Movin' On

This blog and associated work has moved permanently to Object Guerilla dot com. Please change your bookmarks and come visit often! This page will remain up as an archive.


Hale County Revisited

After last week's discussion of some of the challenges facing Hale County, Alabama, I thought I'd follow up with some of the progress underway in Greensboro and the surrounding towns. I had the chance to revisit my former home for the first time in almost two years last week. The lady and I stayed at Spencer House with some old Rural Studio friends, and got a tour of the latest projects.

Like many small rural towns, a lot has changed and yet everything has stayed the same. Our first stop was Mac's House, the 20K I built with Penny Hagberth, Clem Blakemore, and Danny Wicke in 2010. The house was holding up well -- the siding was in great shape, the woodwork weathered but shipshape, the underside chicken netting unmolested by creatures great and small. I hadn't seen it without the various trailers removed from the yard and the grass grown back, and it was quite handsome all grown into the landscape. I was curious to see how some of the interior details were holding up, but that'll have to wait for another visit. Unfortunately, Mac wasn't around, so we took some photos, left a note, and headed north to Greensboro.
Mac's House.


Hale County and the Poverty-Industrial Complex

In the spring of 2009, I was accepted into the Rural Studio's Outreach Studio, a one-year, post-graduate program for young architects. Two teammates and I spent a year designing and building a house on a budget of $20,000, the ninth in a series of 20K Houses. This research project is ongoing, year-to-year, with different student teams, all trying to address the under-served problem of rural affordable housing. The default paradigm for that population is a trailer home -- a rapidly depreciating, off-gassing, near-impossible-to-insure albatross slung around the necks of already economically stressed people. We finished our house in June, 2010, for MacArthur Coach, a retired construction worker living on Social Security.

After my stint at the Rural Studio, I stayed in Greensboro, Alabama, the county seat of Hale County, for another year. I worked at a small non-profit called YouthBuild, a job-training and GED program for young adults. The students were paid a small stipend (~$80 a week) to attend 20 hours of GED classes and 12 hours of vocational instruction in carpentry. Most of them had left high school for various reasons, or were court-ordered to attend our program. They ranged in age from 16 to 24, and that $80 represented a significant part of their household income. 

Downtown Greensboro in 1941, via The Library of Congress.



A transect is defined as : 

1. (verb) to cut or divide crossways 

2. (noun) a sample strip of land used to monitor plant distribution, animal populations, etc, within a given area

In biology, a transect is a path along which one counts and records occurrences of the phenomena of study (e.g. plants). 

In 1998, conservationist and endurance junkie Michael Fay undertook the MegaTransect, an epic walk across the densely forested interior of Africa. He undertook a comprehensive recording of the uninhabited lands, eventually leveraging that information to a create a string of 13 protected national parks. The effort damn near killed him. He has now taken his National Geographic salary on up to Alaska, contemplating a similar project that will cover the temperate rainforests of Alaska and British Columbia.


Wind Wagons

Stumbling around the web this week, seeking a respite from terrorists and exploding fertilizer plants and rising floodwaters, I came across an article on Harper's about Peppard's Folly. Back in 1860, 26 year-old millwright Samuel Peppard built a prototype wind wagon. No images of his craft survive, but it was a rather narrow four-wheeled cart with a seven-foot mast and a canvas sail. He and some friends set out from Oskaloosa, Oklahoma on May 9th, making it 500 miles before a small tornado destroyed the craft just short of Denver. Eventually, Sam gave up on gold mining, served in the Union Army, got married, and settled down back in Oskaloosa.

He wasn't the only land sailor, either -- a number of others gave it a shot over the years, trying to sell their creations to the military or to investors for moving freight. I imagine it made more sense when the prairies were literally an inland, grassy sea, uncut by rails, roads, or fences. Reports from antiquity claim the Chinese had similar contraptions for crossing their vast western lands. Here in America, the utility of windwagons was somewhat limited by the prevailing winds -- west-to-east -- which were generally contrary to the desired direction of travel. 

Windwagon, via the Kansas Historical Society


Paolo Soleri

As I write this, it is a cold and rainy April in Chicago. Forty degrees, slanting drizzle, ugly wind, a winter that just won't seem to pass. Five Aprils ago, I was in Cordes Junction, Arizona, living and working at Arcosanti. It was much warmer there, dry and sun-whipped.

Arcosanti was founded by Turin-born architect and artist Paolo Soleri, who passed away on April 9th at the age of 93. I had the good fortune to meet him a few times while I was living there, though he spent most of his time in Phoenix by that point. When I lived at Arco, in 2007-08, Paolo was still president of the board of the Cosanti foundation, and drove up once a week to give lectures. 
Sketch I made of Paolo at one of his lectures, autumn, 2007.


Resilient Design

Hurricane Sandy made landfall on U.S. shores about five and a half months ago. Since, then, reams have been written about reconstruction and resilience. The discourse has, in many ways, mirrored the conversation about New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. The most extreme voices advocated abandoning the city altogether, given its vulnerability to future storms. Nobody is talking about deserting New York City, but the governors of both New Jersey and New York are using eminent domain and buyouts to pull private property back from fragile beach fronts. 

Sandy wasn't as powerful as Katrina, and resulted in far fewer fatalities, but since it hit a much denser population center, the low-to-mid-level catastrophe was more widespread. The New York metro area also has a lot of buried power lines, transformers, subways, tunnels, bridges, and other pressure points that can be crippled by flooding. With trains shut down and power out, the New York economy took a brutal hit as people couldn't get to work. However, all of the rebuilding activity served as a perverse salve, stimulating demand for construction and design services that have been depressed since the recession started in 2008.  

Via lineshapespace.