Pop-up Park Bench Shelters: Helping The Homeless

IMG_3515.JPG

Trying to stop the homeless from taking shelter on the street by placing strategic spikes in the ground might be absurd, but the attitude isn’t unique. (After all, forcing the homeless out of cities before major global sporting events could even be called something of a tradition.) Last year, one advertising agency decided to point out something even more absurd: The fact that people have to sleep on benches in the first place.

In 2013, Canadian firm Spring Advertising approached the RainCity Housing and Support Society, a local shelter and advocacy organization in Vancouver, with an idea for modifying bus stops and park benches. Instead of trying to discourage the homeless from sleeping on them, they’d welcome them to stay.

As a result, the creatives ran a campaign with park benches that folded out like airplane tray tables into miniature shelters. By day, one version of the benches read, “This is a bench.” But at night, the dark revealed a different message: “This is a bedroom.”

Rob Schlyecher, Spring’s co-founder and creative director, explains that the campaign was intended to draw attention to the lack of housing and mental health resources for Vancouver’s homeless population. The city has a particular problem with homelessness because it’s the one of the few areas in Canada that doesn’t freeze in the winter, he notes.

But Schlyecher also has a very realistic sense of where the campaign falls in the spectrum of housing solutions. It’s a small action, he says, part of a program the agency has run since its inception, called “strange acts of kindness.” This year, Spring is forgoing awards ceremonies and donating the money that would have been spent on travel to local charities instead.

“The advertising industry doesn’t really give a lot back to the community, and we felt like we wanted to change that,” Schleyer says. “We’re not doing very much. We’re not Mother Theresa. We just feel that when we’re not using our skills to sell products we’d like to use them to help people.”

Thank you for reading.

Advertisements

The BIQ: World’s first algae powered building

IMG_3514.JPG

Does it make sense to power buildings with algae? That’s the question that arises with the Bio Intelligent Quotient (BIQ) building, in Hamburg, Germany, which has now been operating for more than a year.

The panels are 0.78 inches thick and cover about 200 square meters in total. They’re filled with algae from the Elbe River and pumped full of carbon dioxide and nutrients. When sunlight hits the 129 “bioreactors,” photosynthesis causes the microorganisms to multiply and give off heat (the water goes to about 40 degrees C). The warmth is then captured for heating water or storing in saline tanks underground, while algae biomass is harvested and dried. It can either be converted to biogas, or used in secondary pharmaceutical and food products.

A prototype building, BIQ is being monitored by the Colt Group, which hopes to market the system, created by Splitterwerk Architects and Arup. Wurm says they’re pleased so far. “It’s producing more heat than we thought,” he says. “We optimized the performance after introducing a new set of pumps at the beginning of the year.” Surveys show the people in the 15 apartments are also content, as well they might be. They have no heating bills and plenty to show off to visitors.

Algae power has the additional advantage of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere, though the amounts involved are not huge. Wurm says each square meter of panel reduces emissions by eight tons a year, which includes two tons sucked up in the green gunk and six tons left unproduced by generating energy using dirtier methods. The building currently reduces overall energy needs by 50%, and Wurm says 100% is achievable. Combined with solar panels to power the pumps and heat exchangers, the building could be completely self-sufficient.

Wurm says we’re likely to see the first full-blown commercial applications on data centers, which of course are particularly energy hungry, and require a lot of cooling. That’s another advantage of algae: it provides natural shading as it absorbs sunlight.

Thank you for reading

PitchAFRICA: Kenyan Rainwater Harvesting

IMG_3513.JPG

DEMONSTRATING A NEW FORM OF ARCHITECTURE, EVERY BUILDING ON CAMPUS, INCLUDING DORMS, CLASSROOMS, AND A SOCCER STADIUM, COLLECTS CLEAN RAINWATER IN AN AREA WHERE CLEAN WATER CAN BE HARD TO COME BY.

When it rains, most buildings shed the water away. But for the last 10 years, two designers have been working on perfecting a new form of architecture that does the opposite: Waterbank buildings harvest and store as much rainwater as possible.

A new school campus in Kenya based on the design will collect 1.5 million liters of water a year–more than enough to provide water for all of the students and support garden plots in a region where clean water can be hard to find. Every building on the campus, from dorms and classrooms to a soccer stadium, is designed to harvest water and channel it into underground storage.

Though Kenya’s climate is semi-arid, the architects say there is enough rainfall each year for the population. “Many people who don’t have access to clean water, and this is true in Africa, are living in regions where it’s raining at least 600 millimeters per year,” says Jane Harrison, co-founder of PITCHAfrica, the nonprofit that designed the new buildings. “And that’s a very strange fact. The issue, of course, is that the water evaporates and it’s erratic, so people don’t have it when they need it.”

The architects are taking a different approach than many water nonprofits. “A lot of focus tends to be on the problems of water being solved by technological solutions,” says Harrison. “But one of the big factors with water is social. The idea that there needed to be a social approach–a community approach to water–was important to us.”

When the project first began in 2004, the architects had the idea to combine water collection with soccer–since soccer brings communities together. “I think the more we began to look at Africa, the more we began to think about the incredible power that football has there,” Harrison explains. “It really does cross over many social differences and brings a large and diverse audience together. And we felt that if you could couple that kind of energy and attention with the huge need of water, it would be powerful.”

In 2010, the team built a prototype of a water-harvesting soccer stadium during the World Cup. For the last four years, they’ve been working on bringing the architecture to life in Africa, and experimenting with creating different types of community buildings, since they quickly realized that the design could work well with more than stadiums.

First to be built was a four-classroom school in Laikipia, Kenya, which was named the “Greenest School on Earth” last year. With careful planning, it was possible to build for the same cost as a typical rural school of the same size. The new campus built this year replicates that project at a much larger scale–and includes the team’s first actual soccer stadium as part of the design.

Next year, the nonprofit hopes to release Waterbanks OS, an open-source operating manual that explains how to design, build, and use a Waterbanks building–including how to manage water supply in the dry season so the water doesn’t run out.

The technology could work in many parts of the world, the designers say, including places that seem too dry and those that actually do get plenty of rainfall, but struggle with pollution. “This is surreal, but we’ve now been approached by organizations working in the rainforest in Peru,” says Harrison. “These are communities who do not have access to clean water because of what’s been going on in the rainforest. Our relationship to water is very skewed. I think part of our larger mission is to start to draw attention to that.”

Thank you for reading.