Archive for February, 2009

Biomorphic Skyscrapers

Monday, February 16th, 2009

According to the U.N., half the world’s population already lives in urban areas, and about 70 percent will be city dwellers by 2050. What kind of structures can accommodate all these people while promoting human and environmental health and creativity? An increasing number of architects are looking to plants to find solutions.

The population of tropical cities in particular is expected to skyrocket. Inspired by the densely layered life forms found in tropical rainforests, among the most biodiverse natural communities on the planet, TROPICOOL@KL envisions mushroom-like skyscrapers punctuating Kuala Lumpur’s skyline. These highrise structures, which look as much like the Coney Island Parachute Jump as they do mushrooms, mimic the five layers found in tropical rainforests: the overstory, the canopy, the understory, the shrub layer, and the forest floor. Solar panels in their circular tops provide energy, just like the photosynthesizing leaves that comprise a rainforest canopy. Scattered throughout the branches of the self-sustaining, off-the-grid skyscrapers are apartments modeled after vernacular Malaysian dwellings. 

Intended for Manhattan’s currently semi-industrial Hudson Yards area, which runs roughly from West 42nd Street south to West 30th Street and from Eighth Avenue west to the Hudson River, Eric Vergne’s unfortunately named Dystopian Farm is a skyscraper that combines spaces for housing, markets, and food production. Vergne says he modeled his design after the cellular structure of ferns, and that the building will use biomorphic systems such as aeroponics to meet the food demands of a growing urban population.

Although vertical farming in cities has inspired the design world, some skeptics have claimed it makes no sense financially because urban real estate is too expensive. Our current economic mess, however, just may create a window of opportunity for such visionary projects. In the words of Stanford economist Paul Romer, “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

Cheap Roses Can Be Costly

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, a new study underlines the human and environmental costs of roses that come from developing countries. According to David Harper, a biologist at the University of Leicester  who has conducted research for more than 25 years at Lake Naivasha in Kenya, cut-price roses are “bleeding that country dry.” Look for roses and other cut flowers certified Fair Trade and grown organically. You can find a list of suppliers here.

Adopt a Botanical Painting

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

You can help Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew save the work of prolific Victorian botanical artist Marianne North by “adopting” one of her works. The paintings range from still life portraits—like the depiction of clove foliage and flowers draped over the side of a table, with halved and whole mangoes and the Hindu God of Wisdom in the background—to landscapes, gardens, animals, people, and buildings around the world. In the online gallery it’s possible to browse the collection by plant group, country or continent, category, or price. Funds raised from the adoptions will pay for the modernization of Kew’s 120-year-old Marianne North Gallery, which according to the Garden has a roof that is “no longer sound,” walls that “are not always weather tight,” and no environmental controls.

You don’t get to take the original home, but your donation of £1,000, £750 or £500 (depending on the painting), which can even be paid in monthly installments, entitles you to a print, an invitation to the opening of the refurbished gallery, and other perks.

The Mediterranean Diet Does It Again

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

A new report in the February issue of Archives of Neurology provides more good reasons to follow a Mediterranean diet — one with lots of fish, vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals, and unsaturated fats and moderate alcohol consumption, and little meat, dairy, and saturated fats. Researchers found that eating Mediterranean-style put people at lower risk of mild cognitive impairment — a stage between normal aging and dementia — and of transitioning from mild cognitive impairment into Alzheimer’s disease. 

Edible L.A.

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

An edible rooftop garden prototype on a residential building in Los Angeles is planted with fruit trees, vines, herbs, and vegetables that will be tended and used by residents and the chefs at the well-known ground floor restaurant, Blue Velvet. 

Another Reason to Eat Less Meat

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

Scientific American marshals the evidence on how much eating meat, especially beef, contributes to global warming—a lot, more than either transportation or industry.

Pound for pound, beef contributes more than 13 times as much to global warming as chicken, and 57 times as much as potatoes.

Fighting Obesity With a Farmer’s Market

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Faculty and students at The University of Texas School of Public Health Brownsville Regional Campus have come up with a new way to combat obesity and related diseases like diabetes—a farmer’s market

At the Brownsville Farmer’s Market, shoppers can find a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers at low prices. On-site nutrition, obesity, and diabetes information is provided, and a weekly health booth makes it easy for area residents to be screened for diabetes and other illnesses.

Organizers hope the market will spark an interest in creating community gardens and eventually a co-op.

Plant Exploration, 21st-Century Style

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Back in the olden days, intrepid botanists set sail on uncharted waters to the far reaches of the Earth in search of undiscovered orchids and other bizarre and beautiful plants. Today, they log on to Google Earth.