Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sustainable Spheres

The international community is on the edge of science as pure imagination is fast becoming reality. The continuous growth of technological advances allows society to have a substantial impact on the planet and everyone on it. The biosphere is the global sum of all ecosystems. It is the place on Earth’s surface that all life dwells. Biosphere 2 was created in the mid-eighties as an attempt at artificially engineering such a complex and diverse range of natural systems. The implications of Biosphere 2 open up an opportunity to bridge the industrialization and the urbanization of developing nations.

Biosphere 2 is a tightly sealed glass and steel structure on 3.15 acres near Oracle, Arizona in which scientists have created seven complete ecosystems or biomes that mirror those of Earth. This ground-breaking structure is the world’s largest and most complex closed ecological research facility. Over 1,000 sensors distributed throughout the Biosphere send information to the sophisticated monitoring and control system located on-site at Mission Control. With this new technology, they tested a variety of topics including potable water generation, atmospheric sealing, atmospheric expansion and contraction, and the behaviour of life systems inside a closed ecological system. They also manipulated carbon dioxide levels for global warming research, and injected desired amounts of carbon dioxide, venting as needed.
So what purpose did this great achievement spawn from? Obviously there is a great amount of research and future education that can benefit from this monumental experiment, but is there a more meaningful, more substantial reason to justify this 200 million dollar project?

There are two trains of thoughts when considering the possible applications of biosphere research. One option is space colonization. Once all the non-renewable resources in the world are depleted and population exceeds a sustainable way of life, civilization will have a secondary world to fall back on. Space Biospheres Ventures (SBV) is a private ecological research firm formed to pioneer research in the field of biospherics, the study and construction of closed, self-regulating, self-sustaining, ecological systems.

The other idea is using the research found to have a profound effect on the innovation of current environmental technologies, ushering society into a new era of sustainability. On just one-half acre of land, the biospherians grow, harvest and process their food— while keeping the soil highly fertile and using only non-polluting pest control methods. Application on Earth of similar systems show promise for reducing ground water pollution from agricultural chemicals, production of pesticide-free foods and more efficient food production. Rather than relocation, this train of thought approaches the idea of creating a more sustainable planet both in the health of our environment and in the well-being of the individuals that make up society.

When dealing with global disparity an individual requires food, water, and shelter. Though simply providing this service can become a cycle of helplessness and dependence. The essence of the biosphere 2 is the pursuit towards knowledge of sustainability. The people who will benefit most from these advances are those in developing nations. Obviously a 200 million dollar biosphere will not be built in every developing nation, though the information we acquire from Biosphere 2 will have a direct effect on the understanding of the biosphere that is Earth.

Throughout history developing nations have been victims of western exploitation and national corruption. If they can find a way to apply these self-sustaining techniques, such as water filtration and engineered agriculture that are introduced by the biosphere 2, their lives would have the opportunity to ascend from poverty into beneficial urbanity.

This video from TED talks interviews a scientist who lived in Biosphere 2 for two years. It is definately worth viewing:

Work Cited:

Lord Martin Rees - The Future:
Eden Project:
Biosphere 2:
Posted by: Simon McKenzie

Seeds for Thought

The Svalboard Global Seed Vault is a very simple, very interesting building. It was designed by Peter Wilelm Soderman of Barlindhaug Consult AS and was completed in 2008 on a remote Norwegian island in the Arctic Circle. It was designed to store 100 million different seeds from some 268 000 plants collected from 100 countries making it the largest collection of food crop seeds. The uncomplicated building consists of a 125-meter-long tunnel that was dug into the frozen mountainside, ending with three secure rooms. Here, seeds that will be fertile for at least 2000 years are stored in foil pouches kept below -18°C, and are managed by the Global Crop Diversity Trust.The purpose of the Vault is to preserve species of crops and save them from extinction. Every day many different species are lost, leading to rapidly diminishing biodiversity on Earth. The Vault prevents total wipe-outs of species. It’s also a sort of “back-up plan” for the world. Should an extreme natural or man-made disaster strike and wipe out crops regionally or even globally, the seeds from the Vault would be able to restart farming. In case of an equipment failure, temperatures would take months to reach, and would never rise above -3.5°C, as the vault is dug into permafrost. Even if the absolute worst global warming predictions were to come true, the Vault’s contents would remain naturally frozen for over 200 years, preserving seeds.
Cary Fowler discusses diminishing biodiversity.In the case of an emergency, the Vault ensures that future generations have access to the crops of today. One day, the Svalboard Global Seed Vault could turn out to be the means of survival for the entire human race, but hopefully we will never need to use it.

The Vault also protects seeds which are being exploited by large corporations such as Monsanto. These corporations have placed patents on heirloom crops and have genetically modified them in order to ensure that they are infertile “Terminator” seeds. The poor farmers who use them must purchase new seeds every season. This capitalistic approach to farming is extremely unsustainable. It has already led to starvation in India thanks to patented basmati rice and genetically engineered contamination of diverse maize crops in Mexico. If we are to develop a viable world agricultural system, it is important to understand that it will not be met without resistance, especially by corporations such as Monsanto who own 90% of all GMO patents, including some for livestock.

Perhaps then the solution is to avoid large factory farms and concentrate on small, diverse, urban agricultural systems (see The Logistics of a Sustainable Slum) These systems would incorporate models of rooftop farms, community co-ops and balcony gardens, would reduce the demand for large, capitalist farms. This self-sufficient approach to farming would also create a sense of awareness for the public so that people living in urban areas would know exactly where their food came from and how it was grown. Presently there is a detachment between the image portrayed by consumer-friendly foods that can be purchased in grocery stores in the developed world and how these foods are actually prepared. If more people knew just how the food they were eating was produced, they would not buy it.
Many corporations have worked hard to maintain the impression that their products are grown on farms rather than produced in factories. Governments of developing nations have been forced to accept World Trade Organization rules, in which they must allow genetically engineered crops to be produced in their countries. Non-Government Organizations must take charge of seed distribution, especially for non-genetically modified crops.
With the assistance of NGOs, models could be implemented in order to design urban agricultural systems that would no longer depend on commercial farms, but instead would rely on the self-sufficiency of the communities in which they would be applied. These systems should also incorporate architecture that is already present in the areas such as creating rooftop farms, as well as new projects and ideas (such as vertical farms - see Dennis Tang's The Tower that Lives) that would maximize the efficiency and minimize the economic and environmental costs of sustainable urban agriculture.

"A Bridge Too Far." (accessed November 3, 2009).

"Global Crop Diversity Trust." (accessed November 3, 2009).
"ICARDA." (accessed November 3, 2009).
"Svalbard Global Seed Vault." (accessed November 3, 2009).
"The Planet's Ultimate Backup Plan.",8599,1882288,00.html (accessed November 3, 2009).

Posted by: Katherine Kovalcik (#2)

Kibera Slums

Kibera is the second largest slum in Africa housing approximately 1.2 million people. The emcompassing area is roughly 1% of Nairobi’s total territory but holds more than ¼ of its population. The neighbourhood is divided into a twelve different villages.

This slum city is located roughly 5 kilo. from the city center. The Nairobia river and the Nairobi Dam, an artificial lake that provides drinking water, surrounds the border of Kibera. The land is, for the most part, marginal and covered in mud and filth. Houses are built cloistered together with little space for passageways and no roads for any kind of vehicles. However, despite these problems the slums of Kibera is often seen as a vibrant cultural center pulsating with life.
To accommodate for their basic survival necessities, food and water, a subtle pattern of settlement can be observed. Food producers in Kibera would have their plots in large open spaces across from the river and dam. This open space includes different slopes and soil types. Maize is generally grown during the long rains and fast maturing varieties during short seasons. Animal husbandry is a challenge due to disease and theft but otherwise numerous chickens, ducks, goats, sheep and pigs can be found. Unfortunately most of the open space land has been privatized since 1989 and people are left in constant fear of eviction. Yet this is not their only worry: crop losses due to theft, inadequate rainfall, disease, and pests are also problems. Therefore the inhabitant settlement patterns in this area of Kibera has left much to be desired; indeed, other measures are being taken in order to survive in this subsistence urbanity.

An agriculture project funded by the French government called “Garden in a Sack” was implemented in 2007. The main problem preventing agriculture was not a lack of cultivating knowledge but of land and cash to buy agricultural material.

This garden project objects was to “increase access to food…and income available for each household through the sale of vegetables from Garden in a Sack”. So far the project has been successful in securing a stable food supply for the inhabitants of this subsistence society.

These gardens are usually left by the doorstep and cultivate tomatoes, onions, kale or spinach.

• Each sack has volume of o.1 to 0.5 cubic meters
• Leafy vegetables are most suitable because they keep on growing even after leaves have been harvested
• A single sack can plant 30-40 seedlings of kale or spinach and 20 tomato plants
• Capsicum, leafy onions, coriander were later introduced

• Seedlings distributed by French government are grown in nursery beds for at least three weeks before the seedlings mature enough to be placed into a sack
• Sacks are prepared by household:
-->Find or buy a sack (very inexpensive at Kshs.10 and easily available)
-->Find soil and stones
• Good soil is difficult to find so they might end up having to buy soil in order to participate in program → this discourages a lot of people but also shows commitment once purchased
-->Seedlings are distributed
-->Plants are watered
• Access to water is difficult because there is no reliable water. Water is usually purchased from water vendors who do not have consistently set prices

These two garden sacks were tried out, the first model worked the best because it allowed the seedlings greater planting area.

• Cheap and uses readily available materials
• Self sustaining program
• No longer vulnerable to soaring food prices
• Steady and increased monthly income
• simple method of ensuring food security

In the hot climates of Nairobi water is hard to come by, and even harder in the slums of Kiberia. New systems of regulating and distributing water has been put in place by the Kenya Water for Health Organization in order to avoid the harsh prices charged by private water vendors. Their goals include:
• Providing safe, clean water within reasonable distances
• Reducing waterborne diseases
• To strengthen community management and institutional capacity in order to run and manage installed facilities
• To facility gender equity in project formulation, decision making and management facilities and services

They run two different projects: delivering water tanks to be managed by women in the community and community solar water disinfection called SODIS.

A common scene of water vending by women.

Their first program buys water from the Niarobi Water Company and pumping them into tanks and selling them to the Kibera community at a very reasonable price. Women groups who are accountable to each other to keep prices gouging at bay: “This informal system relies on the belief that community-driven women’s collectives will handle this precious resource fairly because of their shared hardships.”

A water tank in Kisumu Ndogo/Kibera.

A map of installed tank locations.

The second program consists of a method to disinfect water using sunlight and plastic PET bottles.
Guidelines for the application at household level

For this method of water treatment to be effective the sun has to have had time to activate the pathogens in the water. Therefore the amount of sunlight has a direct correlation to how long it takes for the water to be treated.

Sunny day: 6 hours min. of treatment
50% cloudy: 6 hours min. of treatment
50-100% cloudy: 2 days min. of treatment
continuous rainfall: unsatisfactory performance --> use rainwater harvesting instead

These solution for water and agriculture are only the start of a survival kit for a subsistence urbanity, however, they provide for our most fundamental needs. These methods for cultivating food, and water conservation and distribution are efficient, effective and easy to execute, making them not only appropriate for the most basic urban survival kits, but indispensable.

Posted By: Carrie Cheng

Pascal, Peggy, and Eunice Mwende. “A Garden in a Sack: Experiences in Kibera, Nairobi,” Urban Agriculture Magazine Online, January, 2009, (accessed November 3, 2009).

AllAfrica. “Kenya: Garden in a Sack.” AllAfrica. (accessed November 3, 2009).

HopeBuilding. “Sack Gardens Bing Nutrition, Revenue to Kenyan Slum.”,-revenue-to-Kenyan-slum (accessed November 3, 2009).

The Common Language Project. “Kenyans Tap Sun to Make Dirty Water Sparkle.” University of Washington. (accessed November 3, 2009).

City Farmer, Canada’s Office of Urban Agriculture. “Urban Agriculture In Informal Settlements: How Can it Contribute to Poverty Alleviation? Research in Nairobi, Kenya.” University of British Columbia. (accessed November 3, 2009).

SODIS. “SODIS Method: How does it work?” Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology. (accessed November 3, 2009).

A New Urbanism: Compact Cities

Slums or shanty towns may be considered today in our society as the new urbanism, since the world’s rapidly growing population rate is calling these types of places their “home”. However, architects and city planners throughout the years have looked at ways to improve the quality of life in slums and to create an organized settlement pattern that will provide urban sustainability.
In 1952, Le Corbusier was one of the architects that helped designed the city of Chandigarh’s settlement patterns. The city’s main objective was to be free of overcrowding and shanty towns that cluttered the surrounding cities. In addition, the city had to have an adequate supply of water, easy drainage and the ability to correspond to the climate. Therefore, Le Corbusier designed a tidy chequer-board pattern that allowed for his four basic functions of living, working, circulation and caring for the body and spirit to perform their job.

The living aspect consisted of subdivided villages that could accommodate around 150 families. The circulation idea was conveyed by the seven V’s, which means various sectors being defined by a regular grid of traffic routes (V3) that are living units connected by V4 traffic routes. Each sector consisting of an area of 1200m x 800m, including shopping and social areas located in the centre of each sector and a vertical green belt with pedestrian accessibility. Lastly, three major avenues were designed to cross the city and connect all important areas, such as the university to the hospital to the industrial district. These were all located at the centre of the city to create easy access by pedestrians and vehicles. In addition, one of the main attempts was to create more green space to provide better quality air and shade from the hot weather climate. Le Corbusier’s challenge to design a place of tranquility and safety of living spaces may have had a great concept through this city at first, but as the population growth increased problems began to arise. Problems, such as, water percolation and flooding resulting from the impermeable road surfaces and from the water table dropped over the years. Also, overcrowding has become an issue as mobility through the roads has decreased and microclimatic changes have occurred. Consequently, these problems caused the concept to be unable to meet its main objectives.

Since Le Corbusier’s plan, architects and city planners of the modern world have begun to expand his ideas into more functional concepts. In the past decade, the concept of a compact city was developed. Compact cities are high density urban settlements that consist of mixed-used cities that restrain from building outwards. These types of cities evolve from the centre outwards, just like Le Corbusier’s city, but instead of creating a repetitive pattern in various sectors, it happens once to create a higher density within the city. In addition, the compact cities include the same type of circulation as Le Corbusier’s project, since a few major intersections are created to unite all neighborhoods to decrease the footprint transport causes in the world.

A developing city where the concept of a compact city is being employed is the Old City of Beersheba, Israel. This city is creating a settlement pattern consisting of an orthogonal grid composed of 100 blocks that are divided into 16 plans, which are all slanted towards the north at a 45 degree angle. The reason for the blocks to be at an angle is to increase ventilation and to allow solar radiation during the winter months.

Furthermore, Beersheba is strategizing to combine both the modern world with its historic one by rebuilding the new city on top of the old one. This is one of the aspects of a compact city which is to reuse and renovate old structures to decrease the amount of land used and materials. Also, to elaborate on the water and agriculture aspects of the city, Beersheba’s architects are focusing on the conservation of run-off water by using a drainage pattern around the entire neighborhood to be directed towards the rural spaces. By doing so, it will reduce the amount of irrigation needed for vegetation and pollution. Furthermore, the plan includes the concept of incorporating internal patios, roof gardens and terraces to provide more outdoor space and locally based agriculture. Lastly, this concept supports the idea of locally based businesses which would help to improve the quality of life for its citizens providing employment, fresh food and clean water.

However, one wonders if this structurally rigid design will help improve the city of slums due to the fact that they have previously failed. Therefore, the western world must study the natural settlement patterns that slums have designed to so that concepts like compact cities could work.

Shanty towns do not have an official city plan, since they are developed by its citizens to create some form of adequate shelter. This cities may be concentrated in the city centers or they may be sprawling outwards. Each way they do not follow zoning laws or sub-division regulations. On the other hand, the informal settlement patterns create a proximity within all areas of the city, such as hospitals and "neighborhoods", which compares to a compact city because they are advertising ecological modes of transport. Also, this proximity allows the concept of self-employed businesses to function, providing citizens with a better social network. Architects should still consider some aspects of the compact city to reduce the ecological footprint, such as the water treatment and sustaining rural landscape to increase local agriculture. When we study slums it is clear that informal settlements demonstrate that a rigid pattern is not required to improve the functionality of cities.

Works Cited:
University of Reading Top Ranking University for Research, "Compact City" (Accessed 01 Nov. 2009.)
Eco Compact City Network, "ECO COMPACT CITY NETWORK,";col1 (Accessed 03 Nov. 2009.)
Radovic, Darko. Eco-Urbanity towards well-mannered built environments. New york: Routledge, 2009. Print.
Paola Sassi, Strategies for sustainable architecture . New York, NY: Taylor & Francis, 2005. Print.
SpringerLink Home - Main, "SpringerLink - Journal Article," 2009, (Accessed November 4, 2009)

Posted By: Diana Lopez Cerquera

Emergence from Slums

"Emergence is the creation of systems of greater dimension than the elements that create it."

Figure 4. A triangle triggers a feedback function that produces three triangles, which themselves trigger the feedback function to produce nine triangles, and so on. This process can unfold as long as computational resources can be invested to increase the complexity of the object.

While a shanty town of narrow alleys and makeshift houses made of any junk at the garbage dump may seem to represent a society at the brink of collapse, it may just be the most natural way for our city to be developed.

Although they may appear to be random, new buildings and developments do not arise randomly. They are programmed when the individuals who inhabit a particular place determine that the current building set no longer provides an acceptable solution to environmental conditions, some resulting from external events but some being the outcome of the process of urban growth itself. It is these contextual conditions that fluctuate randomly and throw the equilibrium of the building set out of balance. In order to restore this equilibrium there will be movement of the urban tissue by the addition or subtraction of a building or other structure. In this way an urban tissue is a system that fluctuates chaotically, but it does so in response to random events in order to restore its equilibrium.

In a slum setting the occupants are apart of the organic being of the community. Their individual shelters affect the others around them. This contrasts with the idea proposed by architects like Le Corbusier of an entire city that had been planned out meticulously.

Le Courbusier's
Ville Contemporaine was an unrealized project for three million inhabitants

Dharavi, India a slum city of over one million people

When a city is planned out from top to bottom they lose their adaptability and any chance for spontaneous urbanization. It is when a city is given a chance to evolve that they become complex and are able to solve problems on a multitude of levels. As a matter of fact the slums have such complex social networks that after Government funded apartments have been made, many of the residents chose to go back to once again to enjoy its rich social networks, where many had businesses that were their main source of income. This social interaction with the community cannot be found in a modern neighborhood design. Since instead of having of city that branches out, slums are a network of various resources and work very efficiently.

Figure 6. A comparison of a tree pattern on the left and a semi-lattice pattern on the right. The tree structure is made of groups and sub-groups that can be manipulated separately from others. The semi-lattice pattern is purely random without distinct sub-parts.

On the other hand, there are many everyday concerns revolving around shelter, water sanitation and agriculture that a slum city cannot satisfy. So how do we keep the existing social structure of the slums while improving the quality of life for slum dwellers?

A paper house has been recently developed by Bauhaus that contains a "resin-soaked paper processed to form thin, light -- yet strong -- panels. The material is also an excellent insulator, and is flexible, making it appropriate in areas at risk of earthquakes." It was designed with to help the living situation in slums with its cost effectiveness and environment conscious design. ($5000 for entire house)

This relatively cheap filtration system ($70) with a UV light to kill any micro bacteria that cause waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid can be assembled with easily accessible components and will also run off solar panels where electrical grids are non-existent. The main advantage to this product is the fact it will recycle 5 liters a minute which means it can satisfy the needs of hundreds of people per day.

Dr Roshi's city garden capable making a household self-sufficient while using minimal amount of space and water. Its tools are made of materials available in most local environments such as: sugarcane waste, polyethylene bags, tires, containers and cylinders.

All of these technology are currently available and could be easily accessed. These are the building blocks that slum dwellers can use to improve their life quality. Instead of governments spending millions of dollars on predesigned housing solutions, it would be more effective to use the ingenuity the 1 billion squatters already have. To use their survival skills along with efficient techniques so that a new, better slum city can emerge.

By: Haley Zhou

Work sited:
Hélie, Mathieu. "Conceptualizing the Principles of Emergent Urbanism," ArchNet-IJAR: International Journal of Architectural Research, vol. 3, issue 2 (2009).

C.G.H, "New Design Could Revolutionize World Slums," Paper Houses, 1/13/2009,,1518,601067,00.html, (accessed 11/3/2009. 11:15 pm)

"City Farming Innovations"
(accessed 11/4/2009. 1:15 am)

Kanellos, Micheal, "Technology May Quench Thirst for Drinking Water", 9/2/2005. 3:40 pm,
(accessed 11/4/2009. 1:49 am)