What We’re Reading – September 2011

by | September 28, 2011 0 Urban Design + Planning

September brought a wide range of topics to our attention. We hope you enjoy these highlights…

+ Architecture Going Well Beyond Biomimicry | The Architects Newspaper

Footbridge detail at Lake Constance near the University of Stuttgart in Germany

Footbridge detail at Lake Constance near the University of Stuttgart in Germany

Biomimicry and biophilic concepts are becoming central to how we approach many of our design challenges at SERA. While biomimicry and biophilia are admittedly esoteric terms, the concepts are relatively simple to understand: Significant inspiration and insight can be drawn from the natural systems existing all around us, and humans have an inherent affinity for interaction with these natural elements. In the article linked above, William Meyers describes a fascinating array of efforts that push design even further into the biology world, in which scientists and designers are crafting a new language of concepts and possibly providing a window into the future of “living structures”.

+ Developers Cater to Two-Wheeled Traffic in Portland, Ore. | New York Times
With a nod to our hometown, national attention was recently focused on an emerging type of “transportation oriented development” — one that is oriented to bikes. While highlighting some of North Portland’s more recent land developments that are geared (ha!) toward serving the growing bike community, the article also touches on some of the social dynamics associated with the growth of two-wheeled travel in our city. Amid it all, these trends only look to strengthen over time:

Portland is nationally recognized as a leader in the movement to create bicycle-friendly cities. About 7 percent of commuters here travel by bike (the national average is under 1 percent) and the city has an ambitious plan, adopted last year, to increase that proportion to 25 percent by 2030.

+ Alley, Alley, in Come Free: A Photo Essay on Urban Lanes | Sightline Daily
Urban alleys as a neglected opportunity for reclamation? That’s the perspective of some creative folks around the globe, and this photo essay by the good folks up at Sightline Daily offer a fine overview of alley-reclamation taking place in Seattle, Vancouver B.C., San Francisco, and Melbourne. What makes these efforts so attractive is the relative ease involved in creating a new “sense of place.” The basic structures already exists, so why not commandeer them for better and higher uses?

+ reCities: Boston Case Study | Robert Kwolek
Having recently stumbled upon Robert Kwolek’s reCities website, we were particularly taken with his approach to leveraging available technologies for in-depth urban design analysis. Using the Streetside capabilities in Microsoft’s Bing maps, Kwolek conducts a wonderfully visual and insightful “tour” of key neighborhoods in Boston, Massachusetts, all from his desk in Switzerland. While he just concluded his look at Boston earlier this month, it should be noted that he has also completed looks at Baltimore, San Francisco, and Toronto.

+ A Water Use Snapshot: The United States | Sherwood Institute

While still in draft form, we were impressed with the recent work by the Sherwood Institute to graphically display water usage in the U.S. The graphic packs a lot of data into a single layout but does a great job giving a comprehensive overview of the key freshwater issues including state black, gray, and blue water legislation; withdrawal uses; and related economics.

+ The Colorado River: Running Near Empty | Yale E360

Building on the topic of freshwater in the U.S., this recently-released film exploring the current state of the Colorado River is well worth the 12-minute viewtime. We couldn’t help but think back to Marc Reisner’s essential reading, Cadillac Desert, while taking in photographer Peter McBride’s and cinematographer Anson Fogel’s gorgeous production. May these realities fuel our collective resolve to live, design, and educate for the greater good.

Know of some other great sustainable design pieces that we should be checking out? Let us know! You can also keep up with us on Twitter @SERAarchitects.

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