Smart Roads

Posted on January 19th, 2011 by dan.

Here’s an interesting article which proposes using super strong glass embedded with solar cells instead of traditional asphalt. This would have the benefits of removing snow and ice in rural areas but also has the potential to be a source for a building’s energy requirements in urban environments. http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/innovation/01/19/smart.roads/index.html?hpt=C2

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Food for thought

Posted on October 14th, 2010 by ryan.

When modern architects righteously abandoned ornament on buildings, they unconsciously designed buildings that were ornament.  In promoting Space and Articulation over symbolism and ornament, they distorted the whole building into a duck. They substituted for the innocent and inexpensive practice of applied decoration on a conventional shed the rather cynical and expensive distortion of program and structure to promote a duck… It is now time to reevaluate the once-horrifying statement of John Ruskin that architecture is the decoration of construction, but we should append the warning of Pugin: It is all right to decorate construction but never construct decoration.

-Venturi, Learning from Las Vegas

I’ve never been able to come to terms with Venturi – he simultaneously challenges and disgusts me.  It makes me feel a little like a heathen that neither wants to be baptized nor go to hell.

5 comments » | Discussion

Peninsula Residence on AIA Homes Tour

Posted on August 25th, 2010 by dan.

The Peninsula Residence will be one of twelve featured projects on this years AIA Austin Homes Tour. The event is open from 12 noon – 6pm on the weekend of October 2 & 3. More info can be found here: http://www.aiaaustin.org

8 comments » | News

New way to generate electricity from the sun

Posted on August 2nd, 2010 by ryan.

Researchers at Stanford have announced a new class of solar collectors – they’re calling them “photon enhanced thermionic emission” devices.  They’re claiming up to 60% conversion efficiency (theoretically) with fairly standard manufacturing process, but the real benefit is that they can operate at extremely high temperatures.

Regular PV becomes less effective as the temperature increases, making it difficult to do anything with the waste heat generated.  By using this new type of energy conversion, the collecting plate can be kept at high temperatures, providing high-temp ‘waste’ heat, which can then be used for different types of energy storage.  Generally, the bigger the temperature difference between your source (the sun) and sink (the atmosphere), the more efficient energy conversion processes are.

The article doesn’t go into much detail, but guess from the name (specifically the thermionic emission part) I’m guessing these things work similar to how light bulbs work, but in reverse.

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Novel Typologies: Luxury Doomsday Bunkers

Posted on July 14th, 2010 by ryan.

Worried you won’t be able to sustain your privileged lifestyle after the coming apocalypse? Vivos may have a solution for you; luxury underground bunkers.

The Vivos design is based on a spoke and hub complex, with 10 radiating wings surrounding a 2 story central dome. Vivos designed its shelters to provide as much comfort as reasonably possible for its co-owners, with a population density of 1 person per 100 square feet of floor area. FEMA recommends just 50 square feet per person for long-term shelter.

The Vivos web site has a lovely bar along the bottom which lists “Nuclear War / Bio War / Terrorism / Anarchy / Electromagnetic Pulse / Solar Flares / Pole Shift / Killer Comet / Global Tsunami / Planet X / Super Volcano” to remind you of all the horrible things that are probably JUST ABOUT TO HAPPEN!

Notice the 3 man-sized safes for the storing of loot

I’m not sure if this is for real – the renderings look like screen captures from someone’s weekend project on The Sims and the idea seems to have been borrowed from Fallout, but I have no doubt that there’s a market for this.  I wonder what other frontiers are waiting to be gentrified?

This is the second proposal I’ve seen lately which involves renovating 60′s-era missile silos (the other being for a secure data center).  What other uses could these things serve?  They would probably make great wine/cheese caves!

Here’s an Atlas-F silo for sale which has been renovated into “a 2300 sq. ft. 2-story (3 bedroom, 2 bath) luxury home with fiber optic lighting and a contemporary finished interior… Breathtaking mountain views surround this lovely, secure home.”

Designer lighting and tan carpet really set off the 2000-lb blast doors!

1 comment » | Discussion

Research Report: Stone Quarrying is Awesome!

Posted on July 12th, 2010 by ryan.

I’ve been looking into methods of excavating stone for a new project, and it turns out that the world of rock excavation is much more interesting than I realized.

If you’re looking for crushed stone, a rock drill and some dynamite is all you need, but to get large usable slabs of stone requires a bit more finesse.  Cararra marble used to be quarried by drilling a series of holes on the edge of a cliff, inserting wooden ‘wedges’ and then soaking these with water – the expansion would cause the stone to crack along the line of holes and the resulting ‘bench’ was then moved to another facility to be cut to the proper sizes.

Modern methods are much cooler, and use two basic tools; gallery saws and wire saws.  A gallery saw is basically a 12-foot long chain saw for cutting stone.  They move along tracks and can cut either vertically or horizontally.  Wire saws are basically big motors attached to a huge rubber band studded with diamond discs.  The rubber band gets wrapped around the piece of rock you want to cut, then the wire saw pulls it tight and starts rotating it.  The diamond discs slowly slice the stone in half, like a cheese wire.

This video shows one of those chain saws in action.

Here’s a horizontal cut

This shows the wire saw – isn’t the space created after removing the slabs amazing?

And here’s what happens after the cutting’s finished…

2 comments » | Discussion, Projects

Mango published in Fast Company

Posted on June 23rd, 2010 by ryan.

Fast Company just published an article on Mango Financial and the retail prototype we designed with them.

The Mango Store, which opened in Austin in April, reimagines the entire banking experience for this market. Rather than treat the unbanked as transient customers, Mango aims to forge transparent, long-term relationships. Clients pay a one-time $10 fee that lets them “cash” as many checks as they want by loading the money onto debit cards (backed by a local bank). More sophisticated services, such as international money transfers and bill payment, cost extra. Even so, Mango’s operating costs — and, by extension, its fees — are significantly lower than other alt-finance outlets because it uses its own technology (developed by Mpower) and offers a multitude of services (including Web and mobile-phone apps). “It’s a smart strategy,” says Jennifer Tescher, director of the Center for Financial Services Innovation. “If Mango helps its customers grow financially, it can stick with them as they climb the ladder.”

But first, it has to get them through the door. Tescher likens the store to “a cross between an Apple Store and a high-end yogurt shop,” which could confuse patrons. Yet once customers are inside, Sosa says, the warm, spacious interior is designed “to educate customers and encourage them to stay awhile.” Here’s a look at a few notable features.

1 comment » | News

Liquid-dessicant cooling systems: 50-90% more efficient

Posted on June 21st, 2010 by ryan.

Brad was trying to sell me on the idea of using a calcium chloride water feature in Red Bluff to control humidity a few weeks ago, and now it looks like some researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and used this very idea in what they claim is a radically more efficient method of air-conditioning.

Evaporative coolers are a lower-cost alternative to A/C in dry climates that don’t get too hot or humid — say, Denver, but not Phoenix or Miami. Water flows over a mesh, and a fan blows air through the wet mesh to create humid, cool air.

In humid climes, adding water to the air creates a hot and sticky building environment. Furthermore, the air cannot absorb enough water to become cold.

In Phoenix or Tucson, the evaporative cooler can bring down the temperature, but not enough to make it pleasant inside on a 100-degree day or during the four to eight week moist period known as monsoon season. The cooling bumps up against the wet bulb temperature, the lowest temperature to which air can be cooled by evaporating without changing the pressure. The wet bulb temperature could be 75 or 80 degrees on a mid-summer Tucson day. Typically, evaporative coolers only can bring the temperatures about 85 percent of the way to the wet bulb level.

So, for most of the country, refrigeration-based air conditioning is the preferred way of keeping cool.

The DEVap solves that problem. It relies on the desiccants’ capacity to create dry air using heat and evaporative coolers’ capacity to take dry air and make cold air.

“By no means is the concept novel, the idea of combining the two,” Kozubal said. “But no one has been able to come up with a practical and cost-effective way to do it.”

HVAC engineers have known for decades the value of desiccants to air conditioning. In fact, one of the pioneers of early A/C, Willis Haviland Carrier, knew of its potential, but opted to go the refrigeration route.

Most people know of desiccants as the pebble-sized handfuls that come with new shoes to keep them dry.

The kind NREL uses are syrupy liquids — highly concentrated aqueous salt solutions of lithium chloride or calcium chloride. They have a high affinity for water vapor, and can thus create very dry air.

Sounds like the technical challenge was designing a system which would make the liquid desiccant portion of the system low-cost and reliable.

7 comments » | Information

Why I’m glad I live in Austin

Posted on June 17th, 2010 by ryan.

This is a map of which counties people are moving from and to.  The black lines are people moving to Austin.  The red lines are people moving away.  Good place to be building…

2 comments » | Information

The Ground Has Been Broken! Red Bluff construction begins

Posted on June 16th, 2010 by ryan.

Construction has begun on the Red Bluff Residence.  Well, not exactly construction; before we can begin building the house we must remove the abandoned oil pipeline that runs through the middle of the site.  Over the past two days, construction crews have been mobilizing for this potentially toxic task, and today they’ve managed to pull the pipe out of the ground!

Workers in HAZMAT suits seal a portion of the pipeline

Soil samples being collected to for contamination testing.

Pipeline being moved for cutting into segments

Worker preparing to cut a section off the pipe for disposal.

Hopefully the contamination tests will come back negative…

2 comments » | Projects

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