature of the city, but that doesn’t make it any less important. People are certainly grateful for the service it provides, even though most would rather not think about it.

Alligator from the Sewers

Image: Mark Williams International

Though, during particularly heavy rain, it can become hard not to think about the sewers, as the deluge of water can create a rather unfortunate and malodorous overflow. So, sometimes, it becomes necessary to do some rather unglamorous aquatic architecture design and figure out how to siphon millions of gallons of poo away from the Big Apple.

The green organizations New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Environmental Protection are working to do just that, designing a whole mess of new features that will keep New York’s waste where it belongs

Sewage in the Hudson

Image: Sea and Sky NY

When it comes to fixing the sewage issues of a place as big as New York, you can’t just add a few more pipes, cork a few holes, and cross your fingers. You have to attack the problem from every angle imaginable, designing a bunch of structures that can work together to keep the sewers from flooding. Plants with dense roots, special porous material for public roads and parking areas, and similar considerations should all collaborate to halt the rising tide of poo.

The city has is planning to commit a hefty $1.5 billion to the cause, though it’s getting about $900 million worth of help from private investors.

NYC Sewer Overflowing

Image: Grist

If these sewer-friendly systems succeed, then the odds of New York experience a backed-up sewer should drop dramatically, and New Yorkers won’t have to worry about such crappy weather.


New York Rooftop Water Towers to Gain Aquatic Eco-Art

Posted by on Monday, February 27th, 2012

Because water is such a necessary part of life, many of the structures that deal with transporting water just sort of fade into the background. They’re so ubiquitous that they’re often about as remarkable as telephone poles or street signs. Things such as sewer grates, street drains, and water towers are widely ignored by the public. That’s not to say that they’re underappreciated, exactly, because I’m certain that most people are aware of how useful the sewers are, but most people just don’t think about them.

Water towers are probably the best example of this. Their massive size and high altitude makes them easy to spot. Every so often, you’ll spot a massive water tower that reads “Welcome to Our Town” or something like it, but by and large water towers are just kind of there: present in our field of view but visually boring.

Water Tower Project Artwork

Image: Water Tower Project

New York city officials hope to take advantage of these grossly underutilized public objects to bring more attention to the importance of water by upcycling water towers. After all, if thousands of New Yorkers every day are going to look at any of the city’s water towers, why not use them to promote a positive message?

To that end, they have started the Water Tank Project to select 300 water tanks that will be transformed into pieces of public art. They will be giving artists free reign to do whatever they please, as long as they create wrap-around art that serves to promote awareness of water as a precious resource.

Water Tower Umbrella Artwork

Image: Water Tower Project

Many prominent artists have already signed up, including such names as E.V. Day, Andy Goldsworthy, Ed Ruscha, and Jay-Z (who knew Jay-Z painted?). You can see a few of the proposed water tower designs at the Water Tower Project main website.

Water Tower Message

Image: Water Tower Project

Using these water towers as canvases was a brilliant idea. Their high altitude makes them visible, but not so prominent and in-y0ur-face as to become an eyesore. Best of all, these pieces of art will serve to beautify a city dominated by concrete and stone. Hopefully, other cities will follow New York’s lead by transforming unutilized, drab public spaces into beautiful and ecologically conscious works of art.

New York Water Tower Art

Image: Water Tower Project


Google to Create Underwater Roadmap of Great Barrier Reef

Posted by on Friday, February 24th, 2012

Aquatic architecture is usually quite a bit more complicated than you might initially think. Even if you do whatever it takes to make a building float, you’ll need to figure out a lot of other details in order to make the building functional. What about the building’s plumbing or power source? How can people get to it, and what prevents it from floating aimlessly through the world’s oceans?

We tend to take our infrastructure for granted, as the common features of terrestrial life are so ubiquitous that it can be hard to imagine a place without them. When you’re dealing with aquatic architecture, the very real problems of things like power sources and food supply are tremendously important for floating or submerged structures. If you build a community in the ocean, that community will need a source of power.

Resources at Sea

Image: Scientific America

One great example of a common and vital piece infrastructure here on land are road maps. When you want to figure out how to get from point A to point B, there are perfectly accurate maps that are to scale and contain up-to-date information about the world. Those of you with a smart phone can link up to satellites in space to give you information about your surroundings based on programs such as Google Maps. Unfortunately, Google Maps isn’t quite as detailed when it comes to the vast ocean.

The Great Barrier Reef


Well, until now. Google has recently announced their plans to work with the University of Queensland and the Caitlin Group to explore Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and chart its wonders for viewers across the world. Known as Seaview, this project will bring this hidden and beautiful world to life. With the use of special 360° cameras that are propelled by diver-controlled devices, Google will be able to record new and valuable data about the world’s most amazing natural reef.

Google Underwater Survey Machine

Image: Digital Spy

Of course, scientists aren’t the only people who will benefit from the research. Google will post these dives on sites such as YouTube for anybody to enjoy. Eventually, we might even be able to come to expect a map that users can explore similar to the street views of Google Maps.

Google Seaview Camera

Image: Digital Spy

While this project doesn’t qualify as aquatic architecture in the strictest sense, it’s certainly relevant to architect firms like Baca Architects because Google is helping to map out the infrastructure that could eventually lead to aquatic housing environments.

Underwater Survey Device and Operator

Image: Digital Spy


UK OKs Country’s First Floating House

Posted by on Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

When you’re looking for innovations in floating architecture, the best place to look is the Netherlands. The low-altitude country is facing the very real threat of rising water levels swallowing their homeland. To counter the encroaching ocean, they have been building floating houses that can rest on land, but rise with the water level during periods of particularly high water.

But the Dutch aren’t the only Europeans looking into architecture as a way to solve their aquatic woes. United Kingdom officials just recently gave the thumbs up to Baca Architects, allowing them to build the UK’s first ever floating house.

Amphibious House Interior

Image: Baca Architects

This house will be built on a tiny island located on the Thames River near Buckinghamshire, a region that is particularly susceptible to dramatic flooding. The innovations of this floating house design should allow people to live in this previously uninhabitable area.

For all 354 days out of the year, this house will function just like any other house. It sits on a foundation, it bears the same architectural characteristics of other houses in the neighborhood, and it looks like you’re average, run-of-the-mill British abode.

Amphibious House Under Normal Conditions

Image: Baca Architects

But when the day comes that intense rain causes the Thames to flood, all of the house’s aquatic bells and whistles will come into play. The naturally buoyant house will rise up and float serenely on the flood waters. What prevents it from floating down the river and ending up in the English Channel, you ask? Well, the house is somewhat locked in place by pillars that extend deep into the ground. They create a sort of cage that prevents the house from moving in any direction other than up and down. With this setup, the water levels would have to rise higher than the guideposts (currently an impossibility) for the house to break free of the foundation.

Amphibious House Under Flood Conditions

Image: Baca Architects

Baca Architects are hoping to use this house as a focal point for British citizens, as they argue that rising water levels due to climate change will make floating houses such as these a basic necessity. They believe that “Amphibious design is one of a host of solutions that can enable residents to live safely and to adapt to the challenges of climate change and we are very much looking forward to constructing the first example of this approach in the UK.”

Baca Floating House Under Different Water Levels

Image: Baca Architects


Get Cooked by Volcanic Stew at a Japanese Onsen

Posted by on Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

The Ring of Fire — no, it’s not just the focus of a famous Johnny Cash song, it’s also a region around the Pacific Ocean where the Pacific, Filipino, and North American tectonic plates grind against each other. The Ring of Fire is to blame for all of those earthquakes you hear about over in California, and it’s responsible for just as much mayhem in the regions of the Philippines and Japan. Check out a world earthquake chart to see just how crazy things can get on the Ring of Fire

Japanese Hot Spring

Image: Hello Travel

While the Ring of Fire is responsible for devastating the Pacific Rim, there are actually a few benefits to living in the area. Proximity to a plate edge usually means volcanic activity, and volcanic activity usually means hot springs. Japan gets its fair share of earthquakes, but it is also internationally famous for having some of the world’s best hot springs.

Locations of Japanese Hot Springs

Image: Info Map Japan

Hot springs are so popular in Japan that they’ve kind of become ingrained into the culture, and they’re frequently used in animation. Even the local wildlife gets to enjoy a relaxing dip now and then. So, it’s no surprise that hot spring resorts, or “onsen” populate the land of the Rising Sun. Because so many of these onsen are actually centuries old, they frequently feature the crisp, geometric Japanese aesthetic, which actually serves enhance the feelings of peace and tranquility quite well.

Japanese Indoor Onsen

Image: Wikipedia

To be clear, the Japanese onsen is a bit different from what westerners might expect, as it deviates from the Greco-Roman public bathhouses. Rather than acting as an actual bath, it’s more of a relaxation tool. Guests are expected to give themselves a thorough scrub down and rinse away every trace of the suds before taking a dip. That way, the bath water is fresh and clean for all guests.

Steaming Hot Spring

Image: Spacious Planet

If you do ever end up in Japan, it’d be worth your while to check out a Japanese onsen for a truly unique taste of local culture. But be careful: a cultural quirk in Japan has led many establishments to forbid entrance to people with tattoos due to the association between the yakuza and tattoos. And don’t be shy — leave your swim gear at home, because you’ll be expected to wear your birthday suit.


Live Like a Hobbit in the Mountain Magic Lodge

Posted by on Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

Those are the first 2 lines of Tolkien’s famous book, The Hobbit. He imagined a race of little folk who carved their houses into the sides of hills to create comfortable, cozy little abodes. While living in burrows isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, it’s got an undeniable allure.

For us humans stuck on boring ol’ planet earth, there aren’t many places that will allow us to experience life as a Hobbit. The Mountain Magic Lodge, a quaint little hotel situated Chile (which I suppose is the earth version of the Shire), can give visitors a taste of Hobbit life.

Magic Mountain Lodge Interior

Image: Fototelegraf

It’s got pretty much everything you could hope for: seclusion in a verdant forest, a suspended wooden bridge, cozy rooms, and even a bubbling waterfall at the top of the lodge that sends water trickling down over the sides of the structure. To top it all off, the lodge was built exclusively out of local wood and stone to make it as natural as possible.

Magic Mountain Lodge Flowing Waterfall

Image: Fototelegraf

Spending a night at the Mountain Magic Lodge is a fantastic way to get in touch with nature. Living inside of this psuedo-underground structure, with the calming sounds of water dripping down the walls just outside of your windows, it would be impossible not to let go of your worries and let your stress melt away.

Magic Mountain Lodge Bridge and Waterfall

Image: Fototelegraf

In fact, the soothing effect of water is something of a theme at the Lodge. It was built near the Hulio Hulio falls, so guests can put on their hiking shoes and visit one of the world’s most beautiful cascades whenever they like. And when their legs are aching from a day of hiking and exploration, guests can fall into one of the hot tubs carved out of enormous tree trunks. What more could you possibly ask for?

Magic Mountain Lodge Exterior

Image: Fototelegraf


Solar Power Sends a Ship Around the World

Posted by on Monday, February 20th, 2012

In ancient times, the only way to reliably navigate large stretches of ocean was by harnessing the power of wind. Even as advances in technology allowed for motors and fossil fuels to speed up aquatic travel, sailboats were the only vessels that could travel indefinitely without ever running out of juice.

Now, thousands of years after harnessing wind energy, we’re finally able to trump the sailboat in sustainability of speed. The world’s largest solar powered boat, the Turanor PlanetSolar, is nearing the end of its maiden, record-breaking voyage. This Swiss-made vessel was built to promote green energy by circumnavigating the planet using sunlight as its only source of energy. The Turanor has been stopping in major cities along its route, from Hong Kong to Miami, using travel to promote its positive message.

Turanor's Solar Panels

Image: Flickriver

Launched on September 27th in 2010 from  Morocco, the vessel (at the time of writing this article) has been on the sea for an astonishing 511 days. A Twitteresque feed of short updates on the Turanor’s main website keeps track of the vessel’s travels, catalogs the crew’s thoughts, and displays pictures from the trip.

The Turanor went southwest across the Atlantic to travel through the Panama Canal. From there, it made the daunting journey across the Pacific to the eastern shore of Australia, went northwest through the Philippines, and then along the Arabian Sea to its current port at Abu Dhabi.

The Deck of the Turanor

Image: Lomocean

The vessel’s long journey is made possible by the hundreds of solar panels spaced across the deck of the ship, which allow the Turanor to hit a top speed of 14 knots (approximately 16 mph), but realistically its cruising speed is a mere 7 knots (8 mph). With the circumference of the earth close to 25,000 miles, that makes for a rather slow journey.

Still, the Turanor has managed to power on entirely through sun energy for all 511 days of its journey, so it has been slowly but surely accomplishing its mission.

Turanor Cruising at 7 Knots

Image: Gizmag

While the intended message of the Turanor is certainly admirable, the fact that this solar powered ship is nearing the end of its world-spanning journey comes with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s impressive that solar power has advanced to a point that we can use it to accomplish something so record-breaking. On the other hand, the crawling pace of the Turanor reminds many of just how limited solar power is. As nice as it would be to turn to solar power to answer the energy concerns of aquatic vessels and structures, it just might not be enough.

Turanor Vessel at Hong Kong

Image: English He Bei


Put on Your Swim Suit and Go Dumpster Diving

Posted by on Friday, February 17th, 2012

Let’s face it: dumpster diving isn’t for everybody. Most people dread taking out the trash every week, so forget about wading through several feet of other peoples’ leftovers. Though, you might actually be tempted to go dumpster diving if you put a much more literal spin on it. Well, don’t take it too literally. If you dive into these pools you’ll probably end up with a broken spine.

Public Dumpster Diving at a Park

Image: Louisa Dawson

New York artist Louisa Dawson has created portable mini pools from refurbished dumpsters, allowing even priviledged suburban kids the chance to dumpster dive without their mothers suffering aneurysms. While these pools, which you can find at parks, beaches, and other public spaces, give people an opportunity to splash around a bit, that is clearly not the actual point of these art pieces.

Dawson's Public Swimming Pools at the Beach

Image: Louisa Dawson

At first glance, it’s easy to see that Louisa is making an obvious joke. Dumpster diving — I get it. When you actually step back and consider the pieces in a much wider context, though, you can see the deeper messages that the pieces are trying to get across. The rusty, disgusting exterior is a stark contrast to the clean blue tiles that line the center of the dumpster and the stainless steel ladder hanging over the edge. The exterior reminds viewers of the dumpsters’ origins, yet the children romping in the water are at odds with the destitute and disadvantaged people who typically need to sift through garbage.

Louisa Dawson's Dumpster Pool

Image: Louisa Dawson

It’s an effective message that toys with perceptions of social status by luring people to have a swim. This message is just as relevant in the world of aquatic architecture as it is for social equality. After all, aquatic architecture is inherently connected to green living, all while dredging up questions about the dynamic of public space and the ownership of lakes and seas.

In the past we’ve seen several aquatic projects focusing on recycled objects. While these projects are often quite successful, what is unfortunate about them is that they are typically popular by virtue of the fact that they are artistically unique and include a powerful message. It would be nice if we could reach a point when we use old shipping containers and dumpsters as building materials out of common practice and necessity rather than doing it because we want to make a trendy building with a charged political statement. Hopefully, architectural pieces such as Louisa’s dumpster pool can be accepted as commonplace, clever results of recycling instead of simply artistic pieces that encourage people to imagine such a reality as they go for a dip.

Dumpster Diving Pool at the Park

Image: Louisa Dawson


Tropical Floating Island Yacht: Beautiful or Tacky?

Posted by on Thursday, February 16th, 2012


Tropical Island Exotic Yacht

Image: Yacht Island Design

Yesterday’s article proved that you don’t have to be near the Equator in order to enjoy the luxuries of a tropical paradise. Where there’s a will (along with several million dollars worth of funding and a team of ingenious designers), there’s a way. But alas, if only there were a way to create an artificial tropical paradise that didn’t require a giant blimp hangar big enough to hold the Eiffel Tower on its side.


Tropical Yacht with Fake Volcano

Image: Yacht Island Design

Do I dare to dream? Could there really be a way to transport tropical luxury to just about anywhere on the planet? Well, actually, you might be able to bring the beauty of the Caribbeans to your own backyard, assuming of course that your backyard can dock a custom yacht. So throw on your boating shoes, and check out this floating tropical paradise.

Yacht Island Design is a company that specializes in indulging berjillionaires who have the compulsive urge to throw stupid amounts of money into the ocean for entertainment purposes. While the design company might take the concept of luxurious design to somewhat absurd extremes, that doesn’t make the yachts they dream up any less amazing.


Imitation Beachfront Yacht

Image: Yacht Island Design

This design, Tropical Island Paradise, brings a bit of equatorial fun to even the coldest climates. With the jungle-themed huts, palm, trees, and crystalline blue swimming pool, the deck of this yacht would look right at home on the coast of some tropical island. While the plants are a nice touch, I wonder if having those on deck is the best idea. After all, part of the appeal to this boat is that you can experience some tropical fun no matter where you are on earth. It’d be kind of a buzzkill to have every single one of your plants die whenever you go 30° north or south of the equator.


Tropical Island Yacht's Makeshift Beach

Image: Yacht Island Design

And as a cool as the boat is, it’s a bit, uhm — what’s the word? — tacky. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve reviewed dozens of absurdly lavish hotels and floating bachelor pads before, so I’m certainly willing to acknowledge a good design when I see one. But this yacht design, while initially appealing, really starts to look less and less appropriate. I would love it if one of my friends had this boat, but if I ever become a billionaire, I think I’d want to go with something a bit more classy with my yacht, and not something that looks like it came from a theme park. But, hey, who am I to judge? Maybe Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Oprah love to compare their yachts to see which one has the best fake volcano.