Category: design

Cat Pants Fever

Got old pants? Who doesn’t? Why not turn them into cat pants?

Cat pants.

Black and white cats agree, you can’t beat organic catnip-filled genuine upcycled denim cat pants. For lounging or mauling, they’re just what the cat daddy ordered.

Cat pants!!

Take any old underutilized jeans, cut off a leg just below the knee, make one more cut about 3/4 the way up the middle through both layers (higher if your cat prefers low-rise cat pants), stuff and stitch and you’ve got cat pants. A jaunty ribbon belt is appreciated by some. I recommend Blue Sky Farms organic Rhode Island catnip.

The Futon District Grows Thinner

Today I noticed two more casualties along the mid-Cambridge furniture district, the stretch of Mass Ave between Central and Harvard formerly known as the Futon District. One was no surprise, but the other was, at least to me, shocking and even a little sad.

City Schemes

First up, or rather, first down, City Schemes. After looking empty of customers for years and throwing up giant SALE banners to no obvious effect, the Mass Ave showroom is now empty, but City Schemes continue to peddle European style to metrosexual bachelors and James Bond villains from their Somerville warehouse.

Crate and Barrel

Second, Crate and Barrel has closed their second and last remaining Cambridge location after 37 years. I must admit, though I always wished for a CB2 instead, I was a little sad to see the last nearby C&B go. Now you’ll have to go to Boston or Burlington, or more likely the internets, to shop your friends’ commitment ceremony registries. At least you can slake your Marimekko thirst at their shop in Huron Village without crossing the river or the beltway.

Five years ago I surveyed the furniture landscape on this strip and worried it was going away. Well, we never did get that IKEA in Somerville, but furniture retail continues to take a beating here in the 02139.

Crappy Feng Shui

I’ve noticed a troubling design trend of late. In a distressing and it seems growing number of bathrooms, there are mirrors on the wall or door directly opposite the toilet. I get it, bathrooms are small, mirrors make small spaces look and feel larger, but who really thinks this placement is a good idea?

Who thought this was a good idea??

As it turns out, Feng Shui practitioners do, at least some of them. According to Sally Painter, you can mitigate the negative effect of a poorly placed bathroom (for example, too close to the front door, typical in hotel rooms and small apartments) with these steps:

Hang a full length mirror on the inside of the bathroom door.

Place a mirror directly opposite the toilet.

Minimize the powerful negative effects of a toilet – Place fresh flowers or a bowl of pebbles on the tank lid. If this isn’t possible, hang a shelf over the tank lid to hold the flowers or bowl.

I wouldn’t want to underestimate the “powerful negative effects of a toilet,” but it’s also hard to overstate the powerful negative effect of looking yourself in the eye in the mirror while you’re on the throne.

Hoteliers, designers, apartment therapists: can we please agree not to put mirrors opposite the toilet? Feng shui be damned, nobody needs to watch themself poop.

Assembling the price of a happy city

How long does it take to go from one of Boston’s newest hip neighborhoods, the Innovation District, to one of Somerville’s even newer, actually not quite finished, ones, Assembly Row by public transit? During evening rush hour on a weekday, this trip of about 4.5 road miles took me almost an hour as I traversed the Silver, Red and Orange lines and the #90 bus. Somebody determined enough and in decent enough shape could have run this in about half an hour or walked it it not much more than an hour. Cutting Assembly Row a bit of slack, there will be an Orange line station there later this year.

Still Assembling the Orange line

But why, you ask, would I undertake such an errand? Well, oddly enough, I was headed to a lecture on urbanism set up by the virtual and estimable Design Museum Boston. Christine McLaren, lead researcher of the book, Happy City, was giving a talk at Assembly Row’s outdoor amphitheater (!) overlooking the Mystic River. Well, that’s my second favorite local river and I do love a good amphitheater, so naturally I had to attend. Plus, I wanted to check out Assembly Row.

McLaren served up what I have to describe as the usual New Urbanist kool-aid – of which I heartily partook – but she brought a key insight I hadn’t been paying attention to. Cities, she says, are machines for happiness. The objective function of a city is not efficiency, environmental impact, or GDP, it’s happiness. The key determinant of happiness, according to McLaren’s research, is social connectedness, so urban designs that increase such connectedness are the ones that make people happier and the ones we should build.

View of the Mystic river over the amphitheater

Here’s where I partially part company with the happy city people. They say the research shows that the far-flung suburbs are isolating and so are the densest apartment towers. The happy medium – attached townhouses, for example – is where you get peak happy. That may be so (I have my doubts but my sample size is small) but how can we get all the people who want to live in a city housed if we can’t go higher than townhouses? Like Matt Yglesias, I’m partial to density and don’t think it has to reduce happiness. A well-designed apartment building of any height is just a stack of floors, each one being a group of homes sharing some common space, not unlike a townhouse or courtyard.

Back to Assembly Row. It seems to meet many (though not all, watch those unprotected bike lanes!) the criteria of Happy City, at least it will once the Orange line station opens and the rest of the development is finished. So far as I can tell, there are 195 housing units from studio to 3 bedrooms in the 5-story Avalon development. I’m already thinking this isn’t enough.  As of Bastille Day, they’ve pre-leased 2/3 of the units, including all the 3BR. Mostly studios remain, starting 451 square feet or so for $1.,985/mo. Cheaper and no doubt more modern and well-appointed than downtown Boston but not so different from many existing mixed-use neighborhoods also a few T stops from downtown.

I don’t know how much taller the apartment building could have been by law, but I have to believe that the marginal cost of the 6th floor would be less than the average cost of the first five, and would have provided a 20% increase in housing units for less than 20% more cost. Repeat this logic as high as you care to go, and eventually the supply starts to reduce the price, and equilibrium tells you where to stop.

The median household income in the Boston metro area was a bit less than $72k in 2012. If you spent 1/3 of your gross income on housing, that would be about $2,000/mo, the price of the smallest studios at Assembly Row. If the average household is more than one person (looks like it’s about 2 and a quarter) the studio won’t work so well. One bedroom units start at $2,380, and 2BR at $2,835. It looks like the rent is too damn high and happy new urbanism at Assembly Row is out of reach to the average Boston family. To be fair, the developers have no particular obligation to serve the average family but I do think the new urbanists should strive to do so. It wouldn’t hurt if lawmakers lined up better incentives for developers to do so, too.

How did I get home from Assembly Row after 8pm? The Orange line would be of no use for going to Cambridge and the buses had largely gone to bed for the night. I took Uber, 3.5 miles in 16 minutes for $10.

Never Any Repeats

I’m no fan of display advertising, either in web banners or “out of home” and I certainly try not to participate in it. Logos and brands are already everywhere, why should you and"This shape invites much speculation" by Logo Removal Service I become unpaid ad space when manufacturers splash their logos on our stuff? Well, now there’s another solution to this problem: Logo Removal Service, a company (or perhaps an art project) that “renew[s] any and all goods through special transformation methods.”

That means they cut the logo right out of your t-shirt and replace it with a new piece of fabric that may or may not match the original item. Fancy stitching completes the look. You never know precisely what you get when you send logo gear in to LRS, but I think it’s safe to say it’ll be a unlike anybody else’s.

Simple concealmentI find it pretty easy to get blank t-shirts in the first place, but there are some items that are unavoidably logo’d and require obliteration, covering up, or in extreme cases, not buying in the first place. In any case, you’ve got to work with what’s available or make your own – possible with clothing but pretty hard with consumer electronics. I applaud LRS for encouraging creative re-use (do they call that upcycling these days?) over of disposable consumerism.

Second Little Pig: Vindicated

Since the googles said it was faster to walk from the Innovation District to South Station than to take the Silver line, that’s what I did. It was hot and humid but I’m glad I did because otherwise I would not have passed by BSAspace and dropped in for some AC. And had I not done that, I would not have seen an enchanting and informative exhibit called Urban Timber: From Seed to City, all about building with wood.

Mesopotamian plywood!

The gob-smacking revelations started right away. Did you know that plywood was invented by the Mesopotamians more than 5,000 years ago? Mind = Blown. It’s not just about plywood, there are many kinds of wood-based building materials, many of which compare favorably with concrete and steel. SOM has a project for a 40 story tower made of wood, unbuilt as of this writing, but not for lack of feasibility.

woodoutperforms

The show clearly has an axe to grind (so to speak) but makes some really interesting points about the environmental impact of various building materials and the industrial processes that make, mill, mine and harvest them. I especially liked the roll-call of large wooden structures. Unfortunately, in the USA, one of the largest timber-producing nations, the tallest wooden thing is still a giant redwood. In Australia, Scandinavia and beyond, they have some major wooden structures and some are quite marvelous.

woodparasol

In addition to the infographics on the walls, there are four projects by emerging architects featuring some innovative ways to build with wood.

woodduckworks

You can’t make this stuff up.

cantmakethisup

But seriously, gentle reader, you should get over to the Boston Society of Architects space and check this show out. It’s free and open to the public through September 30.

Adapter die

I met with the estimable @yobyot the other day and among the various complaints and commiserations we shared was a moment of venting about Apple switching up all our connectors for no particularly clear reason except perhaps selling lots of new cables, converters, dongles and adapters, all containing tightly patented Apple technology. Behold my latest shiny aluminum acquisition, the magsafe to magsafe 2 (or is that magsafe 2 to magsafe?) converter.

Magsafe to magsafe 2 adapter

Why would Apple do this to their loyal fanboys? The difference between the two magsafe connectors is so slight as to be hard to discern unless you have them side by side, or unless you try to connect the wrong one. The cynical answer is selling lots of little (easy to lose) $10 converters. The possibly fairer answer is, “thinness” the driving force in computer, tablet, and phone design these days. The old magsafe power adapter was just too big-boned for the latest generation of airy ipads and macbooks. You can see a similar event in the iphone world with the switch from the 30-pin connector to the lightning connector, which by the way, is very very nearly the same slim size as a micro-usb plug. You’ll notice that when you purchase a barely-there $19 lightning to micro USB adapter.

Lightning to micro USB connector

At this rate of Steven King-esqe thinning of devices, it won’t be long before the good old 1/8″ headphone plug goes the way of the RS-232. I won’t hold my breath for a sustainable industry wide standard on cabling, but it’s fun to dream.

What to do? Stay on the trendy treadmill and keep buying expensive cabling and piling on the e-waste? I’d love to break the cycle and I’ve been clinging, hipster-like, to old gear as long as humanly possible, but eventually it becomes time for a change.

Duck on the water, fire in the sky

This week in giant ducks, we have Energy Duck, a project proposed for Copenhagen’s harbor by a team of London artists. Energy Duck isn’t just a glass and steel foil to my house fave, Florentijn Hofman’s giant rubber duck, it’s a collector and accumulator of solar energy. You just can’t make this stuff up.

When stored energy needs to be delivered, the duck is flooded through one or more hydro turbines to generate electricity, which is transmitted to the national grid by the same route as the PV panel-generated electricity. Solar energy is later used to pump the water back out of the duck, and buoyancy brings it to the surface. The floating height of the duck indicates the relative cost of electricity as a function of city-wide use: as demand peaks the duck sinks.

Not everybody finds the design so ducky. The Finch and Pea suggests that

If it gets built, though, Energy Duck will have the ability not only to provide solar and hydro power to Copenhagen’s public grid, but to fuel the nightmares of Danish children for decades to come.

Nightmare fuel is ok as long as it’s renewable, right? You be the judge. Well, actually the judges of the Land Art Generator Initiative Copenhagen design competition will be the judge, but you get the idea.

This weekend in wooden maps

While hanging out on the LES with the young lions of fintech, I stayed at the newly soft opened Ludlow Hotel and was enchanted by this coffee table in the shape of Manhattan with the street grid incised in it. It sort of reminds me of Max Becher’s Chocolate Broadway.

Manhattan coffee table at the Ludlow Hotel on the Lower East Side

It’s made of wood and it’s a map, what more could I ask for? How about a Central Park filled with actual plants? Done! Sure, you could argue that other parks are not given this treatment or that the reservoir or other major bodies of water are missing, but hey, it’s a coffee table, not google earth.

Manhattan in wood, Central Park in moss

I didn’t have a chance to ask the hotel staff where they got this wonderful thing and the closest I’ve been able to find online is the superficially similar (and unavailable) Manhattan Coffee Table by Doug Edge of (California-based) Galerie Sommerlath.

Manhattan Coffee Table by Doug Edge

I give Edge much credit for including the transit lines, but I prefer the darker finish – and distinctive Central Park treatment – of the hotel’s version. I wonder if the concierge uses it to give directions.

Welding wood

Last year I wrote a couple of posts about my various infatuations with various wood products, many in conjunction with various electronics products made of metal. The estimable yobyot commented, “Seriously, though, isn’t the juxtaposition of cedar on aluminum a little too jarring?” I should probably also note that Greg commented, “Oh dear! You HAVE gone over the edge, haven’t you?”

In any case, I initially thought the first comment was about the physical transition between the sleek aluminum computer and the slab of wood. I’d have to agree that it would have been nice if the macbook had been indented or milled so that the wood could be set flush. But I think the question might really have been about the possible clash of textures and colors. I guess there might have been more sedate wood choices than cedar.

I probably don’t have to explain or respond to Greg’s comment, we all know that gondola sailed long ago, but I think this next find might give both commenters pause:  I learned via Gizmodo that there’s a guy in Hungary who makes furniture out of wood and metal by pouring molten metal into channels carved in the wood. This results in a form of joinery that’s part carpentry, part casting, and all elemental alchemical madness. The scorch marks on the wood are a marvelous side effect of the process. Now this is how I’d like to have a wooden cover put on my aluminum macbook.

Castwood by David Kiss aka Thebakker Manufactory from Gizmodo on Vimeo.