Building skyscrapers out of wood


Here’s an interesting idea. Vancouver-based architect Michael Green proposes building 30-story tall skyscrapers out of wood, and it sounds like it just may work. Buildings made of wood are imagined to be fairly fragile, but with modern technology, wooden buildings may be a lot safer than you might think. From theatlanticcities:

Rather than building with two-by-fours, modern-day wood construction would be accomplished using state-of-the-art methods based on super-compressed mass timber panels – essentially giant, sturdy Lego-like assembly. The compression also contributes to protecting against fire, which Green concedes is the first question he gets when he talks about building with wood. These denser wood building blocks are actually difficult to burn – like a big fat tree stump in a fireplace – and would of course exist within the context of 21st-century fire suppression systems, including sprinklers.

Apparently, there are many advantages to building a skyscraper from wood. Regular skyscrapers account for 50% of greenhouse gases. Wood is free, grows naturally, and there’s a lot of wood we can harvest without chopping anything down – there are tons of dead trees lying around just ready to be turned into skyscrapers.

Sweden has approved a 30-story wooden skyscraper, and Vancouver is reviewing the paperwork for Michael Green’s building. Michael Green has a TED talk on the subject, and his website is all about wooden buildings.

All info via theatlanticcities.


Double-sided flags of the world

San Juan, Argentina (front)

San Juan, Argentina (back)

Here’s something interesting I discovered recently: there are some flags of the world that have two different sides! I just assumed that all flags were identical on both sides, but apparently that’s not the case. There aren’t many, but wikipedia’s helpful entry shows them all. The first is San Juan, a province of Argentina. The front side of the flag depicts the province’s coat of arms, while the reverse simply shows a sun.

Soviet Union (front)

Soviet Union (back)

The Soviet Union’s flag was one of the most interesting to me. Most double-sided flags belonged to smaller states, provinces, and countries. The Soviet Union, however, was a large and influential nation – and its flag had two sides!

Oregon (front)

Oregon (back)

Three American states have had double-sided flags at one point or another – Alabama in 1861, Massachusetts from 1908-1971 – but Oregon is the only state that still has a flag with two sides. Most double-sided flags differ little between the two sides, but the reverse of Oregon’s flag is almost completely different from the front.

For the whole list of double-sided flags, check out this Wikipedia article.

The world in 430 BC according to Herodotus

This map was not actually created by Herodotus himself – it was put together from the description of the world given in his historical masterpiece The HistoriesThe area encompasses the Mediterranean Sea, west to present-day Spain, north to the southern half of Europe, east to India, and south to the Sahara Desert. The map, as well as Herodotus’s book, have several glaring inaccuracies, including the Nile jutting west almost all the way across the Sahara Desert, Africa terminating just south of that same desert, and how he seems to refer to all people with dark skin as “Ethiopians.”

I love seeing how people thought of the world at different periods of time. 430BC is just about the time that humans really started to inquire philosophically and record their thoughts, and it’s interesting that the entire world to even the most scholarly intellectual at the time is only now just a small fraction of our world. People of the time would likely have been amazed had they known that there were several continents in every direction, that the planet had polar ice caps, and that the earth was roughly a sphere. Or how about that there are planets other than our own? Or the vastness of our universe?

On that point, will our maps be quite as unsophisticated to humans 2,500 years from now (assuming there are any)? Will our picture of the universe pale in comparison to theirs? I certainly think so – I imagine that our current “map” of the universe is far, far more incomplete than Herodotus’s map of the world in 430 BC.

Image via Age of the Sage.

Los Angeles Railway is officially coming back

Yesterday, the Los Angeles City Council approved $352 million dedicated to rebuilding and maintaining LA’s streetcar system that existed between 1901 and 1963. The trolley line will be nowhere near as expansive as it was in its heyday, but it’s at least a start to a much-needed rail system in one of the largest cities in the country. The next step is to secure $75 million from the federal government, and then the city will begin to lay the tracks.

The trolley system was orchestrated by real estate tycoon Henry E. Huntington in 1901, and at its height there were more than 20 rail lines and 1,250 streetcars. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Railway was a victim of the General Motors streetcar conspiracy in 1945, where General Motors and other companies bought up railway systems across the country with the purpose of removing them entirely. Rather than disappearing completely, many of the streetcar lines were replaced with buses. By 1963, all trolley bus lines and streetcars were replaced with diesel buses.

But the streetcars are coming back! After years of supporters fighting to have the streetcars reinstated, they have finally gotten their wish. The proposal is only for a single line that will run through 3 of downtown LA’s largest routes – Broadway, Hill, and Figueroa streets – but there is room for expansion. The city is even considering using wireless electric trolleys, similar to those in Bordeaux, France.

The line will open in 2016 and I’m really excited for LA! They probably have the largest traffic problem in the United States and this will definitely provide some relief for commuters. Even if it’s only one line, I’m sure more will be added once the city sees how successful the project is.

All info and images via Wikipedia and LA Times.

Apple City and other company towns

Apple City was an idea for a walkable urban center in the heart of Cupertino, CA – the city that houses Apple’s headquarters. It was designed after Steve Jobs proposed his own Apple City in 2011, but Jobs’ idea centered around a huge building designed to house 12,000 employees. Critics compared it to the Pentagon, and many people decried it as furthering the suburban sprawl problem.

So in response to Jobs’ idea, architect Hillel Schocken proposed to Jobs himself via email the idea of an urban center that focused on the individual. He wrote:

It is odd because even in the USA people are beginning to realize the ills of suburbia and urban sprawl, both concepts belonging to the middle of the last Century. A project the size of yours could mark the beginning of a new era in American urbanism, an era that puts human beings before the car, pedestrians before drivers. It could invest in creating a lively public realm, in the shape of streets rather than roads, where the people of Cupertino, including Apple employees, could meet, connect, do business and interact for their mutual benefit. Instead, your project replaces parking lot placelessness with ‘green’ placelessness.

I personally think this idea is leaps and bounds above Jobs’ idea for Apple City, seen here. His Apple City just seems so disconnected, and I just wouldn’t like to work in an eerie, spaceship-like structure like that. Jobs never replied to Schocken’s email, and he died just a few months later.

Even though Jobs never approved it, Schocken and his students decided to design Apple City anyway. His city was dense with stores, museums, and libraries, and it boasted the ability to easily travel through the city by foot.

The idea of a company town got me thinking, and I was reminded of Hershey, Pennsylvania. The city was built in the early 20th century in order to integrate community and employment, as the Hershey factory, completed in 1905, was located in the area. The town is similar to Schocken’s proposed Apple City – Hershey had an amusement park, trolleys and trains, a community center, a large hotel, and a stadium all before 1910. Even though the town essentially exists now for tourism purposes, the idea when it was built was that employees would not have to break their backs to make it to work every day, a stunning insight for the era, as sprawl and suburbs were on the rise at the time.

Orlando, Florida is in a similar position as Hershey. Orlando’s economy is boosted by the fact that it is essentially Disney’s company town, with DisneyWorld being just a few miles away. However, Orlando is a bit different than Apple City or Hershey. Orlando was an established town long before Disney came around, whereas Hershey was built specifically to house employees of the Hershey company, as Apple City would do similarly.

It is undeniable that Disney makes up a huge part of the Orlando area. This blogger points out that you can hardly go anywhere without feeling Disney’s presence. He makes another interesting point – if Disney were to fail, what would happen to Orlando?

We’ve seen what has happened to industry-reliant cities like Detroit when their industries fail. It’s not difficult to imagine what would happen if the Hershey company went under – the city of Hershey, PA would likely experience some harsh times, as nearly all of their tourism relies on the company. It’s not so much about housing employees anymore, but more about keeping the city afloat. The company does not rely on the city as was probably the intent in Hershey in 1905, but rather the city relies on the company. If something drastic were to happen to the Disney company, it is sure that Orlando would face serious hardship, even though the city came well before Disney did.

And Apple? Luckily there is not a lack of tech companies in the area, so if something happened to Apple and they went bankrupt, surely somebody else would pick up the tab. In fact, Jobs bought the site of his enormous Apple building from Hewlett-Packard. Regardless, a building of that size would have to be insured by some staying power – it would be a shame to see that building abandoned when it is likely so finely-tuned to Apple’s specifications.

All info and images via Co.EXIST, brandchannel, and Wikipedia.