Why architects should stop drawing trees on top of skyscrapers


Vanessa Quirk Tim De Chant argues that the practice of drawing trees on top of skyscrapers in architectural renderings should stop. First, because pretty, high-altitude foliage is the first thing that cost-conscious developers jettison when the actual building is underway; but secondly, because trees can't really survive at that altitude:

There are plenty of scientific reasons why skyscrapers don’t—and probably won’t—have trees, at least not to the heights which many architects propose. Life sucks up there. For you, for me, for trees, and just about everything else except peregrine falcons. It’s hot, cold, windy, the rain lashes at you, and the snow and sleet pelt you at high velocity. Life for city trees is hard enough on the ground. I can’t imagine what it’s like at 500 feet, where nearly every climate variable is more extreme than at street level.

Wind is perhaps the most formidable force trees face at that elevation. Ever seen trees on the top of a mountain? Their trunks bow away from the prevailing winds. That may be the most visible effect, but it’s not the most challenging. Wind also interrupts the thin layer of air between a leaf and the atmosphere, known as the boundary layer. The boundary layer is tiny by human standards—it operates on a scale small enough that normally slippery gas particles behave like viscous fluids.

Bottom line: if we're going to have skyscrapers, let's build them without the illusion that they'll harbor high-altitude forests.

Can We Please Stop Drawing Trees on Top of Skyscrapers? (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

(Images: “Le Cinq” Office Tower / Neutelings Riedijk Architects, Rendering by Visualisatie A2STUDIO, Pentominium / Murphy/Jahn. Image courtesy of Murphy/Jahn.)

Canadian "pipeline" game enrages humourless oilpatch blowhards


Adam Young sez,

A developer made a game that's a spin on the old "waterworks"/"pipe mania" type game with an oil pipeline theme... complete with pixel-art anti-pipeline protesters. Like most indie developers, they were eligible and applied for funding from a variety of sources. They are donating a portion of the proceeds to the David Suzuki Foundation.

Apparently this made some blowhards angry, who think that "tax dollars funded the game" and shouldn't fund a game about blowing up pipelines, and that the developer donating to a non-profit charity somehow constitutes an ethics violation, having received so-called "tax-dollar funding". Tax breaks and grants and things are available to all sorts of content and media producers in Canada. Game development and film production and the like are industries that are very active here. It's also not illegal to donate proceeds to non-profit charities.

Pipe Trouble

Why "cancer clusters" are so hard to confirm

This excerpt from the new book, Toms River by Dan Fagin, has me instantly intrigued. The book is about one of the rare places where scientists were able to prove that not only was there a cluster of cancer cases, but that those cases could be linked to a cause. The excerpt explains why this is such a rare thing. Turns out, just because it looks like a town has more cancers than it should, doesn't mean that's always what's going on.

Surviving a massive wildfire

In 2011, the Pagami Creek Fire burned through 92,000 acres of Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area. At Outside magazine, Frank Bures tells the story of two kayakers caught in the inferno. Includes some amazing photos taken by one of the kayakers.

New Brazilian environmental political party based on social networking

Gmoke sez, "Former Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva and recent Green Party Presidential candidate (she came in third to force a run-off election) launched the Sustainability Network in Brasilia on 16 February, 2013 and seeks to collect the required 500,000 signatures by September 2013 to become a legally recognized political party. From Sustainability Network's political manifesto (PDF):

We believe that networks, as a means for meeting and organising, are an invention of the present that bridge to a better future. Therefore, it is through networking with society that we want to build a new political force, with alliances underpinned by an Ethics of Urgency, aiming to construct a new model of development: sustainable, inclusive, egalitarian and diverse.

Former Brazilian Minister’s New Party Mixes Sustainability, Social Media · Global Voices (Thanks, Gmoke!)

(Image: José Cruz/Agencia Brasil (CC BY 3.0))

Bedouin "solar mamas" can't get backing for solarizing their village in Jordan

Gmoke sez, "Two years ago, two Bedouin women, Rafea Al Raja and her aunt Seiha Al Raja (Um Bader), returned from a six-month solar engineering training at the Barefoot College in India as 'solar engineers' to start a training center for other women. Although they solarized 80 houses in their village, the government of Jordan, NGOs and international organizations have shown little or no interest in their work. Even with a documentary on their training and projects at home, 'Solar Mamas', there hasn't been enough funding to sustain their work and their dreams.

“We are still not working and the training has not started either,” Rafea told The Jordan Times in an interview on Saturday.

They came with hope, she said, but this hope is fading away. The government, NGOs and international organisations are showing little or no interest, according to FES officials, leaving the project stranded in the desert.

“Now even our fellow villagers have started to make fun of us because they see nothing is happening on the ground,” said Rafea, who with her aunt were received with festive firing and an “official” ceremony upon their arrival from India.

The situation took a dramatic turn for both Rafea and Um Bader. Although they provided solar energy to 80 houses in the village, they are now facing the darkness of personal problems that have plighted them since they completed their training in India.

Hopes fade for two bedouin ‘solar engineers’ [Gaelle Sundelin/Jordan Times]

(Thanks, Gmoke)

I will trade you 12 sheep for 1 barrel of non-renewable hydrocarbons

What would Settlers of Catan be like if you added oil wells to the already potent resource mix of sheep, wood, ore, brick, and grain? The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds out when reporter Ann Griswold sits in on a game of Catan: Oil Springs.

HOWTO assemble the Powercube, hydraulic power source for the Global Village Construction set

Tristan from Open Source Ecology sez, "This comprehensive, user friendly video shows you how to assemble the Powercube; Open Source Ecology's modular power unit. This machine can be used to Power any of the 50 Global Village Construction set machines, including the Liberator CEB Press." (See today's earlier post on the CEB Press).

Full instructions are available on the CEB Wiki:

Power Cube VII (Thanks, Tristan!)

HOWTO make your own automated compressed earth brick making machine

Tristan from Open Source Ecology sez, "This comprehensive, user friendly video shows you how to assembly the Liberator CEB Press; the worlds first open source, automated compressed earth brick making machine. Made from $4000 worth of parts, this machine sets a new standard in affordability, allowing users to build almost any type of brick structure out of dirt."

The OSE Wiki page has full instructions for building your own:

CEB Press (Thanks, Tristan!)

Beijing air "like an airport smokers’ lounge"

Beijing's air quality is so bad the EPA doesn't have a scale that goes up far enough to define it. [Edward Wong at the NYT]

Take a survey to help scientists improve indoor air quality

Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are studying how the seemingly innocuous things we do in our homes and offices can have big impacts on our health. One of those things is cooking, because the way we cook can affect the air we breathe. Scientists are trying to figure out how to make houses safer, but to do that, they need to understand how people use houses — what we cook in them and how we cook it. You can help by taking this quick, anonymous survey.

Canadian Conservative govt guts protections for 99+% of waterways, spare handful of lakes with high-cost cottages

David says, "Canada used to have 2.5 million protected lakes and other bodies of water. After recent Conservative Omnibus bills, we're down to 97. 87 of which are located in Conservative ridings (rich cottage country). More info." Cory

Greenpeace's anime video about hazardous chemicals and fashion

Brian from Greenpeace sez, "They say you can tell what next season's hottest trend will be by looking at the colour of the rivers in China and Mexico due to the dyes and hazardous chemicals used by the fashion industry. An animated collaboration between Greenpeace and Free Range studios (creators of such activist classics as Meatrix and Story of Stuff) exposes the trail of hazardous chemicals from factories in the developing world to the clothes the developed world buys. Greenpeace claims some of the chemicals present in trace amounts in those clothes are banned in European and the US, making your washing machine a potential source of illegal hazardous waste."

TOXIC IS SO LAST SEASON (Thanks, Brian!)

Occupy Sandy doc screened at secret cinema

A documentary about Occupy Sandy was screened at a secret location in NYC last night; it made the connection between Sandy and climate change. People wanting to see the movie were directed to a building whose wall was used as a screen for the premiere.

Now, in what may be the quickest turnaround for a movie in recent memory, the group, Occupy Sandy, will show a documentary Wednesday about its efforts and the contention that the storm was tied to climate change and the fossil fuel industry. In classic Occupy fashion, the screening will not be in a traditional theater, but rather on the side of a yet-to-be-disclosed building in the East Village.

The screening of the film, “Occupy Sandy: A Human Response to the New Realities of Climate Change” (see trailer above or click here), will be at 6:30 p.m.

‘Occupy’ Movement’s Next Guerrilla Effort: A Film Screening [NYT]

OCCUPY SANDY TRAILER IS UP! WORLD PREMIERE NEW SHORT FILM! NYC. NOV. 28th. [Vimeo]

#climatecrime [Twitter]

How Phoenix is becoming more like Minneapolis (and vice versa)

We talk a lot about chain stores and the way their proliferation takes away the individual character of American cities, replacing it with a homogenized urban landscape of Wal-Marts, malls, and Applebees*. But some scientists think businesses and buildings aren't the only thing making our cities look more alike.

The ecology of cities could be homogenizing, as well — everything from the plants that grow there, to the number and density of ponds and creeks, to the bacteria and fungi that live in the soils. My newest column for The New York Times Magazine explains why ecologists think cities are becoming more alike, and what it means if they're right. The really interesting bit: The effects aren't all uniformly bad.

“Americans just have some certain preferences for the way residential settlements ought to look,” Peter Groffman, a microbial ecologist with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., recently told me. Over the course of the last century, we’ve developed those preferences and started applying them to a wide variety of natural landscapes, shifting all places — whether desert, forest or prairie — closer to the norm. Since the 1950s, for example, Phoenix has been remade into a much wetter place that more closely resembles the pond-dotted ecosystem of the Northeast. Sharon Hall, an associate professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, said, “The Phoenix metro area contains on the order of 1,000 lakes today, when previously there were none.” Meanwhile, naturally moist Minneapolis is becoming drier as developers fill in wetlands.

Why does any of this matter to anyone who’s not an urban ecologist? “If 20 percent of urban areas are covered with impervious surfaces,” says Groffman, “then that also means that 80 percent is natural surface.” Whatever is going on in that 80 percent of the country’s urban space — as Groffman puts it, “the natural processes happening in neighborhoods” — has a large, cumulative ecological effect.

Read the rest of the story at The New York Times Magazine

*Or, possibly, Applebeeses.

Image: Taken by Ben Schumin, used via CC.