January 24, 2013

Living art: Flora for beauty and sustainability

This post was inspired by a dream I had last night. I was flying over a cityscape that was blanketed and dripping with lush vibrant gardens. The tops of all the buildings were cultivated into beautiful gardens, and the foliage spilled over their edges and created a city fully alive as a forest.

Incorporating plants into architecture and sustainable design is not just a dream, but reality. Rain gardens, green roofs, and natural filtration systems are an integral part of sustainable and responsible water use and management in our built environment. Plants are also beautiful and can be found in more and more art.

The use of plants in sustainability and art is much too large to talk about in just one post, but here is a whirlwind tour of the possibilities:

Cover it in green:

Mud Maiden
Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, UK
Susan & Pete Hill

Write and draw in green:

Moss Stencil
Brooklyn, NY
edina tokodi & józsef vályi-tóth
Anna Garforth
Incorperate green into sculpture:
Arbor Lace: 2002
Rockland Center for the Arts, NY
9’ x 4.5’ x 18’
Michele Brody
Make a green wall:

Green your roof:

Green-filter your water:

Rain Garden
John Todd Ecological Design

More to come!

January 17, 2013

Sustainable by Design: The Bullitt Center

One of the most inspiring, and at times frustrating, aspects of moving towards sustainability is that we already have so much of what we need to achieve it. Globally, our knowledge about, and technology for a sustainable world is immense and growing all the time. Implementation is the key to real change. I recently learned about the Bullitt Center, which is a globally significant example of this change.

The building sector, which is usually divided into two categories: residential and commercial,  is responsible for a large section of energy and fossil fuel consumption. It is also considered by some specialists, a sector with significant possibility to reduce consumption and move towards sustainability. S. Pascala and R. Socolow, in their article Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies says, “when energy is examined comprehensively from the end-use perspective, the buildings sector stands out as particularly promising.” (The abstract of this article can read at: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/305/5686/968.abstract) What makes the building sector so promising is that much of the technology for improvement already exists.  

In the building industry there are guidelines for green building standardizations that help guide and track the sustainability of structures. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) “is a voluntary, consensus-based, market-driven program that provides third-party verification of green buildings” (http://new.usgbc.org/leed). LEED has been the leading example of green building verification for many years and has been widely successful in creating standards for sustainability and raising awareness and providing opportunities for education on these issues.  More recently, the Living Building Challenge has been introduced. The Challenge is a certification program that is even more stringent than LEED. The Challenge “is comprised of seven performance areas, or ‘Petals’: Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty.”The idea of petals stems from the living building concept coined by Jason McLennon, CEO of the Cascadia Green Building Council and leader in the green architecture field, who described the operation of living buildings “as elegantly and efficiently as flowers.”

And now back to the wonderful example of the implementation of existing technology and methods for a sustainable future: the Bullitt Center. The Center has been called the “worlds greenest building”, one reason being that not only does it meet the Living Building Challenge (along with a select few, globally), but it is the largest building ever to achieve such a high standard of sustainability. Most structures to attempt sustainability are relatively small, but the Bullitt Center is a six-story, 50,000 square-foot office building. The extended roof is filled with enough solar panels that it will ideally capture enough sunlight, even in cloudy Seattle, during the summer to fuel the building through the winter. The design also focuses on minimizing electricity use, abundant natural light for inhabitants, geo-thermal heating, rainwater storage, grey water filtering, composting toilets, and a centrally located staircase to encourage a healthy life style.

These are the kind of buildings for a better future: places to live and work that do not harm the environment and irresponsibly use nonrenewable resources, but serve as models of a way forward to a smarter, healthier, and more sustainable world.

The Self-Sufficient Office Building, The New York Times October 4, 2011

Seattle’s Silver Bullitt: A New Office Building Goes Untra-Green, Time Magazine Science & Space June 20, 2012

World’s Greenest Building, Bullitt Center, Opens in Earth Day in Seattle, Triple Pundit, January 16, 2013

The Bullitt Center

Living Building Challenge


January 7, 2013

Chris Jordan

Jordan grew up in Connecticut, but now works in Seattle, WA. After studying to be a lawyer, Jordan decided to devote his time and energy to being an artist. His main medium is photography and digital photographic collage.

Jordan focuses on themes in our society that stem from subconscious habits, cultural norms and trends such as mass consumption, high school dropout rates, plastic pollution in the oceans, and environmental destruction.

In his collage work, Jordan visually illustrates statistics so that the viewer can more fully understand and feel the magnitude of the information. Piecing together thousands of small images, he creates composite images that are both beautiful and powerful.

The statistics often focus on habits or norms that when done individually seem inconsequential, but collectively have incredible consequences on our society and our environment. These may be habits that we do individually, like get a fist full of plastic bags at the grocery store; or we do culturally, such as incarcerate a larger percentage of our population than any other country; and often have environmental implications, like over-fish the oceans.

I have transcribed a section of Jordan’s TED talk from 2008 (find the link below). His own words say it all:

“…the reason that I do this is it’s because I have this fear that we aren’t feeling enough as a culture right now. There’s this kind of anesthesia in America at the moment. We’ve lost our sense of outrage, our anger, and our grief about what’s going on in our culture right now, what’s going on in our country, the atrocities that are being committed in our names around the world. They’ve gone missing; these feelings have gone missing. Our cultural joy, our national joy is nowhere to be seen. And one of the causes of this I think is that as each of us attempts of build this new kind of world view, this whole optical world view, the holographic image that we are all trying to create in our mind of the interconnection of things, the environmental footprints a thousand miles away of the things that we buy the social consequences ten thousand miles away of the daily decisions that we make as consumers as we try to build this view and try to educate ourselves about the enormity of our culture, the information that we have to work with, is these gigantic numbers, things in, numbers in the millions, in the hundreds of millions and in the billions, and now the trillions, Bush’s new budget is in the trillions. These are numbers that our brains don’t have the ability to comprehend. We can’t make meaning out of these enormous statistics. And so that’s what I am trying to do with my work, is to take these numbers, these statistics from the raw language of data and to translate them into a more universal visual language that can be felt. Because my belief is that if we can feel these issues, if we can feel these things more deeply, then they’ll matter to us more than they do now. And if we can find that, then we will be able to find within each one of us, what it is that we need to find to face the big question, which is how do we change. That to me is the big question that we face as a people right now, is how do we change…”

Environmental issues in particular are extremely complex and often measured in very large numbers. I am sure that some of the brush-off and complacent attitudes towards environmental issues stem from a lack of true understanding and comprehension. Without understanding the seriousness of environmental destruction, climate change and their effects, it is silly to assume people will feel compassionate and/or be inspired to change the status quo. The key in Jordan’s work is making the viewer feel the numbers, feel the statistics, and feel their implications so that we can work on changing for a better world.  

Chris Jordan's website:

Chris Jordan: Turning powerful stats into art, a TED Talk

Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption
Cell phones #2, Atlanta 2005 44 x 90"
Running the Numbers II: Portraits of global mass culture
Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait

Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait

Midway: Message from the Gyre


January 4, 2013

SHFT: Curating the Culture of Today’s Environment

SHFT, in their own words, “is a multi-media platform founded by film producer Peter Glatzer and actor-filmmaker Adrian Grenier. Our mission is to convey a more sustainable approach to the way we live through video, design, art and culture”. Their website includes a wide selection of topics including art, energy, architecture, fashion, conservation, food and business. SHFT is a fabulous resource of new and hopeful ideas for the future. It is also the best all-encompassing website I have found yet on these topics.

The philosophy behind SHFT is that sustainability should be incorporated into our everyday lives and into our culture, art, design, and music. “As filmmakers who are concerned with climate change, we felt that we could bring something creative to express the changes we wanted to see and were, gratefully, starting to observe. We feel that video, art and design are powerful and inspiring ways to convey this narrative.” I could not agree more with this statement and is in many ways the very reason I made this blog. They also mention that since money talks and demand drives the market and innovation, SHFT also showcases many sustainable products and ideas that hopefully illustrate a way towards a more sustainable future. They also feature cutting-edge ideas and the people behind them.

Here are just a few cool topics from SHFT (http://www.shft.com/):

     Playing a tree for a Techno Track

     Return Textiles with Pharrell Williams: Sustainable Fabric

     Gathering water from the Air in Lima, Peru

     Animated short from Liz Klein about plastic pollution in the oceans

      A Finnish artist, Lea Turto works in felt and tree stumps in the woods

January 3, 2013

James Prosek

James Prosek was born in Connecticut and released his first book at the age of 19 in 1996. Trout: An Illustrated History incudes seventy of his watercolors of North American trout. As evident by his debut work, Prosek is a writer, artist, and naturalist. He has a lengthy list of high-profile organizations on his CV including The New York Times, Yale, National Geographic Magazine, PBS, and galleries across the country. He co-founded World Trout in 2004 with Yvon Chouinard, the owner of Patagonia to raise money for coldwater habitat conservation from the sale of T-shirts featuring his trout paintings. Prosek has published many books including, but not limited to: Joe and Me: An Education in Fishing and Friendship; Early Love of Brook Trout; Trout of the World; The Day Mother Left; Bird, Butterfly, Eel; and Eels.

My first introduction to Prosek and his work was a short few months ago, when I picked up the 2012 issue 3 of The Nature Conservancy Magazine. The cover story was Water Colors: Art and Conservation go together like paint on canvas, by Jason Kersten accompanied by photographs by Jason Houston. I am inspired that such a high profile and science-based international conservation organization like The Nature Conservancy is featuring artists. There is a long history of conservation-minded artists who are inspired by and wish to care for the natural world.

Prosek and his work is a wonderful example of how far-reaching and yet focused a career can be on creating art for conservation and adoration of the natural world. His own philosophy says it all: “For Prosek, painting and preserving nature are inseparable. ‘Without these sources of awe and inspiration, we would have no faith, we would have no spirituality, we’d have no art,’ he says. ‘They’re the sources of everything that we are. Without [nature], it would be a very pale and depressing existence.’ (Water Colors, 2012)” This philosophy rings true for many artists both past and present.

Prosek has a distinct personal style that makes his work recognizable and unique. His realistic representations of the species he features are delicate and intricate showing each scale on the side of a fish or the creases in the petal of a flower. His palate is vibrant and bold, especially when set against his typically start backgrounds. His composition and presentation recalls 19th century natural history illustrations, but as he says of his own work, this work has another 100 years of history to include.

James Prosek’s website: http: //www.troutsite.com/index.html

The Nature Conservancy Magazine Article: http://www.troutsite.com/news/pubs_mag_0812_water_colors.pdf
James Prosek

James Prosek


James Prosek

James Prosek

James Prosek

James Prosek