Build a Green Bakery. “When is a bakery not a bakery? When it’s a political statement, an architectural pioneer, and a bit of performance art, all wrapped in one — as is the case at a mysterious new East Village purveyor of cookies and croissants.... The walls are made from wheat and sunflower seed; the floor from a cork by-product. The paint is milk-based, and its pigment derived from beets. Tufts of denim insulation make a base for the bamboo counter, and the staff is clad in racy hemp-and-linen jackets.” The cookies are good, too.
>  3 March 2006 | LINK | Filed in , ,
What should my clothes be made of?. “Globally, cotton production accounts for the use of 22 per cent of all agricultural insecticides.... Nylon is reckoned to be responsible for 50 per cent of UK emissions of nitrous oxide (a poisonous greenhouse gas) and polyester is, of course, derived from petrochemicals.... Alternatives such as bamboo, organic linen, wool grown on ‘biodiverse’ ranches, hemp and innovative fibres such as Ingeo, derived from degradable corn starch, all look much more appealing.” (via) Cotton also requires a lot of water.
>  2 March 2006 | LINK | Filed in

Geometry, 2

Reader sum1 writes in response this post touting the Q-Drum. He notes a similar product also launched in South Africa called the Hippo Water Roller. While a 1997 Time article reports the Q-Drum’s launch in 1994, the Hippo Roller Web site cites a South African Bureau of Standards 1992 Design Award.

Both are rugged, round water containers designed to be rolled on tough rural roads. But while the Q-Drum is shaped like a tubular donut with a hollow inner core, the Hipporoller is notched at both ends for the attachment of a clip-on steel tube one can use to to pull or push.

Pushing the container in front of the user has the additional advantage of acting as a buffer against landmines.

Hippo Water Roller

>  27 February 2006 | LINK | Filed in , ,


Q-Drum Rollable Water Bottle

“Water in adequate quantities is too heavy to carry. The burden of fetching water, invariably over long distances by cumbersome and far too often, unhygienic means, is all too evident in rural Africa.... The Q-Drum is a low cost rollable water container for developing countries. The idea of the Q-Drum originated in response to the needs of rural people for clean and potable water, as well as easing the burden of conveying it....

The Q-drum is user friendly and the unique longitudinal shaft permits the drum to be pulled using a rope run through the hole. There are no removable or breakable handles or axles, and the rope can be repaired on the spot or replaced by means available everywhere, such as a leather thong or a rope woven from plant material.”



The Watercone is a transparent, polycarbonite cone tuns salt water into potable water cheaply using the power of the sun. The system can produce one liter of clean drinking water a day. Salt water poured into the base evaporates and condenses onto the wall of the cone, trickling into a circular trough at the inner base of the cone. Then just unscrew the cap and turn the cone upside down to pour the potable water into a drinking device.

The cone is non-toxic, non-flammable and 100% recyclable. The black pan for the saltwater is made out of 100% recycled plastic.


Safe Bottle Lamp

“In his hospital alone they were seeing someone die from lamp burns three times a week and thousands of people horribly disfigured, their lives ruined by a preventable accident....

Lamp-burns, [Wijaya Godakumbura, a surgeon in Sri Lanka,] realized, are a disease of poverty. Only the very poor use makeshift lamps. And because they are very poor, no-one is much concerned to do anything to help them. Most of the victims are female and nearly a third are children. Yet, it seemed to him, the problem was preventable....

‘I decided the best design was based on a simple Marmite bottle – small and squat, with two flat sides – equipped with a safe screw-cap to hold the wick. That way, the bottle was more stable. The fuel does not spill if the bottle overturns. It cannot roll. It is strong enough not to break if dropped.’”


In these pages I’m usually down on depoliticized, product-based fixes for poverty. But then sometimes the impact of a simple change in form is astonishing.

>  23 February 2006 | LINK | Filed in , , ,
2006 International Bamboo Building Design Competition. Seeking innovative designs for family homes, affordable housing, high-end houses, tree and pole houses, as well as temporary, portable, emergency relief structures. (via)
>  14 February 2006 | LINK | Filed in ,
Wearing Propaganda. Textiles on the Home Front in Japan, Britain, and the United States 1931-1945. An exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center of propaganda fashion. Bigger images and a review at designboom.
>  8 February 2006 | LINK | Filed in
Sustainable Leadership Awards. I hate design competitions for many reasons, but this one looks promising. Prizes for best practices, leadership, and sustainable design in interior design, architecture for large and small for-profit companies, and for non-profit organizations. Here’s hoping for an affordable housing category next year.
>  5 February 2006 | LINK | Filed in , ,


What is Swap-O-Rama-Rama?

“Swap-O-Rama-Rama is not your regular clothing swap. The event features an entire day of how-to workshops, on site thematic workstations and a gathering of skilled designers, artists and do-it-yourselfers brought together to share their knowledge.

Swap-O-Rama-Rama Workshops are taught by local artists of all calibers and cover wide range of skill sets and material uses. The swap has offered technology based workshops including a demo by Mikey Sklar that demonstrated how to replace pockets with metallic fiber for the purpose of creating a wearable faraday cage to block RFID tag readers, and an exploration of a playable sonic fabric created from recycled cassette tape presented by Alyce Santoro. Swap workshops also introduce completely new textiles. Kate Sweater offered a how-to that transforms plastic grocery bags into a new textile for wallets, bags and shoes. Traditional crafts like embroidery, knitting, beading and appliqué can also be found. If guests want to be hands-on they can slide over to any number of do-it-yourself workstations. These include a sewing stations with several sewing machines run by knowledgeable clothing and costume designers; an iron-on station for downloading images off the web and transferring them directly onto clothing; silk screening, and decoration stations for working with beads, buttons, and a variety of accoutrements.

The core of the swap is the gigantic piles of free clothing sorted into categories: pants, shirts, skirts, sweaters etc. These piles are the collective total of each guest’s contribution of one bag of unwanted clothes. This contribution is required to attend the event. Once inside guests are encouraged to take home ‘as much clothing as you can carry.’... All left over clothing is donated to St. Martin DePorres Shelter in Brooklyn, New York.

Swap-O-Rama-Rama was created out of a recognition that consumerism needs to be unlearned.”

The next Swap-O-Rama-Rama is on Sunday, Feburary 12 at Galapagos in Williamsburg.

The associated performance art, fashion show, and venue position it in a rather white, hipster way — more thrift-store chic than alternative economy. But it sounds like some grassroots, DIY fun. Find out more at

Also of note, “Swap-O-Rama-Rama has received funding support from Black Rock Arts, a community resource for interactive arts that sprouted from the makers of the art festival and utopian experiment Burning Man.” Let 1,000 DIY art-happenings bloom!

Update: Because of snow, Swap-O-Rama-Rama has been rescheduled Monday (Presidents Day) February 20th 2pm to 7pm.

>  14 January 2006 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Papers in the Dark is a grassroots campaign to alter the design of U.S. currency to make denominations recognizable without purely visual cues:

“Can you tell the difference between a one dollar and a twenty dollar bill in the dark?

Dim BillsBlind people use money just like everyone else, but since American paper currency is all the same size and texture, blind people can’t tell the bills apart independently. We all deserve the personal security of knowing what’s in our wallets.

Even those with sight would benefit from making paper money accessible by feel

  • It would simplify paying the bill and counting change in a dark restaurant
  • It would make it safer to get out money for an upcoming toll while driving
  • It would allow everyone to count money more discreetly in public

Please write or call your Congresspeople now! Our Contact Congress Tool makes this fast and easy.

... is an independent volunteer organization committed to the dream of having currency that all Americans can use safely and independently. Our first job is to educate the public about the positive effects of being able to differentiate between bills without having to look at them. We hope that one day we all will be able to count the money in our wallets more discreetly, no matter who we are or where we are, without the fear of being cheated or robbed.

The U.S. Treasury Department doesn’t have to invent any special technology to make our currency more accessible. In fact, they’ve already done it in roughly 100 countries around the world, including Canada, Great Britain, and the countries of the European Union (see The American dollar is one of the most powerful currencies in the world. We are committed to making it safer and easier for everyone to use.

We are not affiliated with any other organization. We do not actively solicit donations.


In 2002, the American Council of the Blind (ACB) filed a lawsuit against the Treasury Department demanding that U.S. paper money contain features that will enable blind people to independently distinguish between denominations. The government is continuing to fight the suit, claiming that such modifications would be too expensive.

The Treasury protested that this would cost too much because it would require redesigning the currency — but in the meantime, they have spent millions of dollars to redesign nearly all of the denominations in circulation! As the Treasury continues to develop new bill designs with new anti-counterfeiting features, they should include accessibility features useful to blind people, people with dyslexia, and people who work with cash in low light.”

Making design usable by a differently-abled minority (old, young, tall, short, sighted, not, or otherwise physically different) often makes it more usable by all.

>  18 September 2005 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Business Casual

Textiles in GhanaGlobalization has devastated your local industries. You can’t raise tariffs or subsidies for fear of international sanctions, but you can try to create a local demand for your local products.

From the Christian Science Monitor, December 27, 2004:

In Ghana, a different kind of ‘Casual Friday’

“Duck into any government ministry or executive boardroom here on Fridays these days and you'll notice a little extra splash of color. Loose shirts with geometrical patterns in red and maroon have replaced stiff pin-striped suits. Bright flowing wax-print dresses have nudged out conservative skirts and blouses.

The Ghanaian government is urging civil servants and office workers to abandon their Westernized business attire in favor of local fabrics. But unlike in the US and elsewhere, where khakis and an open collar is the boss's way of bringing a little ease to the end of the week, Ghana’s ‘National Friday Wear,’ launched last month, has bigger things on its mind. Its goal is two-fold: to celebrate African culture, and, more important, to create jobs by reviving a textile industry that has all but collapsed. Ghana imports some $43 million worth of used clothes annually, more than any other African nation, says the International Trade Center, based in Geneva. By contrast, its clothing exports — mostly socks — totaled just $4 million last year. The country that once employed some 25,000 textile workers now has just 3,000.”

The article strikes me as a little condescending, but the strategy described is interesting nonetheless. It seems a quite similar to various “Buy American” campaigns against Japanese automobiles. These also invoked a kind of “national style.” What could be more American than owning and driving an American built car of your own?

Both invoke a national style to create local demand, both reinforcing and manufacturing a style and a narrative of what it means to be a citizen and how one can participate.

Promoting “traditional” wear as appropriate for business positions the citizens as a community in opposition to the international style of capitalism — at the same time embracing international business as woven into the fabric of local tradition.

Launched with the program is a Venture Capital Fund to restructure the garment sector by granting small businesses access to credit.

While one goal of the National Friday Wear campaign is to create so much demand that “the cost of the fabrics so low that it could be afforded by all... given the low purchasing power of Ghanaians,” ultimately, the goal is “to help the country position itself to launch into both the American and the European markets.”

That is, national style as a springboard for international export.

>  14 September 2005 | LINK | Filed in

page 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Older »