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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hoki Museum exhibits grace and unassuming elegance

designed by architect Tomohiko Yamanashi of the firm Nikken Sekkei

Hoki Museum is based on the idea of what an art museum essentially is: an interface between art and bipedal, sentient beings. It takes the form of an almost continuous 500m-long corridor that is then folded into three levels so you don’t exit too far from the parking lot when you finish.

This design gives a much smoother feel to the experience of viewing an exhibition, while the cantilevered top floor creates an illusion of weightlessness. Another interesting architectural point is that, seen from above, the building’s intersecting curves seem to form the shape of a lens—a perfect metaphor for the museum’s purpose of showing art that conforms to the rules of light and perspective.

The Hoki Museum is Japan's first museum dedicated to Realist painting.

What makes Realist painting so fascinating? Realist art works depict what the painter sees, as is. These works are intricately worked, each massively time-consuming, as the painter creates just a few works a year, facing the same canvas day after day. And when we see the worlds created in such works, we sense that the painting has so much more to say than the reality it depicts.

The Hoki Museum opened on November 3, 2010 as one of the few museums in the world dedicated to Realist paintings. Museum Director Masao Hoki assembled the museum's collection of approximately 300 examples of Realist paintings.

The Museum's building is located next to the verdant Showa-no-Mori Park, Chiba City's largest park, and consists of one above ground and two below ground stories featuring corridor-style galleries comprise 500 meters of exhibition space. One gallery is cantilevered to appear to be floating in space.

Approximately 160 works by around 40 artists are on display at any one time, including 32 paintings that form Japan's largest collection of works by Sousuke Morimoto, and others by artists such as Hiroshi Noda and Tadahiko Nakayama. Special displays feature the works of fifteen artists who have produced large-scale works for the museum's "My Best Work" series.

The museum's galleries were designed specifically for the optimum display and appreciation of Realist paintings, featuring picture rail-free walls and the latest technology LED and halogen lighting imbedded in the ceilings. Additional facilities include the Italian restaurant Hanau, produced by Al Porto chef Kataoka Mamoru, a café, and a museum shop.

We hope that you will enjoy your experience of the beautiful world of Realist painting in this inviting setting.

Today, the Hoki Museum collections include 300 works by some 40 painters, ranging from great masters to young artists. Up until now, there have been few opportunities to see Realist works in Japan. The Hoki Museum will now fill that void. My hope is that the Hoki Museum will be a "healing museum" where visitors can appreciate the art works slowly and thoroughly.

The Hoki Museum's building was specifically designed and constructed for this collection. Made up of three stories, one above ground, two below, the galleries are layered, long corridors filled with images. A section of the structure floats in the air. It is my great hope that many people will visit the museum, and that through all of our efforts, Japanese Realist painting will develop all the more.

Masao Hoki
Director, Hoki Museum

Sources: hoki-museum.jp, metropolis.co.jp/arts/art-reviews/hoki-museum/

Saturday, February 25, 2012

SeaSteading for 21st Century pioneers

SeaSteading is a new vision for floating cities, which are modeled after “semi-submersible oil platforms” so that even in stormy and inhospitable conditions, there will be very little motion and residents will “hardly know that they are on a floating body.” The cities will be powered by wind turbines, solar power, and other new technologies.

Wendy Sitler/Roddier/The Seasteading Institute

Floating city conceived as high-tech incubator

by MICHAEL POSNER, Saturday's Globe and Mail

You’re a Canadian businesswoman, let us say, with a brilliant idea for a high-tech startup. All you need is a year in Silicon Valley – time to network, sell the concept, raise capital and gain liftoff.

Only one problem: You can visit, but you can’t stay. U.S. immigration officials won’t let you.

Enter Blueseed, an enterprise that is the brainchild of two immigrants to the United States, Max Marty from Cuba and Dario Mutabdzija from the former Yugoslavia. They hope to launch America’s first experiment in seasteading, the creation of permanent, politically autonomous floating cities.

Although skeptics consider the project impractical and the estimated cost of startup is at least $25-million, Blueseed’s basic plan to convert a cruise ship into a complex that will incubate high-tech innovation has attracted interest and money.

To avoid the reach of maritime law, the Blueseed boat would be parked in international waters, 22 kilometres from San Francisco and nearby Silicon Valley, terrestrial magnet for innovators and venture capitalists.

“Unfortunately, foreigner entrepreneurs have a hard time getting visas to stay legally,” explains Blueseed’s president, Mr. Mutabdzija, a 32-year-old lawyer who emigrated to the U.S. with his family from Serbia in the 1990s. “A standard three-month work permit does not give you enough time to raise money, network, find talent or do anything significant.”

A floating city, operating outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard and American port or immigration authorities – and offering daily ferry boat or helicopter runs into Silicon Valley – could be the answer.

If its plans proceed on schedule, Blueseed would acquire and moor its ship by the fall of 2013.

Rent would constitute Blueseed’s primary source of revenue from a potential of up to 1,000 tenants, each paying about $1,200 a month. But the company also intends to claim small equity stakes in the businesses it houses.

Blueseed residents would simply need a B-1 business visa. Relatively easy to acquire, they permit travel to the U.S., are valid for up to 10 years, and allow overnight stays. The ship would provide the venue for what the visa does not allow – actually doing business on American soil.

Blueseed already has at least one deep-pocketed backer. Billionaire libertarian Peter Thiel – co-founder of PayPal – has injected some $500,000 in seed money. It’s one of more than a dozen investments he’s made in innovative startups, some of which (Facebook, Yelp, Zynga, LinkedIn) have become game-changers.

In principle, building semi-permanent colonies at sea is less implausible than it might seem. Small cities of people now effectively reside on vast, ocean-going cruise ships. Sizable communities also live for months on off-shore oil rigs, outfitted with basic housing and recreation facilities.

And there have been a few attempts at sea-based colonization. Since 1967, for example, a retired British major, Paddy Roy Bates, and his extended clan have occupied the so-called Principality of Sealand, a Second World War U.K. naval encampment 10 kilometres off the coast of Suffolk.

Laying claim to sovereign status, the Bates community has adopted all the trappings of nationhood – a flag, a currency, passports and a national anthem. But no state has yet conferred formal recognition.

In the early 1970s, Las Vegas libertarian millionaire Michael Oliver imported boatloads of sand from Australia and established the Republic of Minerva – essentially a glorified sandbar – in the South Pacific, near Tonga. Alas, Mr. Oliver’s idyll of an independent fiefdom was quickly shattered. Tonga laid claim to the “territory,” and invaded.

But the seasteading ambition remains, and nowhere more prominently than at the San Francisco-based Seasteading Institute, which also claims Mr. Thiel as a benefactor.

Founded in 2008 and chaired by Patri Friedman, 35-year-old grandson of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, the non-profit SI springs from the libertarian assumption that current political systems are sclerotic and beyond meaningful reform.

Only new frontiers, it maintains, can catalyze new experiments in democratic governance. Because habitable land is largely spoken for by the world’s nation states, what remains of virgin territory is the deep, blue sea. And, outside territorial waters, it is theoretically claimable.

“We’re not about creating libertarian utopias or billionaire playgrounds,” SI president Michael Keenan said. “The goal is to have a variety of floating cities, with different political systems and social ideas. We no longer believe that one ideology, one form of government, is right for everyone.”

In fact, the potential appeal of seasteading lies in what Mr. Freidman has called “dynamic geography” – a principle that would allow any given seasteading colony to join or secede larger units within the whole.

That reasoning “is deeply flawed,” said Timothy B. Lee, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. “In a real-world seasteading community, powerful economic forces would…leave seasteaders no freer than the rest of us.”

For now, the Seasteading Institute is nowhere close to realizing its ambitions. The obstacles – legal, financial, environmental and technical – are profound, if not insuperable.

That’s why Mr. Mutabdzija, who is based in Sunnyvale, Calif., thinks Blueseed’s for-profit model represents a faster track for testing the idea, even though the project will need to navigate a minefield of U.S. regulatory agencies.

“It’s like building a bridge,” he says. “You need to create segments of the bridge before you can connect them and prove the viability of the whole.”

“The Institute is a useful organization,” allows Mr. Mutabdzija – until a year ago, he served as its director of legal affairs – “but it may be decades before the various hurdles are overcome.”

The engineering issues alone – designing an ecology-friendly, floating city able to absorb the ocean’s wave action and more than occasional storms – are daunting. There are ancillary questions about electricity generation, sewage and a desalinated water supply.

Then there’s the potential legal quagmire. A nation’s territorial waters extend 12 kilometres offshore, although many countries claim the right to enforce criminal laws 24 kilometres out, while others claim a 322-kilometre economic exclusion zone.

If seasteads became bases for business operations, which Mr. Keenan says they must, they’d be in violation. But even 50 nautical miles away from land is likely too far to maintain logistical supply lines.

Also unclear is how seasteads would protect themselves from marauders, pirates and would-be terrorists.

Despite the obstacles, Mr. Keenan believes the political vacuum is urgent enough to yield solutions.

“We need more experimentation and opportunities for people to live in different ways,” he says. “Let’s try a variety of ideas – libertarian, communist, direct democracy. Most startups fail – and that’s okay. We’ll find out what doesn’t work.”

In the meantime, the organization’s founder, Mr. Friedman, may be hedging his bets. He is also CEO of Future Cities Development Corp, which hopes to build land-based urban centres governed by libertarian principles. The first one would be located in a special autonomous zone recently established by the government of Honduras.

Mr. Keenan calls this “seasteading on land,” though another word for it might be homesteading.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rem Koolhaas to speak in Manama, Bahrain on Feb 28th

Architecture set to spark an engaging dialogue about social interaction

from Bahrain News Agency

Manama, Feb. 16 (BNA)-- Beginning on February 16, the acclaimed jurists invited by Manama, the Capital of Arab Culture 2012 to assess the Bab Al Bahrain competition entries will meet and review the various designs showcased at the custom-built pavilion in the heart of old Manama – the Bab Al Bahrain 'Square.' Their decision will be announced on 16th of February at 7pm in Bab Al Bahrain to be followed by a roundtable discussion, open to the public. All entries will be on exhibition at the pavilion from 16th of February.

Running from 15th of November 2011 until 1st of February 2012, this competition sparked much regional interest with similar initiatives embarked upon in Libya and Egypt as a result. Members of the jury are Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, Bahrain's Minister of Culture, Joseph Grima – the Milan-based architect and editor in chief of Domus magazine, Bernard Khoury – internationally-acclaimed Lebanese architect, Ahmed Al Ali – reputed UAE architect and entrepreneur, Bjarne Mastenbroek - the founder and principal of SeARCH, an innovative architecture and urban design company, and Ma'amoun Almoayyed – Bahraini architect and founder of Architecture 360 Design Studio. The winner will receive a prize of US $15,000 while a People's Choice Award, based on public voting, will also be presented to a winning entry on 1st March. People are invited to vote on the submissions from 16th February to 1st March at the Bab al Bahrain Pavilion.

In line with Manama, the Capital of Arab Culture 2012 programme objective of dialogue and cultural exchanges, Bernard Khoury, Ahmed Al Ali and Bjarne Mastenbroek will engage in the debate on public spaces on 17th February at the Bab al Bahrain pavilion while another key highlight will be the 'Exploring Social Interaction' workshop, scheduled to take place on 25th and 26th February at Bab al Bahrain. Registration for the workshop is possible via the following email: babcompetition@moc.gov.bh Designed to review urban dynamics – people's natural sense and formation of communities and how this is accommodated in design and town planning, the workshop will examine public spaces by experimenting with direct public interaction using Ecosistema Urbano's digital tool, WHATIF.es.

The month will close with Pritzker Award winning architect, Rem Koolhaas who will be in Manama on 28th in order to give a public talk on architecture in the Arabian Gulf region. One of the most influential voices in contemporary architecture, Koolhaas' talk, entitled 'Current Preoccupations' will shed light on the state of design and planning in light of regional events and changes.

Undertaken by the Arab League under the auspices of the UNESCO Cultural Capitals Programme, every year a different Arab capital is awarded the opportunity to engage in a cultural dialogue with local and regional audiences. Manama was elected as the Capital of Arab Culture in a meeting of Arab ministers of culture in 2004. The Bahrain Ministry of Culture has developed an innovative agenda for the year, which seeks to invite Arabs to discover the cultures, heritages and identities of different parts of the Arab world. The year-long programme for Manama, the Capital of Arab Culture 2012 is broken up into 12 different cultural themes according to the months of the year and is designed to foster an environment of multi-disciplinary learning with an appeal to all sectors of society.

Further information can be obtained at www.manamaculture2012.bh

Plantscraper in Sweden a pioneering urban farming initiative

Plantagon's geodesic greenhouse - Bucky Fuller would be proud!

Plantagon Breaks Ground on its First ‘Plantscraper’ Vertical Farm in Sweden!

by Molly Cotter, 02/14/12, Inhabitat.com

Several years ago a Swedish-American company called Plantagon unveiled plans for a series of massive skyscraper greenhouses that stood to transform urban farming in large cities. While the spiraling vertical farms seemed too good to be true at the time, Plantagon just broke ground on its very first vertical farm this week in Linkoping, Sweden! The “Plantscraper” will grow and supply fresh vegetables while creating solutions to some of the most vexing city pollution issues.

Plantagon seems to have traded in its initial geodesic dome design for a sheer tower that both contains and showcases the plants growing inside. This prototype building will be called the International Centre of Excellence for Urban Agriculture, and it will be a place for scientists to test new technologies aimed at improving urban farming.

Inside the massive glass walls, vegetables will be grown in pots and then transitioned to trays positioned around a giant central helix. The plants grow as the trays slowly migrate down the central core and are ready to be harvested once they reach the bottom. Plant residue and manure will be collected along the way and transformed into biogas to run the heating and cooling systems of the greenhouse. Scientists want the vertical farm to not only grow food but also help in developing sustainable solutions for energy, heat, waste, and water issues of daily city life.

Construction on the company’s first enormous vertical greenhouse is expected to take 12 to 16 months.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Richard Wengle creates bold Block vision

by JOHN BENTLEY MAYS, The Globe and Mail

Of all the posh houses by Toronto architects I have reviewed in this column and elsewhere, the ones I have been meanest about are by Richard Wengle. I don’t like the stuffy pastiches of defunct historical languages he has set down in Forest Hill.

But recently – long after deciding that nothing good would ever come out of his office – I discovered that Mr. Wengle has devised something considerably better than the single-family fare he usually gives to his clientele. It’s a townhouse complex in downtown Toronto called Block. This project is hardly stunning, but its modest modernism is likable, sincere and urbane. Not for the first time, I’ve been surprised by an architect I thought I had all figured out.

Designed for Treasure Hill Developments and slated to go up in Little Italy, Block will contain 37 freehold townhouses priced at between $900,000 and $1.7-million, with most for sale around $1-million. The units range in area from 2,647 square feet to about 3,700 square feet, and feature three to five bedrooms. At only 14 feet wide, the townhouses are narrow, but ceiling heights are generous: ten feet on the main floor, nine on the floors above.

Taking into account Block’s upmarket prices, ample sizes, and modernist credentials, it’s easy to guess the profiles of the home-buyers Block will probably attract.

Some will surely be empty-nesters. But more than a few, I suspect, will be high-earning young professionals who have learned to love big-city living and style in the new condominium towers at the urban core.

These people will be at the stage in life when they want families, but they won’t want to give up the efficiency and convenience they’ve enjoyed in high-density contemporary circumstances. The best thing about Block is the fresh space it opens up for thoroughly citified couples – at least those with lots of money – ready to start and raise families near Toronto’s cultural heart.

Mr. Wengle’s exterior treatments have been crafted with such customers in mind. Composed of glass, black manganese brick, limestone, light stucco and pre-cast concrete, the street-side fronts of the three-level, flat-roofed buildings have been inspired by the squared-off angularity and clean visual rhythm of European multi-unit modernism. But they also say “home” in ways that Torontonians will immediately recognize – with little gardens and short flights of steps and shallow porches. (Each house also has a 30-foot back yard.)

I was interested to learn from developer Nick Fidei, head of Treasure Hill, that the earliest version of Block, by another architect, was quite different from what Mr. Wengle came up with. Mr. Fidei had originally planned to bring us yet another clump of townhouses in a faux-Victorian style – surely the most trite, tired architectural tendency at work on the low-rise end of Toronto’s housing boom. He was persuaded by serious market research to abandon visiting this blight on the city, and he accordingly commissioned Richard Wengle’s much fresher exterior design.

The developer’s new-found commitment to up-tempo modernist styling is also apparent in Block’s open-plan interiors. While some local suppliers of new residential units give consumers choices (all bland) about the look of their suites, Mr. Fidei is laying before his potential clients a range of finishes that are simply cooler than usual.

The three palettes of materials and colours were created by the Toronto-based international design firm of Cecconi Simone. One is white, sleek, shimmering. Another (showcased at Block’s sales centre) is very dark with a few light accents – a dramatic, sharp scheme that’s pitched to more design-savvy homeowners. Purchasers with tamer inclinations may find the third version to their liking: It’s mainly taupe, but it still has flair rarely seen in Hogtown’s housing salesrooms.

The market for new low-rise residences, of course, will be the ultimate judge of Toronto’s readiness to embrace Block and the kind of unshowy modernism it represents. Anna Simone, principal in Cecconi Simone, believes the judgment will be favourable to what she and Mr. Wengle have done here. “The condo market has created a taste for modern design,” she told me recently, apropos Block – a taste other low-rise developers will have to reckon with and serve.

I hope Ms. Simone is right. But, at least for now, the choice facing a young Torontonian ready to graduate from high-rise loft to family-sized dwelling is unfortunately simple. It’s either go to suburbia, or stay downtown and buy an old house, or get one of those fake-old jobs that have sprung up across the city in recent years. I hope downtown developers will follow Mr. Fidei’s lead and give design-conscious, family-minded couples the modern housing options they don’t have now.

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