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Superconductors

Riley —  February 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

Okay, so this post isn’t about architecture or art or really about design in any way; it’s about physics. But bear with me, because there’s a good chance it will wind up being the coolest thing you’ve seen all year. In this video, Boas Almog – a professor of the school of physics and astronomy at Tel Aviv University – demonstrates superconductivity. Now may have heard of a “superconductor” before, but if you’re like me, you probably don’t know what exactly that means. The problem with superconductivity is that it’s a quantum effect, which means that it doesn’t obey Newtonian laws of physics. That makes it difficult for our minds to comprehend, but it also results in some absolutely astounding physical properties. That’s where this video comes in. Skip to 7:14 if you want to cut right to the chase.

 

Every so often, technology leapfrogs what we thought was possible and lands squarely in the realm of science fiction, and that’s clearly what’s going on here. Now I don’t know the practical limitations of superconductors at this time, so I can’t speak to their near-future feasibility as useful technology, but I’m not sure anyone could watch this video and fail to be stunned by the magnitude of that innovation.

That’s why I’m bringing it up actually, it’s not because I see specific applications to building or design, it’s because I see it influencing our lives in countless ways, many of which we can’t even imagine. I think that’s actually the most profound idea to take from this presentation: right now, all around the world, people are developing new technologies and ideas that will blow you away with their utility and creativity. Even in the worst of situations (especially in the worst of situations, actually) humans are the most innovative and dynamic creatures the world has ever seen, and we will continue to evolve our way of life. So no matter what profession you’re engaged in, keep an eye on what’s on the horizon, because sooner or later it will change everything.

Empty Seattle

Riley —  February 8, 2013 — 1 Comment

A couple of years ago, I wrote about a book of photographs by Matt Logue called Empty LA. He took photos of prominent LA intersections and edited all of the people out, which is significantly harder, and quite a bit more interesting than it sounds. The project turns well-known areas and turns them in to ghost towns. It calls special attention to the¬†intertwined¬†relationship between people and built environments; these environments don’t exist in a vacuum, they are intimately and always tied to the people who inhabit them. That’s what makes a project like Logue’s so interesting, it presents us with the built environment as we might design it: ideal and orderly, but the effect winds up being haunting. Places without people are awesome and peaceful, but they aren’t our places.

But if you didn’t identify particularly with Empty LA, I don’t blame you. Much of the effect is a product of seeing places you know turned upside down, and if you don’t live in LA…well, then they’re not really that interesting. But lucky for you, Thrash Lab has embarked on an epic project to bring that eerie feeling of emptiness to your town, not just in photographs but through time lapse video. In their Empty America series, they made it to the Northwest and produced an awesome little video called Empty Seattle. It features some of the most famous and well traveled areas of the city, only there isn’t a person or car in the video. It’s definitely worth a watch:

 

Cool Roofs Aren’t All Good

Riley —  November 21, 2012 — Leave a comment

Last month, Scientific American published an article that describes the effect that cool roofs can have on regional rainfall patterns. Cool roofs, in this case, mean roofs that are painted white, in order to increase their albedo, or solar reflectivity. Normally this is a good thing, because more reflected light means more reflected head, resulting is less localized warming and a reduction in the urban heat island effect.

But this new research points to a disturbing side effect of a concentration of cool roofs. Essentially, the more solar reflectivity, the less evapotranspiration, the process in which water evaporates from the ground and is absorbed into the air. Without as much water in the air, it doesn’t rain as much, which is bad news for the kind of hot, arid regions that typically utilize cool roofs. In the extreme outcomes of the situations modeled in this research, cool roofs accounted for up to a 4% decrease in rainfall.

Fortunately, that doesn’t mean that they’re a complete write off. What the scientists behind the study have taken from the research is that we need to utilize a more ground-up, localized method of collecting data and generating climate models, in addition to the global climate models being produced by the IPCC. If we can do that, we’ll be able to develop a deeper understanding of the particular nuances of each climate area, and be able to tailor our engineering strategies accordingly. Cool roofs might work well in some places, and not so great in others.

The big takeaway for me in this article, is a reminder that we can’t think about applying simple solutions to complex problems. We live in a complex world, and there are almost always countless interconnected variables that we need to be attuned to. It’s hopeless to think that a global approach to climate change will be comprehensive in each and every part of the globe. We need global regulation and policy, but it needs to be predicated on the idea that different climate and population areas require different strategies in order to effectively combat global warming while maintaining a sustainable regional biosphere.