Tag Archives: design

The unseen dance between urban planning and pandemics

Our cities and pandemics go hand in hand, influencing each other in a subtle tug-and-pull, oftentimes with important and long-lasting consequences.

Among the simplest suggestions for healthier buildings: opening windows to improve air circulation and opening blinds to admit natural daylight. Credits: Lucian Alexe / Unsplash.

Diseases shape urban design

In the mid 19th century, John Snow was somewhat of an outlier in the scientific community. He wasn’t a believer in the then-dominant miasma theory which assumed that diseases such as cholera and the plague were caused by pollution or a noxious form of “bad air”. Instead, Snow believed something else was at work, so in 1854 when the cholera outbreak ravaged London, he did something no one else had thought of before: he made a map of the infection.

“[N]early all the deaths had taken place within a short distance of the Broad Street pump,” Snow wrote, identifying that water pump as the source of the cholera outbreak. With it, he discovered a pattern suggestive of a different spreading mechanism.

His theory was indeed correct. As we all know today, cholera spreads through infected water, not miasma. It took some time before Snow finally persuaded the local council to disable the public well pumps by removing their handles. It took a bit of political back-and-forth, but ultimately, Snow’s theory changed the way cities use public water pumps forever. This is just one striking example of how diseases can shape our cities, and it’s far from being an isolated one.

Urban design and public health intersect in many ways. It’s not always an exact science, as many external factors come into play in this equation (things such as culture and physical geography), but the way we design our cities does affect outbreaks.

Large cities (over 1-2 million people) tend to gain accentuated value in many societal aspects. They tend to have a better-educated population, more jobs, more entrepreneurs, and so on. But they also bring higher risks when it comes to things like violence, pollution, and epidemics. The same underlying mechanism that boosts urban innovation can also explain why certain types of crimes (and outbreaks) thrive in a larger population.

The downsides of large cities are often overlooked in comparison to the advantages they bring, but COVID-19 is forcing us to re-think how we design our cities — especially as global epidemics are becoming become more frequent. Increasingly, epidemics are becoming global — and urban — problems. This makes disease an aspect worth considering both for sprawling metropolises and up-and-coming urban areas.

More than just urbanization and densification

It’s easy to look at COVID-19 and say it was amplificated by globalization. But this doesn’t tell the whole story.

Outbreaks like this one start in and spread from the edges of cities, and into urban and suburban areas. Rapid urbanization enables the spread of infectious disease, and peripheral sites are particularly susceptible to disease vectors like mosquitoes or ticks. Increasingly, cities aren’t uniform, singular bodies — they are more like amorphous blobs, split into clusters connected in ways that are often complex. People’s income, age, habits, and culture can play a role, as do existing infrastructure and geography

They are all linked, however, by transportation. A city’s transportation is its lifeblood — and also the first route of possible disease spread. COVID-19 spread far and wide through airports, and most airports were not designed to feature quarantine areas or medical testing. This is perhaps the simplest and most consequential urban change that can be done to limit the risk of a disease spreading into the city, yet it’s often overlooked.

There is a healthy amount of chance involved in how diseases spread as well. New York is one of the most globalized cities in the world, but its outbreak happened weeks after the one in Italy and Spain, and studies have suggested that most of NYC’s coronavirus cases came from Europe itself.

Regardless of how it happens, once a disease starts to spread inside a city, things get much more complicated and site-specific.

Cities urbanize the areas around them in different ways. In the US, suburban areas are often hubs for affluent people whereas, in most of Europe, central areas are more desirable. This can influence disease spread, and it’s important to look at cities in their cultural and historic context.

Density alone also doesn’t tell the whole story.

Hong Kong. Image credits: bady QB / Unsplash.

Hong Kong has 17,311 people per square mile, and yet it managed to contain its outbreak admirably so far. It’s also a very cosmopolitan city, very close to China — a prime suspect for a severe outbreak, but Hong Kong hasn’t even come close to what New York is seeing.

Meanwhile, Washington state (much like what we have seen in Italy) is largely suburban, yet the disease has still spread with stunning speed. It’s still early to draw any crystal-clear lessons, but the level of urbanization doesn’t necessarily seem to correlate with how heavily hit an area is. There are likely other, more subtle aspects at play, which city planners will need to analyze and adapt to, just like they did after John Snow’s findings.

Rich-poor segregation also doesn’t really help cluster down the outbreak. In several US communities, the disease was brought in by inhabitants of affluent suburbs, but then disproportionately spread to some of the poorest neighborhoods. Quite likely, some affluent areas are spared because their inhabitants can afford to enter quarantine or work from home, whereas this might not be the case in other neighborhoods.

Digital infrastructure

Imagine if this pandemic would have happened 10 years ago. The mere thought that we would have to do this without internet deliveries is horrifying. Then, there’s all the digitized information that both we as citizens and decision-makers have available at our fingertips. There’s never a good time for a pandemic, but at least in terms of digital infrastructure, we’re way better prepared than we were a few years ago.

Digital infrastructure is becoming an increasingly important part of a city’s infrastructure, but we need to find ways to use it properly.

The next challenge is to figure out what data is useful, how to get it, and how to make decisions off of it. A good example in the current pandemic is Johns Hopkins’s CSSE aggregator of information. This dataset and visualization, which we have also used, was extremely useful in understanding the scale and overall evolution of the disease at the global level. As the outbreak progressed, several other datasets emerged, on international, national, and even local levels.

Having access to this unprecedented level of data is a game-changer. Even for cities lacking a solid digital infrastructure, having access to open-source data enables decision-makers to plan with unprecedented quality of information. Meanwhile, countries that have invested in building this digital infrastructure up are reaping the rewards. In Germany, for instance, you can watch a real-time map of hospital bed capacity, showing which areas are at full capacity and which can still take extra patients — an initiative which can be carried out at low costs, but which can carry huge rewards.

Much like they organize streets and buildings, city planners will need to look at what digital infrastructure is required in a city, and how it can be organized and used both in normal times and in times of crisis. The amorphous shape of cities will also carry on to the online infrastructure.

Looking into the next few years, as the world will start to shake off the COVID-19 crisis, we will enter another wave of megaurbanization. Urban regions would do well to develop efficient and innovative methods of confronting emerging infectious disease without relying on drastic top-down state measures that can be disruptive and often counter-productive.

Over the course of this pandemic, the US has demonstrated just how important it is for cities to be able to fend for themselves, and how devastating it is when they don’t.

In general, urbanization plans should account for fighting racism and intercultural conflict. Epidemic planning also falls into this category, and it’s more important than ever for cities to also consider this.

Cities are hotspots of innovation and solution-finding, but they can also be hotspots of disease spread. From cities, we will find both our solutions and our biggest problems. COVID-19 isn’t the last global outbreak we will have to face. Hopefully, the world’s cities will rise up to the challenge.

Researchers teach AI to design, say it did ‘quite good’ but won’t steal your job (yet)

A US-based research team has trained artificial intelligence (AI) in design, with pretty good results.

A roof supported by a wooden truss framework.
Image credits Achim Scholty.

Although we don’t generally think of AIs as good problem-solvers, a new study suggests they can learn how to be. The paper describes the process through which a framework of deep neural networks learned human creative processes and strategies and how to apply them to create new designs.

Just hit ‘design’

“We were trying to have the [AIs] create designs similar to how humans do it, imitating the process they use: how they look at the design, how they take the next action, and then create a new design, step by step,” says Ayush Raina, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon and a co-author of the study.

Design isn’t an exact science. While there are definite no-no’s and rules of thumb that lead to OK designs, good designs require creativity and exploratory decision-making. Humans excel at these skills.

Software as we know it today works wonders within a clearly defined set of rules, with clear inputs and known desired outcomes. That’s very handy when you need to crunch huge amounts of data, or to make split-second decisions to keep a jet stable in flight, for example. However, it’s an appalling skillset for someone trying their hand, or processors, at designing.

The team wanted to see if machines can learn the skills that make humans good designers and then apply them. For the study, they created an AI framework from several deep neural networks and fed it data pertaining to a human going about the process of design.

The study focused on trusses, which are complex but relatively common design challenges for engineers. Trusses are load-bearing structural elements composed of rods and beams; bridges and large buildings make good use of trusses, for example. Simple in theory, trusses are actually incredibly complex elements whose final shapes are a product of their function, material make-up, or other desired traits (such as flexibility-rigidity, resistance to compression-tension and so forth).

The framework itself was made up of several deep neural networks which worked together in a prediction-based process. It was shown five successive snapshots of the structures (the design modification sequence for a truss), and then asked to predict the next iteration of the design. This data was the same one engineers use when approaching the problem: pixels on a screen; however, the AI wasn’t privy to any further information or context (such as the truss’ intended use). The researchers emphasized visualization in the process because vision is an integral part of how humans perceive the world and go about solving problems.

In essence, the researchers had their neural networks watch human designers throughout the whole design process, and then try to emulate them. Overall, the team reports, the way their AI approached the design process was similar to that employed by humans. Further testing on similar design problems showed that on average, the AI can perform just as well if not better than humans. However, the system still lacks many of the advantages a human user would have when problem-solving — namely, it worked without a specific goal in mind (a particular weight or shape, for example), and didn’t receive feedback on how successful it was on its task. In other words, while the program could design a good truss, it didn’t understand what it was doing, what the end goal of the process was, or how good it was at it. So while it’s good at designing, it’s still a lousy designer.

All things considered, however, the AI was “quite good” at the task, says co-author Jonathan Cagan, professor of mechanical engineering and interim dean of Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering.

“The AI is not just mimicking or regurgitating solutions that already exist,” Professor Cagan explains. “It’s learning how people solve a specific type of problem and creating new design solutions from scratch.”

“It’s tempting to think that this AI will replace engineers, but that’s simply not true,” said Chris McComb, an assistant professor of engineering design at the Pennsylvania State University and paper co-author.

“Instead, it can fundamentally change how engineers work. If we can offload boring, time-consuming tasks to an AI, like we did in the work, then we free engineers up to think big and solve problems creatively.”

The paper “Learning to Design From Humans: Imitating Human Designers Through Deep Learning” has been published in the Journal of Mechanical Design.

Tokyo announces plan to build 350-meter skyscraper made from wood

A skyscraper is set to become the tallest timber structure in the world. The 350 meter (1,148ft), 70-floor construction will tower over Japan’s capital as a lighthouse of environmentally-friendly building. However, construction isn’t scheduled to start until 2041.

How the skyscraper will look like. Image credits: Sumitomo.

Architects have become more and more passionate about timber constructions, and Tokyo has more than its fair share of wood structures. In fact, a law passed in 2010 mandates that all public buildings of three stories or fewer need to be built primarily from wood — but skyscrapers are a completely different story.

The new project belongs to a wood products company Sumitomo Forestry Co, who also maintains a significant part of Japan’s forests. The construction will commemorate Sumitomo’s 350th anniversary.

The W350 tower will be mostly wood and 10% steel. Image credits: Sumitomo.

Sumitomo says the new structure, which they call the W350 Project, will be an example of “urban development that is kind for humans,” adding natural wood, greenery, and biodiversity to an otherwise grey and overly urban area.

The new building will be built almost exclusively from wood, using just 10% steel. The internal framework (columns, beans, etc) will be made from a wood-steel hybrid material, designed to withstand Japan’s extremely high rate of seismic activity. The Tokyo-based architecture firm Nikken Sekkei will contribute to the design.

Sumitomo’s plan also takes advantage of the fact that Japan’s forest cover is one of the most impressive in the world, and that the country’s wood stockpile is increasing each year. In a press release, they say that the project will not only be aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly, but it could also inject new life into an already mature economy. W350, they say, will popularize timber architecture, jumpstarting a revitalization of the forestry industry and sparking new interest in reforestation.

“The project offers the advantages of the re-use of timber, urban development that is kind for humans, and the vitalization of forestry. Wooden construction will increase through the optimal use of the strengths of trees.”

“We will make every effort to further enhance fire and seismic resistance as well as durability, thoroughly reduce construction costs, develop new materials and construction methods, and develop trees that will be used as resources.”

“We will strive to create environmentally-friendly and timber utilizing cities to Change Cities into Forests.”

Image credits: Sumitomo.

The 70 stories will provide 455,000 square meters in floor space, which will house shops, offices, a hotel and residential units. The facades will be covered in relaxing gardens and terraces. W350 will use more than 6.5 million cubic feet of wood

However, this innovative plan comes at a cost — Sumitomo will pocket an estimated ¥600bn (£4.02bn), almost double that of a conventional high-rise building. However, since construction won’t actually start by 2041, the company says that technological advancements will significantly lower this cost.

Designer Oscar Lhermitte brings the moon to your fingertips

We love art that not only thrills your senses but also makes you think, and this project does just that. Oscar Lhermitte’s MOON brings the stunning beauty of the lunar globe on your desk — 100% topographically accurate.


There are few sights as captivating the full moon on a clear night’s sky. There’s something very tranquil and beautiful in seeing the white aster transiting the sky. Probably driven by similar emotions, product designer Oscar Lhermitte took the feeling down from the sky and brought it to our fingertips — at a 1:20 million scale.

Teaming up with design studio Kudu, he spent 4 years constructing a topographically accurate lunar globe from data recorded by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

In order to create the lunar globe, Oscar first reached out to the team at the Institute of Planetary Research. They gave him access to their database, which he used to design the MOON. The data used are DTM (Digital Terrain Model) and are constructed from stereo images.

The images were then developed to achieve the correct scale of terrain and make it spherical. One full Moon was 3D printed in order to become the MOON Master (the one the molds are then made from).

All images provided by Oscar Lhemitte

The globe is dotted with all of the moon’s craters in precise detail, so you can get an exquisite feel of our planet’s favorite satellite.



A ring of LEDs follows the path of the Moon in real time, keeping its correct face constantly lit. You either set the moon to the position you desire, see all of its phases in 30 seconds in demo mode or switch it to live to have it synchronize with the current position of the actual moon.

MOON has 3 modes of operation:

  1. Manual – allowing you to rotate the sun yourself, setting the lunar phase that you would like to see.
  2. Demo – letting you observe a synodic month in just 30 seconds.
  3. Live – Synchronising itself with the current position of the real moon. All MOONs are manufactured in London, England.


Also, MOON’s system has the exact same memory capacity as the Apollo 11 computers that brought the first people to the moon. You can’t get any more lunar than this without leaving the planet.

MOON was available £500 on Kickstarter with a discounted price of £450 for early backers. Now, the retail price price is £700. MOON was successfully launched on Kickstarter in May 2016 and raised more than £140K.

All image credits go to Oscar Lehrmitte.

chairless chair

This wearable ‘chairless chair’ lets you sit wherever you want

We might have made them more comfortable or flashier, but if you think a bit about it, chair design hasn’t changed all that much since it was invented virtually thousands of years ago. Two brave startups, however, are challenging consumers with a redefined sitting experience. Instead of sitting on a chair, you wear one.

The two startups, Noonee from Germany and Sapetti from Switzerland, made a ‘chairless chair’ (their word choice) that looks a lot like an exoskeleton. Only instead of augmenting performance for athletes or enabling paraplegics to walk, this contraption simply allows people to sit anywhere they please since they’re no longer condition by having a sitable surface nearbout.

chairless chair

Credit: Noone.

The chair is made from polyamide and attaches to the legs through a series of straps which lock into position once the user presses a button. Contrary to what some might think, this chair isn’t designed in mind for the lazy. Instead, it’s intended in a working environment such as in an assembly plant where workers often have to stay in an unnatural position to fasten nuts and bolt, weld, measure etc. Increasingly, automakers are optimizing their plant floor for robots and machines, which often leaves human workers — which are still valuable and needed — scrambling for a good position to perform a task. The designers of the exochair say their device will reduce worker fatigue and work-related accidents while improving productivity.

“It’s more of a tool rather than an exoskeleton,” chief designer of the ‘chairless chair’ Keith Gunura said during The Henry Ford’s TV show Innovation Nation with Mo Rocca

The chairless chair doesn’t come with any added strength seen in other exoskeleton meant for working environments. It makes up for it by being lighter, though, and uses less energy. And it’s not just assembly plants that might benefit. Gunura said he’s been approached by people from all sorts of crafts who have expressed interest from fisherman to surgeons to retail workers.  “Basically anyone who’s standing for long periods of time,” he says.

Prototype robots.

Carnegie U software lets anyone design and build a bot — that works

An interactive design environment put together by the Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute will allow anyone, regardless how tech savvy, to put together and then operate their very own bot.

Toy Robot.

How cool would it be if you could drag-and-drop your way to a fully functional, unique robot? Well put on your design caps because that’s exactly what researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University want you to do.

Simplicity by design

The software they designed comes with pre-loaded libraries of components for users to incorporate into the design. And just to make things that one shade simpler for those of us who are just starting out (which is basically everybody) it can suggest compatible components based on those already in use, potential placement points for actuators, and can even take over to design bits of frame to hold everything in place.

After you finish your design, the software lets you take it for a simulated test drive, just to make sure everything is in its place and running smoothly before construction. The team compiled their software with ease of design and manufacture in mind — apart from the streamlined design system, reliance on off-the-shelf actuators and other components, the robots are fully 3-D printable.

“The process of creating new robotic systems today is notoriously challenging, time-consuming and resource-intensive,” said Stelian Coros, assistant professor of robotics at the university.

“In the not-so-distant future, however, robots will be part of the fabric of daily life and more people — not just roboticists — will want to customize robots. This type of interactive design tool would make this possible for just about anybody.”

Coros’ team designed a number of robots using the software to test its abilities, two of which they also fabricated. One is a four-legged “puppy” bot which can walk forwards as well as sideways. The other, a more artistically-inclined robot, moves about on wheels and can hold a pen in one arm for drawing.

Ctrl-Z’ing your way to success

Prototype robots.

Image credits Carnegie Mellon University.

The design allowed the team to iteratively tweak their design to match the intended result, and nip any shortcomings without having to produce the machine first, perfecting the end product time and time again.

“The system makes it easy to experiment with different body proportions and motor configurations, and see how these decisions affect the robot’s ability to do certain tasks,” said Carnegie robotics Ph.D. student and system co-developer Ruta Desai.

“For instance, we discovered in simulation that some of our preliminary designs for the puppy enabled it to only walk forward, not sideways. We corrected that for the final design. The motions of the robot we actually built matched the desired motion we demonstrated in simulation very well.”

The system provides a very noobie-friendly environment for robot design, being able to handle the details while the user learns the ropes. The team developed models for how actuators, brackets, and other components can be combined with the printed chassis and structural components and then fed them into the system, allowing any user to put together complex designs with surprising ease.

As designs can be tested at any step of the process, users can try multiple arrangements of components and immediately get a feel of the effects on the overall design. And robotics majors rejoice! If you’re at a loss of ideas, the team included an auto-complete feature which can take over and finalize the design — homework has never been so easy.

Which in broad lines is exactly the point. This system was intended to make robotics more accessible for those with limited or no training and experience in robotics. And putting in the effort to create these little bots will help bring the field of robotics, and our future digital friends, closer to our hearts.

“This is important because people who play an active role in creating robotic devices for their own use are more likely to have positive feelings and higher quality interactions with them,” Coros said.

“This could accelerate the adoption of robots in everyday life.”

Coupled with software that simplifies the instruction process, it seems that a day when anyone can design, build, and teach the robot of their dreams is fast approaching.

Ruta Desai, along with master’s student and co-developer Ye Yuan, has presented a report of the tool on May 30th at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA 2017) in Singapore.

How a mycologist is making ‘living’ bricks out of mushrooms that are stronger than concrete


Credit: Philip Ross.

Philip Ross is an artist and lecturer at Stanford University who focuses on an unlikely sustainable design element: mushrooms. After years of growing mushrooms, Ross has learned that there’s far more than meets the eye to mycelium — the extensive and tangled network of rootlike fibers that grow beneath the ground. According to our fungus expert, when left to dry the mycelium can become an excellent raw material for various constructions. For instance, Ross used the mycelium to fashion bricks out of.

Among its many properties, the mycelium bricks are:

fire resistant


actually, the mycelia-bricks are stronger than concrete pound-for-pound

and also water- and mold-resistant

The fungus is grown into brick-shapes directly then is left out to dry. Credit: Ross.

The fungus is grown in the shape of a brick directly and is then left out to dry. Credit: Ross.

The bricks can be stacked to make just about any structure. Credit: Philip Ross.

The bricks can be stacked to make just about any structure. Credit: Philip Ross.

This arched-structure was exhibited at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf as part of the 2009 Eat Art exhibit.

This arched structure was exhibited at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf as part of the 2009 Eat Art exhibit. Credit: Philip Ross.

mushroom bricks

This structure was grown from the fungus Ganoderma lucidum. Credit: Philip Ross.

How Ross makes his mycelia bricks. Credit: Philip Ross.

How Ross makes his mycelia bricks. Credit: Philip Ross.

Bricks teeming with life

Generally, when fungus creeps out on our wet walls, that’s highly undesirable. It looks unhygienic and, well, gross. But Ross is working hard to dispel the aversion most people have around raw mushroom cultures, and the tests he’s run so far suggest mycelia can be an excellent practical construction material, beyond its artistic value.

“I’ve done a ton of engineering tests this past year as part of the patent process to figure out what makes fungi grow stronger or not. And to all accounts it seems like you can use this process in a host of different applications, ranging from the more pedestrian things like furniture or building materials but even up to such far out applications as growing fungal shapes to grow human organs within, or organic batteries or even computers. So it can kind of become a lot of things. It’s sort of like a plastic that can potentially be used for God knows what,” Ross told Glasstire in an interview.

brick structure

Tiny mushrooms sprout from the organic, compostable building material. Credit: Philip Ross.

While you’ll never be able to replace concrete with mycelia at the scale and requirements the industry demands today, mycelia bricks certainly have their niche. Their main practical use is as a substitute for petroleum-based plastics — biomaterials regionally sourced and produced. At some point, Ross hopes to make an entire building that can house 12 to 20 people out of the myco-bricks, likely out of reishi mushroom — a favorite for Ross and colleagues.

Mushrooms — the building material of the future?

What’s more, the mycelia can be grown into any shape. Previously, Ross grew fungal sculptures that have been exhibited in art galleries and museums around the world. He’s even grown furniture like mushroom side tables and lounge chairs.

It’s cheap too — you only need some nutrients and often anything from sawdust to pistachio shells will do. It’s because the mycelia grow together with the feedstock material that Ross is able to turn the mushrooms into any shape. And don’t worry — every building block is baked to kill the organisms, so that if it ever got wet, mushrooms wouldn’t start sprouting again.

Nowadays, after filing for patent, Ross is busy with a startup he co-founded called MycoWorks. The company’s flagship product at the moment is a ‘fake’ leather “grown rapidly from mycelium and agricultural byproducts in a carbon-negative process.”

Mycoleather. Credit: Mycoworks.

Mycoleather. Credit: Mycoworks.

Company reveals 3D printed superhero prosthetics for kids

Sometimes, it’s not just about the functionality of a prosthetic, but the hope and morale it brings. With this in mind, Open Bionics, a startup working to provide affordable, 3D printed prosthetic hands for amputees has revealed prosthetic arms for kids inspired from Iron Man, Frozen or Star Wars.

Based in Bristol, UK, Open Bionics first began its collaboration with Disney when it was selected for the 2015 Disney Accelerator program. The prosthetics they develop come at the relatively low cost of $500 and are fully robotic and responsive to the user’s movements. They were thrilled to have this opportunity of working with Disney, in making the world a better (or at the very least, a nicer) place.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get support and mentorship,” says Samantha Payne, COO of Open Bionics. However, according to Open Bionics CEO Joel Gibbard, pursuing one’s passion does not require the support of a multinational corporation. “If someone wants to get involved with something they’re interested in, the best way to do that is just to start doing it,” says Gibbard. “Follow tutorials, start making things, engage with communities. The more you do that, the better you’ll become and eventually you’ll get lucky like me and find yourself doing what you love for a living!”

To make things even better, their designs are fully open source, and their non-Disney hands can go as low as $100, weighing under 300 grams.

All images via Open Bionics.


Solar Hourglass might power 1,000 Danish Homes while inspiring Climate Change Action


Every year, the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) in Copenhagen welcomes renowned designers and engineers to submit designs that integrates renewable energy in harmony with citizens, nature, and the urban environment. This year’s winning entry is a fantastic solar power array that takes the form of a hourglass, unveiled by Argentina-based designer Santiago Muros Cortés. The project, if constructed, would power 1,000 Danish homes right off an industrial brownfield site across the harbor from Copenhagen’s iconic Little Mermaid statue. Both landmark artwork and power generator, the hourglass is set to be a tourist attraction that inspires people to take action against climate change… until it’s too late.



Second place went to the Quiver by Mateusz Góra and Agata Gryszkiewicz from Poland – a tall tower set amidst a field of Miscanthus biofuel crops. Miscanthus (commonly known as Elephant Grass) is a high yielding energy crop that grows over 3 metres tall, resembles bamboo and produces a crop every year without the need for replanting. The rapid growth, low mineral content, and high biomass yield of Miscanthus increasingly make it a favourite choice as a biofuel, outperforming maize (corn) and other alternatives.





Set at the far end of the park, right by the water, the tower is envisioned as a new Copenhagen landmark, integrally powered by biofuel and aeroelastic flutter . Visitors may enter the tower and take an elevator right to top to enjoy a panoramic view. At night, powerful LED lights guide ships coming to and fro Copenhagen’s busy harbor.

generator lani


Antonio Maccà and Flavio Masi from Italy came in third with their  “eMotions” project – a huge, yet eery power generation field comprised of ten distinct areas: the river, the beach, the marine house, the sand dune, the lake, the farm, the arctic, the grassland, the forest and the city. This giant park is meant to generate a whooping 2000 MWh from photovoltaic panels, micro-scale vertical axis wind turbines (VAWT) and horizontal axis wind turbines (HAWT), stacked ceramic multilayer actuators, and piezoelectric wind energy systems.


The whole park was designed to look like a giant generator, with the walkways meant to look like the belts of a genuine mechanical power generating system.


While the Hourglass takes first place for the best combination of renewable energy and art, personally I find the eMotions projects the most ambitious out of all the three hundred interdisciplinary teams from 55 countries that entered LAGI this year.



Tomorrow, October 3rd, the winners will be awarded during a special ceremony.


Chinese plan to reconstruct city with urban farms, soaring towers and massive skyways

Cloud Citizen is an amazing concept for the development of a business center in Shenzen.

China has drawn most of its modern technology from the West, but now, as the balance of power is starting to shift, China will have to innovate and start developing its own ideas. In a recent contest, the city of Shenzhen went looking for creative proposals for a financial district which would include three skyscrapers, several cultural buildings, and a green space linking it all together. The city hosts 15 million inhabitants, so they want something which can outshine even New York or London’s Canary Wharf.

cloud citizenj

The co-winning design was a complex called Cloud Citizen – a massive design that’s about as wide as it is tall. The structure is unique, forming a fused city skyline boasting with three towers—the tallest of which would be the second highest in the world at 680 meters. The towers will be connected through a series of giant floating skyways.

“The proposal consists instead of one connected mega structure creating a third dimension of the city reaching 680 meters into the sky. Suspended public plazas and roads creates identity and acts as a catalyst for surrounding small and big businesses inspired by the bustling Hutong lifestyle. Public plazas are connected with a park that acts like a green lung and communication network in all three dimensions”, designers write on the project’s Facebook page.

But the project is more than just a massive building – it’s a sustainable urban ecosystem. The structure harvests rainwater which it then uses, and will be powered by the sun, wind, and algae; it also stores carbon and filters particles from the air. There will be places to grow farm food, sanctuaries for wild plants and sheltered “sky parks” – areas where visitors and workers can recreate.

So will this amazing concept actually see the light of day? Yes! But will it see the light of day exactly as it’s designed? That’s still not clear. The contest administrators and urban planners said the final plan will need “further consideration” and only be “implemented after approval by the statutory procedures.” This could mean several things – it could be implemented exactly as it is after further checks or, more likely, it will be changed. How much it will have to change is anybody’s guess right now, but I assume the fundamentals will remain the same. In other words, unless the design is fundamentally flawed or there’s some structural error, I assume it will remain the same, with only some functionalities changing.

Still, it’s incredibly refreshing to see China turning its head towards the future. Concepts like this which are both spectacular, massive and sustainable seem to be the way to go for massive centers, and you can enjoy the sketches of the Cloud Citizen in its full glory – before authorities start cutting some of the features.

All images via UFO – Urban Future Organization.


A zoo in Denmark wants to reverse the roles of captor and visitor. This is an artist's impression of how the central plaza from which visitors can visit the three section might look like. Image: BIG

In Denmark, a zoo will keep animals outside and humans captive

A zoo in Denmark wants to reverse the roles of captor and visitor. This is an artist's impression of how the central plaza from which visitors can visit the three section might look like. Image: BIG

A zoo in Denmark wants to reverse the roles of captor and visitor. This is an artist’s impression of how the central plaza from which visitors can visit the three section might look like. Image: BIG

One can argue that zoos have no place in a civilized society; cheap entertainment with little educational value at the expense and suffering of countless animals. But let’s face it – they’re not going away any soon. So instead of abolishing them altogether how about radically transforming them? Bjarke Ingels is set on doing just that. The architect wants to revamp the Givskud “Zootopia”, a 1960’s built zoo in Denmark, by reversing the roles: animals are free to roam in the 300-acre facility, while humans are limited to a non-interfering role, peeking through enclosed settings, undetectable.

Visitors will be able to tour the park by floating some of the artificial rivers in mirrored capsules. Image: BIG

Visitors will be able to tour the park by floating some of the artificial rivers in mirrored capsules. Image: BIG

Practically, Zootopia will only have ‘cages’ for humans, not for animals like a typical zoo.

“Architects’ greatest and most important task is to … make sure that our cities offer a generous framework for different people – from different backgrounds, economy, gender, culture, education and age – so they can live together in harmony,” says the Bjarke Ingels Group, aka BIG. “Nowhere is this challenge more acrimonious than in a zoo.”

The proposed design also changes the general zoo navigation scheme that typically causes visitors to swarm around cages and exhibits. Instead, visitors will be able to access three observational areas, designed and crafted to emulate Asia, Europe and North America, all starting from a central hub. A buried bunker allows visitors to spot lions, peep at pandas through bamboo screens or spy on bears from a little house hidden in a stack of tree-trunks.


“Don’t mind us, bear” . Image: BIG

“Instead of copying the architecture from the various continents by doing vernacular architecture, we propose to integrate and hide the buildings as much as possible in the landscape,” say the architects – keen to avoid the usual Disneyish approach of Sumatran temples to see the tigers and Chinese pagodas to view the pandas, by doing away with buildings all together.

ZME readers, what do you think? Does this sound appealing to you or would you think of something different? Is the BIG-designed zoo, in fact, just a small, enclosed safari? As always, your comments are most welcomed.

Green-walled skyscraper built in Thailand’s capital

In the heart of Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, green spaces are a rarity. With the idea of creating an escape from the congested streets of Bangkok, Somdoon Architects came up with this design of two towers, each tailored for a specific type of customers, but also eco-friendly.


A “green skin” covers the building providing temperature control (keeping shade when it’s hot) and also changes and adapts in order to control what can be seen in and out of these buildings. The smaller, 10 story tower is aimed at younger couples with lower incomes, featuring duplex apartments at a 5.4m floor-to-floor distance.


The taller thirty-two-story tower is called Ashton and is targeted towards families with a larger income, with glazing enclosure on three sides providing an expansive view outside. But what’s really interesting is the folding “bark” which connects the two towers, which you can see in this image.


This outer skin is constructed from a combination of precast concrete panels and a plant wall, symbolizing the relationship between the design and the environment.

Via Inhabitat.

The Science of Conveyor Belt Design


Conveyor belts are a near ubiquitous facet of life in the developed world. Whether one finds them in our factories and airports, or in smaller commercial applications such as in the local sushi bar or escalators at the mall, they are an integral part of our technological society. With such widespread usage of the technology fueled by great conveyor designers such as UPM Conveyors innovating and producing more and more intricate designs for modern application, have you ever stopped to ponder “how exactly do conveyor belts work anyway?”

Early Conveyor Belt Origin

Whilst the exact origin of the recognizable conveyor belt is a matter of debate, early forms of the technology were definitely in use by the beginning of the 19th century. The earliest conveyors were constructed of a simple belt of leather, canvas, or rubber that moved over a wooden bed, and generally were used to transport bulk materials such as grain over short distances. The British Navy began using steam operated belts for their kitchens in 1804, however this technology remained relatively unchanged until the end of the 1800’s when conveyor belts became adapted for industrial uses.

In 1892 a conveyor belt was designed that was better suited to handling raw materials such as coal and ores. In 1901 the first conveyor belts began to be constructed out of steel, which allowed them to handle the greater stress demands of industrial use, and four years later the conveyor belt was implemented for underground mining. From that point on, the conveyor belt found itself being adapted to a wide variety of uses throughout all strata of society until taking its familiar modern form with the introduction of synthetic fabrics in the mid 20th century.

Strength and Versatility


The strength and versatility of conveyor belt design is in its simplicity. A conveyor belt is in essence just a wide strip of a rough material like rubber, leather, or various synthetic compounds that is stretched around the length of a surface in a loop. The loop is attached to spinning wheels, or rotors, that are powered by motors which cause them to spin in the desired direction. The friction between the surface of the rotors and the surface of the belt creates energy that propels the belt and its load forward. If the belt is required to make a turn along its route, cone shaped rotors are used whose angle allows the belt to continue along in the new direction.

Adaptions of DesignConveyor-Belts


Various adaptations to this basic design framework have proved the conveyor belt has extreme usefulness in almost any transport application. In settings which see heavy use and substantial weights, the smooth metal surface is replaced by a series of metal rollers. These rollers distribute the weight between themselves, which prevents the heavy weight from creating enough friction to stop the belt. Even vertical ascent is possible through the use of conveyor belts placed face to face tightly enough to contain the object. This so-called sandwich belt is designed so that the two belts move upward at the same speed, and their surfaces create enough friction upon their load to allow it to travel up its length.

Simple ‘Marvel of Technology’

This relatively simple technology is behind most of the marvels of modern life, and its importance to commerce and industry is simply undeniable. Even this article owes itself in many ways to the power of conveyor belts, from the mining and refining of raw materials, to the assembly of the computer it was written on, to the construction and maintenance of the power utilities and internet servers that allow it to be shared. Next time you find yourself in the grocery store, or on a moving walkway in the airport, you should take a moment and appreciate the importance that conveyor belts play in your everyday life.

Flying bots

Quadrocopter fleet to build 6-meter tall tower

Flying bots

Amazing architecture goes hand in hand with amazing engineering, and a Swiss/Italian team is showing how the pair will be used in the future to revolutionize the buildings of tomorrow.

The FRAC Centre in Orléans, France will host the first ever self-constructing exhibit – a simple, yet charming 6 meters tall tower comprised of 1,500 prefabricated polystyrene foam modules, put together by clock-work precise flying drones. The project was started by Swiss architecture firm Gramazio & Kohler and Italian robot designer Raffaello D’Andrea, with the purpose of inspiring new methods of thinking about architecture as a “physical process of dynamic formation.”

Flying bots

Flying bots

A slew of programmed quadrocopters will interact, lift, transport and assemble the final tower, set to be at a height of 6 meters (19.7 feet) and a diameter of 3.5 meters (11.5 feet). At one particular moment, the set-up will be able to handle 50 flying robots, all tracked simultaneously at a rate of 370 frames per second.

Flying bots

Flying bots

Flying bots

Each quadrocopter is masterfully fitted with control technology, which allows is to perform most of its automated flights and operations, besides allowing for manual control from a wireless panel. D’Andrea has also taken into account the genuine possibility of mid-air collision between the flying assembly bots, so a safety management solution was employed which automagically takes over and avoids any mishap.

The Flight Assembled Architecture exhibition will be on display at the FRAC Centre from December 2 through to February 19, 2012. So if you happen to be in Orleans during that time frame, don’t miss this.


[PHOTOS] How NASA imagined in the 1970s space stations would like in the future

In a time when a thing called the space race was in full swing, technological advance and cocky egos made a lot of people, mostly scientists, get disillusioned with visions of grander for the future.  In the 1970’s Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill with the help of NASA’s Ames Research Center and Stanford University showed that we can build giant orbiting spaceships and live in them. These space stations would have been giant enclosed-circle cylinders that housed at least 10,000 people, giant ecosystems, lakes, farm areas (with tractors plowing the fields inside the space station…), entire towns actually wrapped inside the station.

Considering that in 2011, the International Space Station, which is barely closing on its 25 years completion program and costs tens of billions of dollars, looks like a big tin can compared to the stunning futuristic representations from below, one could think that people were a bit ecstatic concerning the 2000s back then. But that doesn’t really matter, since the image gallery below not only offers some brilliant eye candy to feast upon, but also some intense stimulation for ones senses and spirit. I can only image how the managers of this NASA settlement project and the artists drawing it must have felt when it was finally completed.

Source: NASA via Dvice.