Underdome creators Erik Carver and Janette Kim hope to provoke their fellow architects into thinking broadly about energy use and considering the political and societal factors, not just those related to design. Architects, Kim says, “have a tendency to understand efficiency gains [only] on the scale of a building.”
Credit: Souix Nesse
There have always been considerations within the architectural community about the future of the city, but when it comes to energy consumption, designers frequently narrow their vision, focusing on the building itself. But if architects want to be leaders, not just service providers, as society heads haltingly into a greener future, they must understand how to navigate issues of power (both government and corporate) and lifestyle (how do people actually want to live in a sustainable world?). Enter Underdome, a website designed to help architects get started on this path.
Janette Kim and Erik Carver, friends since their days earning M.Arch.’s at Princeton University, describe Underdome as a “voter’s guide” to energy efficiency. The site, launched in October and still very much a work in progress, begins with the idea that there are many approaches to a sustainable world, and each has validity. “Our idea is to show as broad a spectrum of ideas as we can,” says Kim, a principal at the design and research firm All of the Above and a professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, “to see where possibilities arise and where problems arise.”
The site’s structure is divided into four categories—Power, Lifestyle, Territory, and Risk—and taps into the knowledge and resources of historians, politicians, engineers, and people from other disciplines. “We’re mixing interviews and textual resources,” says Carver, an independent designer and professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. As Underdome grows more robust through the posting of further interviews and research, Kim and Carver expect to convene a series of multidisciplinary panel discussions—architects included. They’re also planning a design competition.
Underdome was inspired in part by “Dome Over Manhattan,” R. Buckminster Fuller and Shoji Sadao’s 1960 proposal for a two-mile-diameter structure that, feasibility aside, would have offered real environmental design benefits for the metropolis. But the name is also a sly pop-culture reference to the 1985 movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, whose storyline centers on Bartertown, a ragtag, postapocalyptic community powered by pig waste. If architects can better influence energy use as it relates to the future shape of society as a whole, perhaps it won’t take a disaster to make the decision for us.
Deconstructing a building doesn’t have to be a noisy, messy explosion and collapse or a top-down, piecemeal project that puts workers at risk. The Kajima Corp. has developed the “Cut and Take Down Method,” which erases a building floor by floor, but at the ground level. This page on Kajima’s site explains how the process works and delineates its benefits.
Eric de Maré (1910–2002) served as the editor of The Architects’ Journal, but he is best known as a photographer and writer. The Historic Building and Monuments Commission for England (aka English Heritage) has a trove of 2,860 of his photographs, all available for viewing online; go to. “The photographer is perhaps the best architectural critic,” wrote de Maré in 1972, describing his aesthetic, “for by felicitous framing and selection he can communicate direct and powerful comments both in praise and protest. He can also … reveal architecture where none was intended by creating abstract compositions of an architectural quality.”
A project of the Open Space Institute, InfrastructureUSA combines a blog, videos, polls, expert information, and more in an effort to engage Americans in a discussion about the nation’s infrastructure.
Paint and chalk aren’t the only ways to secretly place art in the urban landscape; cotton and wool work, too. Yarn bombing—also called guerilla knitting—helps provide color and warmth to city spaces. This blog keeps tabs on the playfully subversive practice.
In the hunt for a 2011 calendar that’s not run-of-the-mill? Swedish designers Esa and Lisa Tanttu have created urbnCal. Each day is a photograph of a Copenhagen building’s address number, and each month covers a different neighborhood of the Danish capital. $30 at etsy.com.