4.29.2013

Trainsect

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.

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4.20.2013

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

4.14.2013

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.

4.07.2013

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.