The Slash: 20-Foot Clearing Stretches 5,525 Miles Across World’s Longest Border [ARTICLE]

Camp Widjiwagan counselors have been known to tell young campers (including this author) certain tall tales as they ventured up through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota. Crossing into Canada, for instance, they would say that if you squint hard, you can see a “border chain” hanging in the lake below. Some kids laughed it off — others were convinced they could spot it. This mythical divider was an inside joke, but the actual border is more marked than many realize.

From Arctic Village, Alaska to Houlton, Maine, the border between Canada and the United States is the longest in the world. Much of the surrounding landscape is relatively wild and untouched. But extending out ten feet from the line on either side along much of its length is what’s known as “the Slash.”

Slash with border marker by Paul Pehrson (CC BY 2.0)

Stripped of trees, this slice runs through national forests and over mountains. It is too long and remote to be continuously cut down, but every few years (longer on the Western sections, where growth is slower) workers freshly deforest the greenery that grows back.

It might seem unnecessary, but there is a reason for this intervention: a person on either side wandering close to the border can see it and recognize they’re approaching the line. So each year, American taxpayers pay around half a cent each to the International Boundary Commission (IBC) to help periodically maintain this dividing void.

The work is split between countries. Per Julia Shipley, “U.S. and Canadian divisions of the IBC both have their own staff, equipment and budget. The two groups meet once a year to divvy up their work.” Crews of five to ten people are sent out to various locations. To the east, many of the crews stay in motels — in the west, they camp out.

Border markers along the Slash at Glacier National Park by Cohen.Canda (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“It all started in the 1800s, when the US-Canada border line was set at the 49th parallel,” writes Lew Blank. “The Slash was cut and over 8,000 original border markers were laid down, most of which are still standing along The Slash to this day.” But without GPS systems, the markers strayed by hundreds of feet in many places. Other mapping errors led to the creation of things like the Northwest Angle.

“Seeing the Slash can be as simple as going to Google Maps,” explains Blank, “zooming towards the US-Canada border, and switching to satellite view. Those looking for a more up close view can travel to Newport, Vermont and hop aboard Northern Star Cruises, which will take you right alongside the Slash. Another way to see the slash is in Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail to Canada, or the Long Trail in Vermont.”

The Slash also seems like a unique opportunity to travel from coast to coast — an intrepid hiker and paddler could perhaps portage and kayak through otherwise overgrown sections, forever following the thin line.

Source: http://ift.tt/2g5VkHY

Thermal Delight [EPISODE]

In the summer of 1902, the Sackett and Wilhelms Lithography & Printing Company in Brooklyn, New York had a problem. They were trying to print an issue of the popular humor magazine Judge, but the humidity was preventing the inks from setting properly on the pages.

The moisture in the air was warping the paper and messing up the alignment. So the company hired a young engineer named Willis Carrier to solve the problem.

A diagram of Carrier’s original machine

Carrier developed a system that pumps air over metal coils cooled with ammonia to pull moisture from the air, but it had a side effect — it also made the air cooler. The room with the machine became the popular lunch spot for employees. Carrier had invented air conditioning, and began to think about how it could be used for human comfort.

Carrier air conditioner patent

Before air conditioning took off, a hot and crowded theater was the last place anyone wanted to be during the summer. So Carrier approached a bunch of theater owners and pitched them on his technology — it wouldn’t be cheap, he explained, but higher ticket sales could pay for it.

Soon, theaters were advertising chilled air and drawing huge crowds, eventually helping to spawn the “summer blockbuster” phenomenon.

But air conditioning would do a lot more cool entertainment spaces. Ultimately, it would dramatically change where people in the United States lived and the design of other buildings, including homes.

Luxury AC Goes Mainstream

But the air conditioning revolution didn’t happen all at once. Before World War II, a few wealthy elites had systems installed in their mansions, but mechanically chilled air was still seen as a luxury.

Willis Carrier wanted to change that. In 1929 speech, he said: “air conditioning and cooling for summer may become a necessity rather than a luxury, and we will look upon present times as marking the end of that ‘dark age’ in which there was but relatively little cooling for human comfort.” And he was right.

Early AC systems were massive, but by the late 1940s, Carrier and other companies were selling air conditioners that could fit in your window. But they were expensive, and it wasn’t clear at first that people would buy them. Companies helped sell air conditioning through advertisements that targeted women and emphasized the ability to completely control the indoor climate.

In 1960, 13% of homes in this the United States had AC — by 1980, it was up to 55%. Today it’s close to 90%. In just a few decades air conditioning went from luxury to necessity, just as Willis Carrier predicted. And the ubiquity of AC has had a serious impact on how and maybe most profoundly where we live. Hot places like Arizona and Florida saw huge influxes of residents. A mass migration to the so-called “Sunbelt” changed the political map, too, as electoral college seats moved with citizens. And since a lot of these new southward migrants were conservative retirees, they voted Republican, forming a key target demographic in Reagan’s election in 1980.

Vernacular vs. Conditioned Spaces

Of course, people did live in these states before the advent of air conditioning. And they developed strategies to beat the heat, including forms of vernacular architecture that responded to the local environment.

Adobe architecture of a church located in New Mexico

In the desert southwest, for instance, houses were traditionally built with hefty materials like adobe and stone that can absorb heat. This “thermal mass” soaks up solar heat by day and releases it at night.

Home with porch and cupola located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by Tobin (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In humid southeast, a lot of vernacular architecture was designed to maximize shade and air movement. There were screened-in sleeping porches, breezeways between rooms, and cupolas in the roof to draw cool air up through the house.

Tract housing in Kentucky near Cincinnati, Ohio, by Derek Jensen (Tysto)

On-demand cold air freed architects from the challenge of designing a home that was uniquely suited to the climate around it. Air conditioning systems were expensive, but home builders made up for the costs in part by cutting down on passive cooling features, and little by little the local architectural traditions rooted in the climate gave way to tightly sealed, mass produced tract homes for growing suburbs.

Old apartment building atrium featuring operable and inward-facing windows

Air conditioning also revolutionized the design of other building types, including skyscrapers, schools, and offices. Before AC, the only source of cool air was the outdoors, and so offices usually had high ceilings and lots of windows that people could open. The floor plans of many mid-rise buildings from the early 20th century often had thin irregular shapes designed to give more access to light and air. But with air conditioning, buildings could fill up the entire lot with offices deep inside the core of the building and nowhere near a window.

The open-plan Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe featuring glass facades

This evolving technology also changed facade design — shading systems were no longer as essential and buildings could have uninterrupted, glass-and-steel facades with windows that didn’t open. For a lot of architects, this was seen as a plus — they could stop worrying about designing for human comfort and focus on sleek, Modernist aesthetics.

Early minimalist glass skyscraper concept by Mies van der Rohe

Still, as a consequence of all of this, the modern built environment in the United States is now totally dependent on air conditioning. A lot of our buildings would be uninhabitable in the summer without AC, and all of the electricity needed to keep it running.

According to Stan Cox, author of the book Losing Our Cool, the United States now uses as much electricity for air conditioning as it did for all purposes in 1955. And as homes have increased in size the more space needs to be cooled. “It’s it’s crazy to think about,” says Cox, “that on a hot day here in Kansas there are [huge] houses being kept at 70 degrees all day long and all the occupants are off work and school. And so it’s not cooling a human being at all.”

AC diagram via The New Book of Knowledge 1997. p. 102 by Pbroks13 (CC BY 3.0)

And that excessive AC use is a real problem, because air conditioning might be keeping our buildings cool, but it’s making the outside world hotter. Per Cox: “The addition additional greenhouse emissions from air conditioning in the United States add up to about 500 million tons of CO2 equivalent per year,” more than the entire construction industry.

And this building approach is being exported to other countries in places like the Middle East and Asia, further upping power demands.

Modern Meets Traditional Architecture

Manit Rastogi, an Indian architect and co-founder of the New Delhi firm Morphogenesis, sees a lot of new glass-and-steel buildings that look like any others of their kind around the world. But he is also familiar with regional vernacular traditions designed to keep people cool. His firm looks to these examples to design new buildings, blending Modern aesthetics with passive cooling techniques.

A closed Baoli in Ferozshah Kotla, New Delhi by Kumarssp (CC BY-SA 3.0)

“So the Pearl Academy of Fashion,” he says, in reference to one of his projects, “is on the outskirts of Jaipur which is essentially a desert climate.” In his work on the school, he studied old palaces and forts for inspiration on cooling techniques. And he was particularly impressed by a feature called a “baoli,” or: stepwell. These are basically pools of water dug deep into the ground beneath the building and surrounded on all sides by descending steps, intricately carved from stone. The cool temperatures from underground combine with the evaporative cooling of the water to lower the temperature in the palace.

Rastogi decided to put a modern take on this ancient architectural feature in his building. “So we created a baoli,” he says, “across the entire site. We dug three meters down into the ground and we recycle all the water into that stepwell then allowed for evaporative cooling to come up and cool the site down.”

Meanwhile, the top of the building is insulated using earthenware pots. And on the sides they put “jalis,” traditional latticed screens which keep sun out but let light in.

All of the these passive cooling strategies combine to lower the temperature within the building. When it’s 115 degrees Fahrenheit outside, it’s around 84 degrees inside the Pearl Academy. That may sound hot, but for the region, it’s pretty pleasant. Rastogi says thermal comfort is relative.

Thermal Monotony

These days, architects and engineers around the world generally use thermal comfort standards set by the the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. These have historically dictated a rather narrow range for ideal temperatures, which in turn requires more heating and cooling.

And some architects, like Lisa Heschong, see this as problematic — “you will never achieve a static environment where 100 percent of the people are happy,” she says. “There is a huge amount of individual variation in what people experience and what they prefer,” based on factors like age, sex and the kind of climate we are used to. All of this runs against the idea of targeting a single static indoor temperature.

DIY air conditioner made out of a fan

Gail Brager, professor at the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design, has developed new thermal comfort standards that allow for a wider range of temperatures within buildings. Brager doesn’t want to get rid of air conditioning altogether, but she thinks that we can be more intentional about when and where we use it: “Our environmental conditioning systems think about heating and cooling spaces rather than heating and cooling people,” she contends.

Brager says we could save enormous amounts of energy by letting the temperatures in buildings fluctuate over a wider range, and giving people more tools to heat and cool themselves. To accomplish this, Brager advocates a take a combination of high and low tech approaches. A window that you can open right by your desk is a great personal cooling device. A sweater is a pretty good personal heating device. But Brager and her team are also developing low energy desk fans, foot-warmers, and chairs that can heat or cool.

Thermal Delight

Reducing our reliance on air conditioning is often framed as a loss, giving up comfort, but neither Gail Brager nor Lisa Heschong see it that way. Back in the 1970s, Heschong wrote a beautiful little book called Thermal Delight in Architecture. In it, she argues that we should think about our perception of temperature as a sense. Just like any other sense, temperature can cause us discomfort but it can also give us a lot of pleasure — the feeling of a warm fire in the winter or a cool breeze on a hot summer night. But these experiences require change — they don’t happen in a thermally neutral environment.

Gail Brager has done studies on thermal comfort in buildings around the world, and she’s found that people actually prefer naturally ventilated buildings where they can open windows and feel a little control over their own temperatures. And this is a big deal in today’s world where the average person spends 90% of their time indoors.

Source: http://ift.tt/2g5VkHY

Thermal Delight [EPISODE]

In the summer of 1902, the Sackett and Wilhelms Lithography & Printing Company in Brooklyn, New York had a problem. They were trying to print an issue of the popular humor magazine Judge, but the humidity was preventing the inks from setting properly on the pages.

The moisture in the air was warping the paper and messing up the alignment. So the company hired a young engineer named Willis Carrier to solve the problem.

A diagram of Carrier’s original machine

Carrier developed a system that pumps air over metal coils cooled with ammonia to pull moisture from the air, but it had a side effect — it also made the air cooler. The room with the machine became the popular lunch spot for employees. Carrier had invented air conditioning, and began to think about how it could be used for human comfort.

Carrier air conditioner patent

Before air conditioning took off, a hot and crowded theater was the last place anyone wanted to be during the summer. So Carrier approached a bunch of theater owners and pitched them on his technology — it wouldn’t be cheap, he explained, but higher ticket sales could pay for it.

Soon, theaters were advertising chilled air and drawing huge crowds, eventually helping to spawn the “summer blockbuster” phenomenon.

But air conditioning would do a lot more cool entertainment spaces. Ultimately, it would dramatically change where people in the United States lived and the design of other buildings, including homes.

Luxury AC Goes Mainstream

But the air conditioning revolution didn’t happen all at once. Before World War II, a few wealthy elites had systems installed in their mansions, but mechanically chilled air was still seen as a luxury.

Willis Carrier wanted to change that. In 1929 speech, he said: “air conditioning and cooling for summer may become a necessity rather than a luxury, and we will look upon present times as marking the end of that ‘dark age’ in which there was but relatively little cooling for human comfort.” And he was right.

Early AC systems were massive, but by the late 1940s, Carrier and other companies were selling air conditioners that could fit in your window. But they were expensive, and it wasn’t clear at first that people would buy them. Companies helped sell air conditioning through advertisements that targeted women and emphasized the ability to completely control the indoor climate.

In 1960, 13% of homes in this the United States had AC — by 1980, it was up to 55%. Today it’s close to 90%. In just a few decades air conditioning went from luxury to necessity, just as Willis Carrier predicted. And the ubiquity of AC has had a serious impact on how and maybe most profoundly where we live. Hot places like Arizona and Florida saw huge influxes of residents. A mass migration to the so-called “Sunbelt” changed the political map, too, as electoral college seats moved with citizens. And since a lot of these new southward migrants were conservative retirees, they voted Republican, forming a key target demographic in Reagan’s election in 1980.

Vernacular vs. Conditioned Spaces

Of course, people did live in these states before the advent of air conditioning. And they developed strategies to beat the heat, including forms of vernacular architecture that responded to the local environment.

Adobe architecture of a church located in New Mexico

In the desert southwest, for instance, houses were traditionally built with hefty materials like adobe and stone that can absorb heat. This “thermal mass” soaks up solar heat by day and releases it at night.

Home with porch and cupola located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by Tobin (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In humid southeast, a lot of vernacular architecture was designed to maximize shade and air movement. There were screened-in sleeping porches, breezeways between rooms, and cupolas in the roof to draw cool air up through the house.

Tract housing in Kentucky near Cincinnati, Ohio, by Derek Jensen (Tysto)

On-demand cold air freed architects from the challenge of designing a home that was uniquely suited to the climate around it. Air conditioning systems were expensive, but home builders made up for the costs in part by cutting down on passive cooling features, and little by little the local architectural traditions rooted in the climate gave way to tightly sealed, mass produced tract homes for growing suburbs.

Old apartment building atrium featuring operable and inward-facing windows

Air conditioning also revolutionized the design of other building types, including skyscrapers, schools, and offices. Before AC, the only source of cool air was the outdoors, and so offices usually had high ceilings and lots of windows that people could open. The floor plans of many mid-rise buildings from the early 20th century often had thin irregular shapes designed to give more access to light and air. But with air conditioning, buildings could fill up the entire lot with offices deep inside the core of the building and nowhere near a window.

The open-plan Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe featuring glass facades

This evolving technology also changed facade design — shading systems were no longer as essential and buildings could have uninterrupted, glass-and-steel facades with windows that didn’t open. For a lot of architects, this was seen as a plus — they could stop worrying about designing for human comfort and focus on sleek, Modernist aesthetics.

Early minimalist glass skyscraper concept by Mies van der Rohe

Still, as a consequence of all of this, the modern built environment in the United States is now totally dependent on air conditioning. A lot of our buildings would be uninhabitable in the summer without AC, and all of the electricity needed to keep it running.

According to Stan Cox, author of the book Losing Our Cool, the United States now uses as much electricity for air conditioning as it did for all purposes in 1955. And as homes have increased in size the more space needs to be cooled. “It’s it’s crazy to think about,” says Cox, “that on a hot day here in Kansas there are [huge] houses being kept at 70 degrees all day long and all the occupants are off work and school. And so it’s not cooling a human being at all.”

AC diagram via The New Book of Knowledge 1997. p. 102 by Pbroks13 (CC BY 3.0)

And that excessive AC use is a real problem, because air conditioning might be keeping our buildings cool, but it’s making the outside world hotter. Per Cox: “The addition additional greenhouse emissions from air conditioning in the United States add up to about 500 million tons of CO2 equivalent per year,” more than the entire construction industry.

And this building approach is being exported to other countries in places like the Middle East and Asia, further upping power demands.

Modern Meets Traditional Architecture

Manit Rastogi, an Indian architect and co-founder of the New Delhi firm Morphogenesis, sees a lot of new glass-and-steel buildings that look like any others of their kind around the world. But he is also familiar with regional vernacular traditions designed to keep people cool. His firm looks to these examples to design new buildings, blending Modern aesthetics with passive cooling techniques.

A closed Baoli in Ferozshah Kotla, New Delhi by Kumarssp (CC BY-SA 3.0)

“So the Pearl Academy of Fashion,” he says, in reference to one of his projects, “is on the outskirts of Jaipur which is essentially a desert climate.” In his work on the school, he studied old palaces and forts for inspiration on cooling techniques. And he was particularly impressed by a feature called a “baoli,” or: stepwell. These are basically pools of water dug deep into the ground beneath the building and surrounded on all sides by descending steps, intricately carved from stone. The cool temperatures from underground combine with the evaporative cooling of the water to lower the temperature in the palace.

Rastogi decided to put a modern take on this ancient architectural feature in his building. “So we created a baoli,” he says, “across the entire site. We dug three meters down into the ground and we recycle all the water into that stepwell then allowed for evaporative cooling to come up and cool the site down.”

Meanwhile, the top of the building is insulated using earthenware pots. And on the sides they put “jalis,” traditional latticed screens which keep sun out but let light in.

All of the these passive cooling strategies combine to lower the temperature within the building. When it’s 115 degrees Fahrenheit outside, it’s around 84 degrees inside the Pearl Academy. That may sound hot, but for the region, it’s pretty pleasant. Rastogi says thermal comfort is relative.

Thermal Monotony

These days, architects and engineers around the world generally use thermal comfort standards set by the the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. These have historically dictated a rather narrow range for ideal temperatures, which in turn requires more heating and cooling.

And some architects, like Lisa Heschong, see this as problematic — “you will never achieve a static environment where 100 percent of the people are happy,” she says. “There is a huge amount of individual variation in what people experience and what they prefer,” based on factors like age, sex and the kind of climate we are used to. All of this runs against the idea of targeting a single static indoor temperature.

DIY air conditioner made out of a fan

Gail Brager, professor at the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design, has developed new thermal comfort standards that allow for a wider range of temperatures within buildings. Brager doesn’t want to get rid of air conditioning altogether, but she thinks that we can be more intentional about when and where we use it: “Our environmental conditioning systems think about heating and cooling spaces rather than heating and cooling people,” she contends.

Brager says we could save enormous amounts of energy by letting the temperatures in buildings fluctuate over a wider range, and giving people more tools to heat and cool themselves. To accomplish this, Brager advocates a take a combination of high and low tech approaches. A window that you can open right by your desk is a great personal cooling device. A sweater is a pretty good personal heating device. But Brager and her team are also developing low energy desk fans, foot-warmers, and chairs that can heat or cool.

Thermal Delight

Reducing our reliance on air conditioning is often framed as a loss, giving up comfort, but neither Gail Brager nor Lisa Heschong see it that way. Back in the 1970s, Heschong wrote a beautiful little book called Thermal Delight in Architecture. In it, she argues that we should think about our perception of temperature as a sense. Just like any other sense, temperature can cause us discomfort but it can also give us a lot of pleasure — the feeling of a warm fire in the winter or a cool breeze on a hot summer night. But these experiences require change — they don’t happen in a thermally neutral environment.

Gail Brager has done studies on thermal comfort in buildings around the world, and she’s found that people actually prefer naturally ventilated buildings where they can open windows and feel a little control over their own temperatures. And this is a big deal in today’s world where the average person spends 90% of their time indoors.

Source: http://ift.tt/2g5VkHY

Outside the Lines: Manual Road Lettering & Symbol Painting Gone Wrong [ARTICLE]

There are tons of talented street-marking professionals in this world, able to work freehand or with limited tools or operate purpose-built painting machines. And then there are others with a lot left to learn.

In seeking out prime examples of the former — for instance, the rather compelling symbol maker shown above — a lot of the latter (somewhat less-talented) folks can be found as well.

Freehand drawing isn’t for everyone. It can help to use a template, hire a professional or, at the very least: have a reference image on hand.

Even with a stencil set, mistakes can be made. Maybe there is a lesson here about relying too much on tools for assistance.

On the plus side, a three-piece stencil set can only be arranged in so many ways. Unfortunately, this is fairly far from the right way.

This could be the work of clever vandals or another failure to employ the proper letter stencils in the right places. Either way, it seems cleap that some kind of IRL autocorrect could help keer this from happening.

When in doubt: look for the octagonal red sign with white lettering located at the intersection and put the letters in that order.

As attempts go, this childlike drawing of a bicycle comes across as surprisingly legible, appearing almost artistically abstract.

And while many of these are well-intended guerrilla interventions, not all are quite so selfless. A Chinese man was fined recently after repainting lane arrows to make his commute go faster.

For those craving a bit of balance for these off-kilter examples, check out these mesmerizing manual road lettering gifs and this collection of videos showing machine-aided road marking experts.

Source: http://ift.tt/2g5VkHY

Mini-Stories: Volume 4 [EPISODE]

Last holiday season, we started a tradition of collecting new short pieces by 99% Invisible producers into “mini-story” episodes. Listeners asked for more, so we’re back at it again with tales of a backward index, alarm design, actual alchemy and Seattle’s historic underground. Also: Roman gives his take on the new presidential challenge coin redesign.

The Backward Index by Delaney Hall

“Why would anyone type out 315,000 words spelled in reverse?” asks Editor-at-Large for Merriam-Webster Peter Sokolowski. “Say you wanted to find out how many words end in ‘-ology’ or ‘-ism.’ How would you figure it out?” Today, you would use a computer, but in the mid-1900s, an analog solution was needed.

Exactly who invented this “Backward Index” — housed at the offices of Merriam-Webster in Springfield, MA — is still a bit of a mystery. But Sokolowski has found that the project was championed by Philip Gove, editor of Merriam-Webster’s Third Unabridged in the 1950s. As the new volume’s production wound down, Gove began re-tasking staff to help compile the index. Employees typed out words, backward first (with spaces between letters) then forward on 3-by-5-inch cards.

Hundreds of thousands of these cards were created and and kept in a card catalog on the editorial floor. Later, in the 1990s, the company moved to the collection, filling 129 filing boxes, into the basement.

The index proved useful in all kinds of ways. “For example,” writes Sokolowski, “it could help identify a set of related terms that should be defined in similar ways, including open compounds (Highland pony, Shetland pony, Welsh pony), closed compounds (blocklike, clocklike, rocklike, socklike, chalklike), and morphologically related terms (phytopathological, ethological, lithological, ornithological).

Thus,” he continues, “looking up all the diseases that end in –itis or all the doctrines and theories that end in –ism was now possible.” The index could also be used to find sets of words that rhymed or to easily count the number of words that end in a particular series of letters, like -tionary.

Source: http://ift.tt/2g5VkHY

Self-Contained Cities: Hyperdense Arcologies of Urban Fantasy & Utopian Fiction [ARTICLE]

Developed in the 1970s, the comic character Judge Dredd was originally set to occupy a dark futuristic version of New York City. But as concept artwork was developed, that plan was quickly revised and Mega-City One was born — a metropolis spanning much of the Eastern Seaboard. Within it, Judges (like Dredd) patrol the streets, zipping between largely self-contained towers to dispense severe forms of justice.

The 2012 film Dredd centered around one such structure, Peach Trees, one the most corrupt Mega-Blocks in the city. “You could live and die within one of these blocks and never really set foot” outside of it, one of the film’s writers explains in the clip above. It looks much like a huge, dystopian version of Le Corbusier’s tower-based urban designs and has been compared to real-world structures like the Ponte City Apartments. But Peach Trees is even bigger — almost a city unto itself.

Modernist architect Le Corbusier’s vision of a well-ordered “contemporary city”

The specific geographical details and total population of Mega-City One have varied within the Dredd canon over the decades, but dense urbanism is a persistent theme. Yet this idea of packing people into close self-contained quarters or interconnected structures is not strictly dystopian — indeed, many visionaries have imagined hyperdense projects along similar lines but with more utopian outcomes in mind.

Western half of Arcosanti development near Phoenix, Arizona, image by Cody (CC BY 2.0)

A portmanteau of “architecture” and “ecology”, the term “arcology” reflects a vision that high density can help foster sustainability. It was coined by Paolo Soleri, who began construction on a Utopian “arcolological” project in central Arizona in the 1970s. Today, Arcosanti bills itself as “an urban laboratory focused on innovative design, community, and environmental accountability” aiming to “actively pursue lean alternatives to urban sprawl.” At least in theory, it purports to be about maximizing human interaction and shared access to infrastructure while minimizing environmental impacts.

Rendering of Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision for Broadacre City

Arcological intimations can also be seen in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City (above) as well as Buckminster Fuller’s proposed Old Man River’s City project (below), a domed metropolis with a capacity of 125,000 designed to address housing on the outskirts St. Louis.

Buckminster Fuller and his domed city design, image by Steve Yelvington (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Wright’s design hints at the possibility of serving various needs in a single area (agriculture, transportation, community) while Fuller’s suggests a physical enclosure could contain an entire city. In the end, neither of these visions got off their designers’ drawing boards.

Outside of limited bio-dome endeavors, an entirely connected architectural environment may sound extreme and unrealistic. But many cities are already quite interconnected in ways that call simplistic concepts of boundaries between buildings into question.

Skyways connecting buildings in downtown Minneapolis, image by Jim Winstead Jr. (CC BY 2.0)

In places like Minneapolis, Minnesota and Calgary, Alberta extensive skyway networks join many (or in some cases: most) downtown buildings, linking them into a de facto megastructure. Meanwhile, in Houston, Texas, a series of underground tunnels connects the city. These passages help citizens in hot and cold climates traverse their cities while remaining in contiguous, temperature-controlled spaces.

Whittier, Alaska, virtually an entire town in a single building, image by Reed Young

In even harsher conditions there are correspondingly more extreme examples. Fremont, Quebec has a huge building designed to help screen out icy winds — but it also houses apartments, stores, schools, bars, restaurants, hotels, a supermarket and a swimming pool. Similarly, in Whittier, Alaska, virtually everything happens under one roof, cozily insulated from annual snowfalls of up to 400 inches.

For now, though, it is still in science fiction and speculative urban designs that we find the most radical arcologies. An entire arc of Doctor Who was recently devoted to the layered habitats of a huge colony ship, almost a world unto itself. A series of different arcologies are also explored in Neal Stephenson’s speculator Seveneves. Other examples can be found in Robert Silverberg’s The World Inside, Peter Hamilton’s Neutronium Alchemist and Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife.

Speculative arcologies also extend beyond genre fiction. In the 1960s, members of the avante garde architectural group Archigram dreamed up concepts like the Plug-In City and Instant City. Consider, for instance, their Walking City, a robotic metropolis that takes Le Corbusier’s idea of houses as “machines for living in” quite literally and proposes cities as mobile habitats that can roam the countryside.

And a half-century earlier, Edgar Chambless released Roadtown, outlining his idea for a linear city built on top of a railway line — not itself mobile, but built around mobility.

“The idea occurred to me to lay the modern skyscraper on its side,” writes Chambless, “and run the elevators and the pipes and wires horizontally instead of vertically. Such a house would not be limited by the stresses and strains of steel; it could be built not only a hundred stories, but a thousand stories or a thousand miles …. I would take the apartment house and all its conveniences and comforts out among the farms by the aid of wires, pipes and of rapid and noiseless transportation.”

Of course, problems arise when putting some of these plans into action. Imagine Roadtown today: trains are still loud over 100 years later, so noise would be an issue. Also, linear development means longer average travel times between places as compared to cities that radiate outward from a central point.

Arguably, this and other speculative arcologies are in essence simply extensions of reality. Railroads, for instance, have a long history of generating track-side growth, so building up and over them seems like a natural next step as surrounding density drives development.

In the end, a pure arcology-as-such may never become a complete reality, but the driving ideas can already be found in a lot of urban environments — dense cities benefit from consolidated infrastructure, the sharing of resources and land-efficient vertical development.

Source: https://99percentinvisible.org

Plaque in Circulation: Deciphering Philadelphia’s Sidewalk Easement Markers [ARTICLE]

Philadelphia has been the backdrop for many key moments in American history and is thus home to a lot of monuments and markers. Amidst the many statues standing in squares and signs affixed to architecture, though, it can be easy to miss a series of smaller plaques embedded in sidewalks, reading like strangely spatial one-line poems.

‘Space within building lines not dedicated’ image courtesy of Ethan Hill

“Space within building lines not dedicated” reads one. “Property behind this plaque not dedicated” says another. Dedicating, in a legal sense, means giving over (e.g. to the public). The wording varies somewhat, but the basic message is the same: you’re welcome to walk here for now, but (just so you know) this is actually private property. There are linear plaques (together forming dashed lines along owned edges) as well as right-angled ones (denoting the corners of properties).

‘Property behind this plaque not dedicated’ images via PlanPhilly

“The plaques are used when the property lines don’t align with the building’s physical dimensions,” explains Jim Saksa of PlanPhilly, “or the dimensions of any sort of fencing, landscaping or other improvements that would clearly mark a boundary between the public right-of-way and private property. In these situations, the property line falls somewhere in the middle of the sidewalk.” By allowing part of their property to become a walkway (at least for now), the land owner is granting an easement while reserving the right to build out later.

Easements are ways for owners to allow limited uses of their land — like a path through a plot of land to access a public park or an agreement with a neighbor to share part of a driveway. Easement laws vary by location, but a lot of them allow for different forms of adverse possession (which is nine tenths of the law, as the saying goes).

Per Saksa, if a property owner lets someone else use their land “blatantly, consistently and exclusively for a long, statutorily set amount of time—21 years in Pennsylvania—then they own it.” In the case of these prescriptive easements: if private owners fail to explicitly mark out their territory, someone could eventually argue they have forfeited ownership. Hence these markers, which make sure the public knows where the line is drawn, just in case it becomes an issue in the future.

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Mini-Stories: Volume 3 [EPISODE]

At the end of last year, we started a tradition of collecting new short pieces by 99% Invisible producers into “mini-story” episodes. By popular demand, we are back at it again with tales of iceberg ships, famous ruins, sackcloth dresses, innovative instruments and more.

Project Habakkuk by Katie Mingle

At the bottom of Lake Patricia, in Alberta Canada, you’ll find a shipwreck. Denise Boniface of Aquanuts Diving has seen it.

“It doesn’t really look like a ship,” says Boniface, it’s more like “a pile of lumber that’s all broken up and laying there” — also: “a lot of refrigeration coils.” And if you go down far enough, you can shine your light on a plaque:

Operation Habbakuk – A secret WWII project involving the use of ice in ship construction. This vessel, built January to April 1943, was a prototype. For more information contact the Canadian Park Service in Jasper.

In the early 1940s, German submarines (U-Boats) were wreaking havoc on Allied ships in the Atlantic ocean. Eventually, an admiral named Mountbatten went to Winston Churchill to suggest an extreme solution: a massive, unsinkable aircraft carrier made of ice.

It sounds at first like one of those far-fetched ideas that gets floated during times of war but never actually gets built. Except this ice ship actually did get built — or at least: a prototype did. And that’s what that plaque in the bottom of the Canadian lake commemorates.

But why was it made of ice? For one thing, steel and aluminum were in short supply during the war, so governments were actively looking for alternatives. Furthermore, this ice ship would be so dense that it would be basically indestructible, thanks to an invention called Pykrete.

Named after it’s inventor, Geoffrey Pyke, Pykrete is created by mixing water with sawdust, and then freezing it. Mixing in the sawdust makes the ice extremely strong and resistant to melting. The ship would be built out of blocks of Pykrete and kept frozen with refrigerator coils.

Admiral Mountbatten was a Pykrete true-believer. Once, during a meeting with Americans he demonstrated Pykrete’s strength by shooting it with a revolver. Instead of shattering like regular ice, the bullet bounced off, ricocheting into the leg of one of his colleagues. Needless to say, everyone was so impressed that they decided to go forward with the plan. Churchill signed off and they enlisted Canada to built a prototype on Lake Patricia. They name it Project Habakkuk after a bible verse:

“Behold ye among the nations, and look, and wonder marvelously; for I am working a work in your days, which ye will not believe though it be told you.” (Habakkuk 1:5)

The prototype was built by Canadian conscientious objectors (who opted for alternative service jobs) unaware of the project’s purpose. It was constructed in just a few months, but by the time it was finished, the war had moved on — among other things, they realized these ships would take more money and materials than expected.

In the end the British scrapped the project and ultimately let it sink into the bottom of Lake Patricia, where its ruins can still be seen today. Of course, when you build a ship out of ice, there isn’t so much to see.

Special thanks to 99pi listener Debbie Schneiderman who wrote in and tipped us off to this incredible story.

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Mobile Home Skyscrapers: The Elusive Dream of Vertical Urban Trailer Parks [ARTICLE]

In the trailer for Ready Player One, a science-fiction film set in a packed dystopia, we zoom in on our protagonist living in a dilapidated landscape of stacked “mobile homes” known aptly as “the Stacks.”

The Stacks symbolize anything but mobility, either physical or economic — if anything, they ironically represent tragic levels of immobility. In Ernest Cline’s imaginary world, a shared cyberspace is the only escape. But visions of vertical mobile housing weren’t always so dystopian.

Trailer Parks in the Sky

In July of 1966, the Milwaukee Sentinel proudly reported that Wisconsin’s largest city could become “the first metropolis to have a high rise apartment for mobile homes.” The piece was referring to SkyRise Terrace, a drive-in skyscraper for portable dwellings envisioned by mobile housing entrepreneur Elmer Frey of Marshfield Homes.

The project’s twin plug-and-play towers, each 332 feet tall, would let a mobile home owner rent out, drive up and park in one of 504 slots around the periphery of each structure. The lower levels were to contain stores and upper levels a restaurant plus community spaces.

Imagine the potential: people could move from city to city whenever they wanted, renting out tower slots right in in the middle of dense downtowns. Just bring your own residence to enjoy the view, then pick up stakes (or rather: parking breaks) and move on to the next one.

Frey’s ideas were taken seriously in part because he was already an established pioneer in the mobile housing industry. Years earlier, Frey coined the term “mobile home” (they had previously been called house trailers or trailer coaches), writes Stewart Brand in How Buildings Learn, a story about how architecture adapts over time. Frey also helped lobby the government to allow ten-foot-wide homes on roads.

While a seemingly small step up from eight-wides, these extra two feet were a critical development: they allowed for hallways, and thus private rooms. Taken right from the factory to a building site, these dwellings were also more permanent — they were made to travel to a plot of land and be installed, not cruise the highway. By 1960, most mobile homes being sold were ten-wides and twelve-wides started to appear.

Getting Mobile Homes Off the Ground

Left: design vision for reduced tower – right and below: actual construction

Frey, meanwhile, was still fascinated with manufactured housing stacks, yet unable to get traction for his full-sized SkyRise Terrace vision. So in 1972 he settled for a smaller prototype in Saint Paul, Minnesota — three stacks of three “mobile” homes each. The units were lifted and set into a concrete framework with decks and staircases. In theory these could be swapped out but in practice they stayed put. Issues arose and the project was scrapped a few years later — water pipes freezing in winter was reportedly a main issue.

Built in the same year, a nearby four-story variant stayed up for a lot longer before being demolished a few decades later. After surviving a serious weather event, the complex was nicknamed Tornado Towers. It proved itself to be robust, but many saw it as an eyesore. It was so disliked that the city of Mankato eventually bought the complex back just so they could tear it down and replace it with something else.

Print by Dan Black, inspired by the Tornado Towers of Mankato, Minnesota

Critics felt the city should just condemn it as blight to acquire it more cheaply and thus save taxpayer money, but officials couldn’t figure out how to value the structure — “we didn’t do a cost comparison, because how do you make a comparison with something like this?”

Even the son of the building complex’s last owner, Nathaniel Hood, recalls the place being problematic — among other things, the exposed nature of the units made them impossible to heat effectively. Minnesota’s notoriously hot summers and cold winters clearly don’t lend themselves to this kind of modular plug-in framing system. “In many ways,” Hood says, “they were terribly built. And ugly.”

But the rent was cheap and “there was a lot of love about [a place] that houses mostly poor college students and immigrants in a small Minnesota town,” says Hood, who has mixed feelings about it. “It was ugly, yet iconic in the most beautiful way. Looking back, the city eventually buying them and demolishing them feels like a mistake.”

It is ultimately hard to say how much this set of projects reflects Frey’s ideals. People could never drive in and out of these structures — as soon cranes were involved, the reality was much less about mobility. Perhaps things would have turned out differently if he had got funding for SkyRise Terrace rather than a qualitatively different prototype.

Visions Versus Reality

Vertical mobile housing designed for Florida

Frey’s lofty visions were arguably a product of the period, characterized by explosive growth in mobile housing and other portable architectural explorations (like Archigram’s modular Plug-In City). In the 1970s, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) officially recognized this growth through new federal codes, creating what Brand describes as well-intended but ultimately a “burdensome set of regulations that [drove] small manufacturers out of business.”

Still, by 1985, a third of new homes being built (and two thirds of new low-cost, single-family houses) were mobile or manufactured — today, these types of structures still represent around 7% of building stock.

Allan Wallis opens his history of 20th-century mobile housing in America (Wheel Estate: The Rise and Decline of Mobile Homes) with an assertion that these “may well be the most significant and unique housing innovation in twentieth-century America,” more “widely adopted [and] simultaneously more vilified” than any other type. Mobile homes changed how people lived, if often in unexpected ways.

One could argue that the popularity of the ten-wide was the beginning of the end for the mobile housing era. What started out as travel trailers had led to a growth in mobile homes that then morphed into something else, driven by size and economics. Today, many residents rent semi-permanent space for such homes from land owners, creating an unfortunate side effect: an incomplete form of ownership.

But that lack of land ownership is also beginning to change. Organizations like ROC USA (the ROC standing for Resident-Owned Communities) have formed around the idea of collective ownership. Currently, only around 1,000 of 50,000 nationwide mobile home parks are owned by residents — a statistic ROC aims to change.

That organization’s president, Paul Bradley, says that since 2008 “ROC USA has helped 2,200 homeowners in 35 communities purchase their parks and gain economic security.” When a park comes up for sale, ROC helps residents form co-ops and finance the deal. For them, it’s not about recapturing a dream of mobility, but rather addressing unintended consequences of a long trend toward permanence.

Epilogue: The Dream of Vertical Mobility

Meanwhile, in films and reality alike, the dream of stacked mobile housing never seems to fully fade. In this era of renewed interest in prefabricated, tiny, modular and portable homes, new concepts along the lines of SkyRise Terrace have been proposed time and time again.

Micro-housing startup Kasita unveiled plans a few years ago for something that looks much like an updated version of Frey’s Saint Paul project, with three columns of three mobile homes each. The founder’s intention is to build these across a number of different major cities then let inhabitants (or perhaps: users) swap locations on demand, again recalling Frey’s vision of mobile urban living. Like hailing a ride share vehicle, the push of a button on a mobile app would initiate the moving process. The startup’s CEO, professor Jeff Wilson, was reportedly inspired to start the company after spending a year living in a dumpster (earning him the nickname Professor Dumpster).

Of course, the branding around projects like Kasita is generally quite carefully crafted — design concepts like “small-space living” and “modular homes” have somewhat more appeal (or at least: less baggage) than “mobile homes” or “trailer parks.” Regardless of phrasing, though, the company’s founder boasts about the economic advantages of mass-production and, of course, the flexibility of mobile urban living, all of which sounds very familiar with respect to Frey.

But this again raises the question of land ownership: whether or not someone owns a given unit, they will still have to pay rent on the space it occupies. And some critics have called this a “solution in search of a problem” — hiring furniture movers, they note, is cheaper and easier than engaging a crane and truck to move a whole home. So perhaps it is time to give up on this dream of modular plug-in housing, or revisit a more genuinely mobile approach like SkyRise Terrace, not the Stacks.

Special thanks to Nathaniel Hood, a founding member of Streets.MN, as well as Dan Black of LandLand, a two-person print studio based in the Midwest – you can check out more of his beautiful designs here.

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Rooftop Roads: Ancient Iranian Town Where Roofs Serve as Public Spaces [ARTICLE]

Nestled into the steep slope of a mountain, this remarkable thousand-year-old village in northern Iran has evolved an unusual approach to open space: its rooftops double as public lanes and gathering places.

Image of road entering town and joining roof by Hoomanb (CC BY 2.5)

At an elevation of nearly 3,500 feet, Masuleh sits high in the Alborz mountain range on a 60-degree incline. It was originally developed around an iron mine and became a hub for the ironwork industry.

Overlooking the town’s roof road network, image by Simon Helle Nielsen (CC BY 2.0)

Regional vernacular architecture uses stone, wood and adobe atop natural rock forming foundations and back walls of buildings. Old craft traditions continue to inform ornate and decorative facades.

Architectural detail and staircase with ramp mod, image by Petr Adam Dohnálek (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Stepping out of a building may mean walking onto a narrow stretch of rock, but in many cases leads straight to a rooftop. These serve as public walkways and plazas linked by narrow allies and staircases.

Village at night, image by Parastoo.Atrsaei (CC BY-SA 4.0)

In many respects, it’s a city planner’s paradise — a place where roof surfaces are fully used and integrated, and no space is wasted. Another appealing prospect to many urbanists: no cars are allowed, as these would strain the structural limits of supporting architecture.

“In its interconnectedness,” writes Zoya Gul Hasan, “it is reminiscent of the maze-like rooftops of the old town of Ghadames in northwestern Libya, but unlike Ghadames, the rooftops in Masuleh play an integral role in community interaction and friendly cohabitation.”

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