Artistic Playgrounds: Noguchi’s Atlanta Playscapes

By Hannah Martin, Writer [1]

Art, as we so often experience it, stands behind a thick wall of glass, a velvet rope, or a motion detector that beeps loudly when you get just a little too close. Herman Miller Cares, a philanthropic branch of George Nelson’s historic furniture brand, Herman Miller, Inc., urges us to forget the rules with a restoration of Isamu Noguchi’s Playscapes, designed for Atlanta’s Piedmont Park in 1976. This is art you can touch.

Noguchi's Atlanta Playscapes

Noguchi’s Atlanta Playscapes

The Japanese-American Noguchi understood that some of the most important art lived outside the confines of a traditional museum, often blending seamlessly with its environment and interacting with the individuals in its presence. He explored this idea through furniture design, public sculpture, and commissions like Playscapes.

Nogluchi Slide in Atlanta's Playscapes

Noguchi’s Slide in Atlanta’s Playscapes

By repainting the curls and lines of the abstracted cast-concrete-and-steel playground, funding additional signage, and arranging a serious cleanup, the group restored the brilliant modernist forms to their original glory, inviting art enthusiasts of any age not only to touch but to run, jump, and play.

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[1] Architectural Digest, 30 Sep 2014

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A Wonderful LDS Christmas Message

Well hidden in pablum of the Dec 2016 issue (page 37) of the Ensign (an official publication of the LDS Church) is the following brief but important message:

By Bishop Gerald Causse, Presiding Bishop

[We should] always [be] prepared to reach out to the homeless and the destitute.  Regardless of whether we live in areas experiencing a great influx of refugees or to small, isolated communities, there are many way we can serve those who struggle to have the bare necessities of life.  We can:

  • contribute to the Church’s humanitarian fund;
  • work with others in our communities who provide loving service to those in need;
  • extend our friendship to those who have been displaced when they come to our communities; and
  • welcome strangers who visit our wards and branches.

refugees

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Improving the Water-use Efficiency of the Shower Head

The bathroom shower is major contributor to water usage in the American home.  But in the future, that need not be the case.

wateruse2

A Dymaxion bathroom (circa post-WWII), designed by Buckminster Fuller, was equipped with “fog gun” hot water vapor shower that was designed to use only a cup of water to hygienically and soaplessly clean the body.

While in the Navy, Fuller had noticed that wind-driven fog kept the topsides of his ship – and his face – remarkably clean.  It even cut grease.  The ‘fog gun’ is a device that uses a jet of compressed air mixed with a small amount of finely atomized water to blast the dirt off dishes, laundry, and, yes, people.  For most purposes, no soap is needed.

An (allegedly) satisfying shower takes approximately a cup of water.  I say allegedly, because many who tried a commercial air-blast shower haven’t like it.  When confronted with this lack of enthusiasm, Fuller replied that his fog gun used a finer spray, and performed as claimed.  In any case, the idea is a good one, as it saves both water and energy.  Unfortunately, it didn’t catch on.

Perhaps a worthy evolution from the fog gun, is the modern Nebia, a shower head that alleges to be “better in every way.  A superior experience, iconic design, and 70% water savings.”  Nebia is a fully self-installed shower system with an adjustable bracket and a portable wand that showers you with water in a way different from traditional show heads.  Nebia atomizes water into millions of tiny droplets with 10 times more surface area than your regular shower.  With Nebia, more water comes into contact with your body, leaving your skin clean and hydrated all the while using less water than a typical household shower head.  While expensive ($300-$400), for the average U.S. home, Nebia could pay for itself in less than two years.  And as the technology receives wider market penetration, the price is likely to come down.

Nebia Shower Head System

Nebia Shower Head System

A writer for wired.com tried the Nebia shower head system:

One second you’re totally dry, and the next you’re completely soaked. There isn’t any “getting into” the stream—you turn it on, and it’s like you’re standing inside a thick, soaking patch of mist. The pressure is light, almost skin-prickling, so you don’t so much feel it as just get enveloped by it. But the real test: Can it wash out shampoo? I’m happy to say yes it can; I didn’t have to return to the office with a head full of dried soap.

Enjoying a Nebia Shower Head

Enjoying a Nebia Shower Head

Too many water use projections are made without considering possible advances in in-house water conservation technologies.  As Nebia demonstrates, to assume no or slow advances in technology is wrong headed.

Posted in "Green" Homes, Environment, Housing, Technology | Leave a comment

Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House

In October 2016, with my grandson James, I visited the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.  To my surprise, tucked away in one corner of the museum, was a large aluminum structure shaped like a Hersey’s kiss.  To my surprise it was a house designed by renowned inventor and architect Buckminster Fuller.

Fuller's Dymaxion House Located Inside the Henry Ford Museum

Fuller’s Dymaxion House Located Inside the Henry Ford Museum

The Dymaxion House was developed by Fuller to address several perceived shortcomings with existing home-building techniques.  Through the years, he designed several versions of the house—all of them factory-manufactured kits, constructed to be assembled on site.  The “final” design of the Dymaxion house could be shipped in reusable stainless steel shipping tubes that could be transported by a truck to any part of the country.  It could then be assembled in two days by a crew of six.  The total cost, including site and assembly labor, was estimated to be approximately $6,500, about equivalent to the price of a Cadillac.

The Dymaxion house was equipped with a variety of innovations, particularly in the bathroom which was designed to have a “fog gun” water vapor shower that used only a cup of water for a soapless, hygienic clean.  And a waterless toilet that separated the liquid and solid, and deftly shrink-wrapped the solids for later composting.

Near the end of World War II, the Foreign Economic Administration expressed interest in retooling the aircraft industry for the manufacture of prefabricated homes.  War-expanded aircraft plants all around the country were worrying about a huge cut in work.  The mass production of the Dymaxion House seemed like an appropriate solution to keep those plants in business.  The manufacture of parts, such as the curved aluminum panels for the house, would have been easy to combine with the metal-working techniques already used to produce the curved surface of airplane fuselage during the war.

Criticisms of the Dymaxion Houses include its supposed inflexible design which completely disregarded local site and architectural idiom, and its use of energy-intensive materials such as aluminum, rather than low-energy materials, such as adobe or tile. Fuller chose aluminium for its light weight, great strength, and long-term durability, arguably factors that compensate for the initial production cost.  Aluminum was also a logical choice if the homes were to be built in aircraft factories, which, since World War II had ended, had substantial excess capacity.

The Dymaxion house challenged the notion of a residence by converting the ideas of a traditional house into the most technologically advanced house of Fuller’s time.  Not only did the Dymaxion house incorporate the newest state-of-the-art materials, it also embodied the ideals of a comfortable, efficient, and affordable home.  According to Fortune magazine, the ‘dwelling machine’ was likely to produce greater social consequences than the introduction of the automobile (April 1946).  Unfortunately the business venture collapsed before any of it was realized.

Concept of a Dymaxion House Community

Concept of a Dymaxion House Community

Perhaps because Fuller was such a perfectionist, no Dymaxion houses were ever installed.  However, William Graham, a stockholder in Fuller’s company, combined parts from two prototypes to construct his own two-story house, commonly referred to as the Wichita House.  Several alterations and additions were made to the house between 1948 and 1970. Few if any met with Fuller’s approval.  Wichita House was eventually disassembled and shipped to the Henry Ford Museum.  It was reconstructed (as per a 1946 prototype design) inside the museum.  Since Fuller never completed the designs for a “final” prototype and Graham never completely followed Fuller’s incomplete designs, the reconstruction was built as closely as possible to Fuller’s original intentions.  On October 24, 2001, reconstruction of house inside the museum was completed.

William Graham Version of Dymaxion House

William Graham Version of Dymaxion House

As he did when naming many of his inventions, Fuller named the house using a portmanteau of the words:  dynamic, maximum, and tension.

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Fulfilling a Promise to a Quechua Community School

In late October (2016), my grandson Rees and I (along with friends) visited a small primary school located high in Andes.  Getting there was quite the adventure.

It took 3 hours by car, and we had to cross a pass that is almost 14,000 feet above sea level. On the trip, the altitude and winding road resulted in Rees getting car sick.  It was not an easy trip for him, but he was able to hang in there.

My Grandson and I at a Mountain Pass 13,700 Feet Above Sea Level

My Grandson and I at a Mountain Pass 13,700 Feet Above Sea Level

Our destination, the village of Ccolcca, is beautifully sited beneath snow-capped Andean Mountains.  Many in the village showed up (some in traditional garb) to either help with the installation of an outdoor musical instrument at the village primary school and to check out the visiting Americans.  The community provided us with a hastily put together meal.  Before leaving, we promised to provide equipment for their school playground.

Young Quechua Children Enjoying Their New Playground Activity

Young Quechua Children Enjoying Their New Playground Activity

A month later, with financial help from my family, members of the Cardenas-Torres family returned to Ccolcca to install playground equipment.  This time they installed a swing set, monkey bars, and a climbing tower.  The playground equipment was an instant hit with the local school children.

Quechua Children Watching Swing Set Installation

Quechua Children Watching Swing Set Installation

Monkey Bars Being Installed at Ccolcca

Monkey Bars Being Installed at Ccolcca

Children Enjoying a Climbing Prior to Installation

Children Enjoying a Climbing Prior to Installation

Again the community showed in force, many dressed in traditional garb.  The kids looked particularly cute in their elaborate costumes.  We unfortunately couldn’t attend the festivities as we had returned to the United States, but Willow C-T provided us with some wonderful photographs.

Quechua Children with Willow C-T at the Village School in Ccolcca, Peru

Quechua Children with Willow C-T at the Village School in Ccolcca, Peru

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Orangutans: Struggling to Survive

By Mel White, Author [1]

Unlike gorillas and chimpanzees, orangutans live mostly solitary lives.  They spend nearly all their time in the treetops, they wander widely, and for the most part they inhabit rugged forest or swampy lowlands that’s hard for humans to traverse.  As a result, orangutans long remained among the least known of Earth’s large land animals.  Only during the last 20 years or so has scientific evidence begun to outweigh speculation as a new generation of researchers has tracked the elusive apes across the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, the only places orangutans live.

Young Orangutan at a Rehabilitation Center in Northern Borneo

Young Orangutan at a Rehabilitation Center in Northern Borneo

In the 1980s and ’90s, some conservationists predicted that orangutans would go extinct in the wild within 20 or 30 years.  Fortunately that didn’t happen.  Many thousands more orangutans are now known to exist than were recognized at the turn of the millennium.

My Son "Dancing" with a Juvenile Orangutan on the Island of Borneo

Visitor “Dancing” with a Juvenile Orangutan at a Borneo Rehabilitation Center

This doesn’t mean that all is well in the orangutans’ world.  The higher figures come thanks to improved survey methods and the discovery of previously unknown populations, not because the actual numbers have increased.  In fact, the overall population of orangutans has fallen by at least 80 percent in the last 75 years.  It’s indicative of the difficulty of orangutan research that scientist Erik Meijaard, who has long studied the species’ population trends, is willing to say only that between 40,000 and 100,000 live on Borneo.  Conservationists on Sumatra estimate that only 14,000 survive there.  Much of this loss has been driven by habitat destruction from logging and the rapid spread of vast plantations of oil palm, the fruit of which is sold to make oil used in cooking and in many food products.

There’s another factor at work as well.  A 2013 report by several top researchers said that as many as 65,000 of the apes may have been killed on Borneo alone in recent decades.  Some were killed for bush meat by people struggling to survive.  Others were shot because they were raiding crops–or protecting their young.  The expressive, heart-melting faces of baby orangutans make them highly valuable in the black-market pet trade, within Indonesia as well as smuggled out of Borneo or Sumatra to foreign destinations.  The ferocious protectiveness of female orangutans means that the easiest way to obtain a baby is to kill the mother–a compounded tragedy that not only removes two animals from the wild but also eliminates the additional offspring the female would produce during her lifetime.

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[1]  National Geographic, Dec 2016

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Stephen R. Covey’s Conformity Model Sucks

Years ago, I was required to attend a 3-day Stephen R. Covey workshop (taught by one of his minions). It was a followup to his highly successful 7-Habits workshop. At the time, Stephen had just been named by Time as one of the world’s 50 most influential people and was a local celebrity. The training was boring; it consisted of an occasional 2-and-1/2-minute talk by the master on videotape, followed by sessions which were about as deep as my grandchildren’s wading pool. One thing that did catch my eye was an illustration. It consisted of an arrow with a large body (representing an organization). Inside the large arrow were several small arrows (representing employees or groups of employees). They were all pointing in the same exact direction (to the right). This was supposed to illustrate how a well-oiled organization should operate.

Covey's Idea of a Well-oiled Organization

Covey’s Idea of a Well-oiled Organization

I was tired of sitting and the arrow analogy made no sense to me. What organization in its right mind would want all of their little arrows (think employees) goose stepping in unison? Wasn’t the trainer describing an organization where most of the employees are brain dead? I thought maybe a little diversity of thought and opinion might be useful. My comment sent the construction portion of our Federal agency into hysterics. Suddenly everybody woke up from their trainer-induced stupor and tried to set me straight. They didn’t see how an organization with arrows pointing in even slightly different directions could function. Since I’m a planner and most of the objections came from construction types, I thought maybe that would explain the differences of opinion; construction groups by their very nature are top-down oriented.

The Covey-arrow illustration is the way many members of the LDS Church think it should operate, particularly the GAs.  Few members would argue that the Church has historically been a top-down organization.  This organizational model was recently highlighted in a LDS-essay titled:  “The Quest for a Common Moral Framework.”

In the words of Christian writer R. R. Reno, the stability [of a common moral framework], rooted in the sense that something greater than self is in control, “helps people lead happy, meaningful lives” and provides us with a cultural inheritance less in the pattern of unmoored individual sailboats heading freely to self-chosen destinations and more in the staid yet secure form of “trains [that] run on set schedules.”

The sailboat-and-train analogy is uncomfortably like the Covey arrow diagram.  Both advocate that we all march in lockstep.  Don’t question, just obey.  We are all taking the same route to the same place.  To me, this sounds terrible.  Dave Banack, writing at timesandseasons.org agrees with me:

The anonymous author or committee [of the LDS essay] rejects, as a model for the ideal society operating under a moral framework, the idea of “individual sailboats heading freely to self-chosen destinations” and instead argues for a world where “trains run on set schedules.” So the “common moral framework” that the [LDS] Newsroom has in mind is Mussolini’s fascist Italy. No thanks. I’ll take the sailboats.

So what’s the alternative?  My idea:  have leaders that provide a general direction and broadcast a coherent vision.  Diversity of opinion and thought makes for a stronger Church.  Instead of 15 men ideating, you have all the members.  Great ideas can come from the lower rungs of the ladder.  I would suggest an organizational chart that looks more like the one below.  Sailboats (or arrows) all headed in the same general direction, but with plenty of opportunities for individual thought and action.

An Organization that Leaves Room for Individual Thought and Action

An Organization that Leaves Room for Individual Thought and Action

On the above illustration, how would you characterize yourself?  Which arrow are you?  Do you want to sail the boat or board the train?  My conclusion:  Mormonism needs more sailors.

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