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When I worked at the Fed magazine, I attended a couple conferences on housing for seniors and learned about a thing called universal design. Universal design espouses the notion of making all architecture accessible so expensive alterations aren’t needed later. Someday, you might be using a wheelchair or crutch in the home you love, and wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to reconfigure it for a ramp, flat thresholds, wider doors, handrails, higher toilet seats, etc.?

Similarly during the coronavirus pandemic, architects have been rethinking design so we don’t need too many adjustments in pandemics. Think of all the light switches, doorknobs, and elevator buttons you’re careful not to touch these days! Think of the store ventilation systems you wonder about! What if you didn’t have to worry?

Recently, Carolina A. Miranda addressed this topic in a long feature at the Los Angeles Times.

“In another time, not long ago, an elevator was a conveyance to reach a higher floor, an open office was a spot to clock eight hours while hoping your boss didn’t catch you checking Facebook and a doorknob was one of those banalities of architecture that seemed to warrant attention only when it needed replacing.

“What a difference a virus makes. …

“ ‘If you take the great architectural inventions of the 20th century: the airport, the high-rise, the freeway — those are the things that are challenged the most right now,’ says Brett Steele, dean of UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture. ‘They have great density or they promise movement at high speeds. Those are exactly the things that sit at the crux of the crisis we are going through.’

‘It’s a reset button for the entire world,” says Mark Lee, co-founder of the Los Angeles firm Johnston Marklee and chair of the architecture department at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. …

“ ‘I’m working on a synagogue, and that is a crazy problem,’ says Barbara Bestor, founder of Bestor Architecture, a 25-person firm based in Silver Lake. ‘How do you do High Holidays after COVID with 2,000 or 3,000 people?’ …

“The solution may involve segmenting larger spaces and segregating the most vulnerable in a separately ventilated environment. … Or it may involve designing a physical space that, Bestor says, features ‘a robust video component so that people can watch remotely.’

“Gatherings via videoconference could become a way of life. Architects could find themselves designing spaces just for that purpose. …

“First, architecture firms, like all other businesses, must weather the pandemic. … The economics are dire. And yet there is a determination to not waste the moment.

“ ‘Every crisis is an opportunity,’ says Hernán Díaz Alonso, director of the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc). ‘The optimist in me believes that this will force us to reevaluate everything that we do.’

“This is a time, he says, to ask ‘the big metaphysical questions’ about architecture and its purpose. It’s also about considering the nuts and bolts. ‘If we don’t get a vaccine, what does that mean? What does that mean in terms of physical space? What do you do with a doorknob?’ …

“ ‘Densities of offices will change,’ [says Bob Hale is partner and creative director at L.A.-based RCH Studios].

“This raises questions about one of the most popular — and widely reviled — workplace designs: the open-plan office, in which rows of workers are jammed around long bench desks.

“These are settings that have a poor track record when it comes to producing actual work. They also, according to a Danish study from 2011, account for significantly higher rates of sick leave — a phenomenon that played out in a study published by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April, which showed the ways coronavirus hopscotched around an open-plan call center in Seoul. …

“Instead, many of the architects I spoke with visualize once-cavernous spaces segmented into more intimately scaled settings with small clusters of desks. ‘We work in teams, so it’s easy to think of people in groups,’ says Paul Danna, a design partner in the L.A. office of Skidmore Owings & Merrill, a global firm at work on an office development in Pasadena. ‘It’s a matter of putting barriers between groups as opposed to every individual.’ ”

The future of airports, affordable housing, and density of cities are among the many other design challenges addressed in the article, here. Enjoy.

Photo: Tara Wujcik
“Is there anyone out there who does not like fresh air and cross-ventilation or views?” asks Lawrence Scarpa in an article at the
Los Angles Times. The photo below is from a Brooks + Scarpa housing development for disabled vets that maximizes light and air.

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Photo: Margarita Talep/Dezeen.com
Chile-based designer Margarita Talep has created a sustainable, biodegradable alternative to single-use packaging, using raw material extracted from algae. Natural vegetable dyes such as cabbage, beetroot, and carrot produce different shades.

As scary as the photos of plastic-filled oceans, rivers — and whales — may be, I remind myself that many people are working to cut out plastic in their lives and others are inventing biodegradable plastic substitutes.

Consider this story by Natashah Hitti at Dezeen.com, “Chile-based designer Margarita Talep has created a sustainable, biodegradable alternative to single-use packaging, using raw material extracted from algae.

“Disappointed by the abundance of non-recyclable materials currently used to contain food products, Talep decided to develop her own eco-friendly packaging that would stand in for plastic. …

“According to the designer, the material only includes natural matter, including the dyes used to colour it, which are extracted from the skins of fruits and vegetable such as blueberries, purple cabbage, beetroot and carrot.

“The basic mixture is made up of a polymer, a plasticiser and an additive, with the amounts of each ingredient varying depending on the desired consistency of the final product. …

“To make a material that bears a close resemblance to thin plastic, Talep boils the agar mixture to around 80 degrees celsius, before transferring the molten liquid onto a mould.

“When the liquid drops to a temperature below 20 degrees celsius, it takes on a gel-like consistency. This is then left to dry in a well-ventilated environment with a constant temperature, until it becomes similar to paper or thin plastic.

“The bioplastic packaging is especially suited to containing dry food products. It is best sealed with heat rather than glue in a bid make the end result as natural as possible. …

“The material takes around two months to decompose in summer temperatures, depending on the thickness, and about three to four months to decompose completely in winter.

” ‘I believe that bio-fabrication will be an important part of future industries,’ said Talep. ‘As long as all the processes of extracting these raw materials and their manufacture are done with environmental awareness. But it is not enough just to create new materials. These different solutions to the huge environmental problem must work in parallel with other action.

” ‘Different nations should implement action plans for reducing the amount of plastic waste produced by introducing more circular economy projects, keeping plastic in a cyclical system to prevent it from ending up at landfill or in the sea,’ Talep suggests.”

Read more at Dezeen.com, here. The zine has lots of other great ideas for making a more sustainable world.

Also, to read about young people who are taking action, check out Kids Against Plastic, here.

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Photo: Dezeen
A new prosthetic leg allows an amputee ballet dancer to go on pointe. The designer imagines whole dances on pointe.

Generations of little girls in my family have taken ballet classes, and probably each of them has spent more than an hour or two dreaming of life as a prima ballerina. After a while, though, little girls get interested in something else or the challenges become too daunting.

Now imagine just how daunting it would be for an amputee who is determined to dance.

Ali Morris writes at the design magazine Dezeen, “Pratt Institute graduate Jae-Hyun An has created a prosthetic leg that allows amputees to perform ballet like never before.

“Unlike regular artificial limbs, which are designed to mimic the human body, the Marie-T enables amputee ballet dancers to enhance their performance.

“Made up of three components, Marie-T features a weighty foam-injected rotational moulded foot, with a stainless-steel toe and rubber grip that help provide the dancer with balance and momentum during rotations.

“In mainstream ballet, dancers typically move in and out of the pointe position – when all body weight is supported by the tips of fully extended feet within pointe shoes.

“However, because of the immense strain on the foot and ankle of a performer, it is impossible for a ballet dancer to constantly perform in this position.

“Jae-Hyun An, who studied on the Pratt’s Industrial Design programme, designed the carbon-fibre Marie-T to enable amputees to dance on pointe throughout a performance.

“New York-based An said the design, which is named after 19th-century Swedish ballet dancer Marie Taglioni, could encourage amputees to develop a new choreography that has never been achieved by mainstream ballerinas.

” ‘I wanted to explore what would happen if you could allow a person to perform on pointe 100 per cent of the time,’ said An, who developed Marie-T over the course of four months. …

“During research, An realised that a weak ankle can twist and cause a ballerina in pointe position to wobble. In response, An designed a strong and stable ankle area that helps the ballerina stay in balance.

“The ankle connects to a slightly curved carbon-fibre limb which helps absorb the shock from the impact of the ballet dancer stepping forward. The limb is topped by a 3D-printed socket with steel round head screws.

“Ill-fitting prosthetic limbs can cause blisters and rashes on dancers, so An designed the Marie-T so that the parts can be easily switched out when they become well worn or need to be resized. …

” ‘In my research I came across Viktoria Modesta and she re-interpreted performance with her prosthetics. It was visually so powerful and opened a completely new area of prosthetics for me. I fell in love with the idea of designing something that could expand the artistic and cultural scene of a community with prosthetic users.’

“To continue developing this project in the future, An hopes to collaborate with an amputee dancer who has their own vision for prosthetic ballet.

” ‘The design of the prosthesis will change to fit the dancer, but also to match the specific movements of the newly developed choreography,’ he explained. ‘However, until I meet this dancer, I will continue to develop as a designer.’ ”

More at Dezeen, here.

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Photo: Målerås
Glassworkers in the Målerås factory in Sweden. The company successfully brought on refugees when it was short-handed.

This story combines two of my great interests: Sweden and helping refugees. Erik’s homeland showed compassion by taking in 32,000 asylum seekers in 2015, but in a win-win scenario, some Swedish design companies have benefited.

Alicia Brunker writes at Architectural Digest, “Rather than fear that refugees will take jobs away from locals, the Nordic country views Syria’s tradition of handicraft skills as a way to smoothy integrate its people into their own design-centric society. This mindset is especially true for the design community in southern Sweden, also known as Småland, a vast region that family-run glass workshops and international heavyweights, such as IKEA, call home. …

“Five years ago, the Scandinavian design purveyor began working with the women’s co-operative [Yalla Trappan ] to offer marginalized groups opportunities for livelihood, including Syrian refugees who have settled in southern Sweden without employment. As a way to give them economic independence, IKEA hired 10 women to work at their Malmö store, offering sewing services. …

“Whether a local customer needs a quick repair to their Ektorp sofa cushion or requires custom embroidery, the women at IKEA’s Malmö store will take the order at their sewing atelier and stitch it off-site.

“Beyond in-store sewing services, IKEA has recently teamed up with the Jordan River Foundation, opening up a production center in Amman. … At the facility, the Jordanians and an IKEA designer collaborated on a new range of textiles — including pillows, rugs, and baskets — that meld both culture’s styles into a single object. …

“The Jordanians lay the yarn on the floor and weave by hand on their feet. However, with IKEA’s ultimate goal of making these women employable in the future, they plan to teach the refugees more modern stitching practices with machines for upcoming collections.

“Inadvertently, IKEA has also provided employment for refugees through their annual Art Event. This year, the design giant enlisted local glassworks company Målerås to work with international artists on a limited-edition series of contemporary glass figurines.

“During the production process, the factory was short-handed and decided to add a dozen new contractors, four of which were Syrian refugees, to their workforce. Though they didn’t have glass-making experience, the men were familiar with working with their hands. Through an eight-month training period, the refugees learned the various steps of production and they picked up on their new country’s language and culture. …

“Benny Hermansson, owner and CEO of Gemla Möbler, the country’s oldest furniture factory, says the practice of working with craftsmen from other regions dates back to the 19th-century. … One of the [Syrians] who joined Gemla worked at a furniture company back in Syria, crafting headboards and cabinets out of wood. …

” ‘There are fewer and fewer schools educating students in these fields,’ [Hermansson] says. ‘It has become difficult to recruit people with the right competence. We have a need, and so do these refugees.” More here.

This is reminding me of a Syrian carpenter that I helped out a bit last year. He was thrilled to find work in Rhode Island installing insulation. I wonder if he has gotten into woodworking since then.

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Photo: Omar Torres/AFP/Getty
Las Palmitas in Mexico, a giant example of a town painting itself.

In Gallup’s Global Emotions Report, the countries that come out best are completely different from those that top the UN’s better known Happiness Report, which gives more weight to metrics such as GDP. A design organization has taken note.

Christopher Turner provides background at the Guardian.

“The 2017 Global Emotions Report [is] an ambitious survey of the global mood. To compile it, Gallup conducted in-depth interviews with nearly 150,000 people in 142 countries.

“The report seeks to measure positive and negative daily experiences by asking people to rate their previous day. ‘Did you feel well rested yesterday? Were you treated with respect all day? Did you smile or laugh a lot? Did you experience enjoyment? Did you learn or do something interesting?’ … Conversely, interviewers asked them if they felt pain, anger, worry or stress. …

“In 2012 the UN launched its first World Happiness Report, using data also collected by Gallup, and called on member states to place more emphasis on happiness as a measure of social progress and to guide public policy.

“In the UN’s report, interviewees are asked about their perceptions of social support, personal freedom and corruption, rating their lives on a ladder from zero to 10. The results correlate closely with a list of the world’s wealthiest nations. Norway is currently the happiest country, followed closely by Denmark and Switzerland. … at the other end of the spectrum, people from Syria, Burundi, Tanzania and the Central African Republic rate life satisfaction at about three.

“In contrast, the Global Emotions Report poll of positive experiences is led by Paraguay (only 70th in the Happiness Report, and one of the poorer countries in terms of GDP), then Costa Rica.

“Indeed, Latin American countries traditionally come out top in the index, a fact attributed to the presence of strong social and family networks. …

“In the face of such statistics, what lessons can architects, designers, citizens and community activists learn from these polls? The theme of the second London Design Biennale, announced [in June], is ‘Emotional States.’ It aims to inspire a diverse, global commentary on our turbulent times, interrogating the ways in which design affects every aspect of our lives, and influences our feelings and experiences. …

“The biennale will feature an installation by Norway, in which the government is backing a decade-long initiative devoted to a people-centred approach to design. Engaging citizens in the process, it’s part of an ambitious action plan to make Norway inclusively’ designed by 2025. The government is also taking a proactive approach to the environment, and recently pledged that all cars on the roads will be electric within a decade. The exhibition includes examples of technology and innovation that employ design as a strategy for a better future.

“Guatemala, which ties for sixth place in the Global Emotions Report, will show an installation about the community action taking place in Santa Catarina Palopó. This town on the volcanic shores of Lake Atitlán is reinventing itself as a kind of conceptual art, using the paintbrush to boost civic pride and tourism. Its residents have become involved in a two-year scheme in which they are painting their houses in bold Mayan patterns, with a strict but vibrant palette of five colours sourced from local textiles.” More at the Guardian, here.

Photo: GraphicaArtis/Getty
“Now just 10 years away … a 1950s illustration of a family playing a board game while their electric car does the driving.” Ten years?

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Some schools are taking the current push for STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math) a step further and putting kids on project teams with students from around the world. While you are learning science, you are getting to know what life is like somewhere else.

Dugan Arnett writes at the Boston Globe, “In just a few weeks’ time, the students in Kathy Wright’s Richard J. Murphy K-8 School STEM class have developed a keen grasp of Costa Rican culture.

“ ‘They don’t get snow there,’ said Jayd’n Washington, a 12-year-old seventh grader at the Dorchester school. Added fellow 12-year-old Fabian Riascos, ‘They have their own currency.’

“Their burgeoning interest in the Central American country stems not from a recent geography lesson plan — it’s the result, instead, of a program called Design Squad Global, which pairs American middle-school classes with students from other countries in a kind of virtual pen-pal relationship.

“Created by WGBH Boston as a spinoff of the old PBS television series ‘Design Squad,’ the program serves, at its core, as a way to introduce young students across the globe to the importance of engineering-related projects.

“But another goal — and one that organizers seem to value as much as anything — is the program’s ability to connect children from various locations, backgrounds, and cultures. …

“The DSG program connects kids ages 10-13. Currently, it operates in 25 American cities — including Boston, Chicago, and New York — and eight countries, from Brazil to Jordan to South Africa.

“At the start of the program, which can run either six or 12 weeks, two classes from different countries are paired together. In online correspondence, they tick off their names, nicknames, and interests — and as they tackle a collection of weekly projects, a virtual relationship blossoms. …

“The focus is on real-world problem-solving. Participants are charged with designing and constructing scaled-down versions of a number of projects: a structure that can withstand an earthquake, an emergency shelter, an adaptive device for someone with disabilities.

“ ‘Middle school kids can come up with some amazing solutions,’ said Mary Haggerty, who oversees educational outreach at WGBH. ‘It makes you feel very hopeful for the future.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/Globe staff
Jhondell Smith-Young tested his STEM project for a Dorchester class that assigns him to an international team.

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Tom Murphy wrote recently at the Providence Journal about a shop in North Kingstown that will teach you how to build your own guitar.

“Owner Dan Collins and his partner, Ariel Bodman, design and build guitars with the skill and dedication of artists,” writes Murphy. “They talk about the sound produced by different kinds of wood with terms like the ‘color’ and the ‘ring.’ …

“Dan and Ariel have brilliantly carved out a niche in the industry by sharing their deep knowledge and experience with student builders who pay a fee to craft their own custom instruments. With his background in art and hers in music, they give students a much deeper appreciation for their new instruments than they might get walking out of the average music store. …

“Many students become hooked on the experience and come back for a second, third, even a fourth build. ..

“The custom builds, the repairs and the teaching are the business side of Dan Collins’ unique shop, but from 7 to 10 p.m. on the last Saturday of each month, something really extraordinary happens.

“The floors are swept, tools are put away, equipment is pushed aside and the long work bench in the middle of the room is transformed into a banquet table as Shady Lea Guitars holds its ‘open mic night.’

“In a cleared portion of the workshop, there is a well-lit stage and an odd assortment of comfortable old chairs. It’s potluck, so students, customers, friends and enthusiasts alike can share their favorite recipes along with their music. The friendly audience always puts participants at ease, and they respond with heartfelt performances.” More here.

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Well, this is a new one on me: a bookstore that sells only one title at a time.

Amy X. Wang reports at a website called Quartz that in September 2014, “Yoshiyuki Morioka, a bookseller who had been running a store in Tokyo, Japan, for 10 years, had a curious thought. Lots of customers, it seemed, dropped in during book launches and other events to buy the same title; others often appeared overwhelmed by all the extra variety. So why not start a bookstore that only sold one book at a time?

“Now, Morioka Shoten — Morioka’s new venture that threw open its doors in Tokyo’s trendy Ginza shopping district in May 2015 — operates around that very principle. The store stocks multiple copies of only one carefully selected tome each week …

“Takram, the design engineering firm that helped Morioka put together the look of his new store, says the experience highlights ‘the importance of a physical venue in the era of digital reading.’

“Books that have been displayed so far include Swedish-Finnish author Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver, Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales, and works from well-known Japanese writers like Mimei Ogawa and Akito Akagi. Each title is displayed for six days in a row—Tuesday to Sunday—and then swapped out for a new book.

“And things are going quite well at the quiet little store. According to Morioka, Morioka Shoten has sold more than 2,000 works since it opened. Proof, then, that readers seeking deep, personal relationships with physical books are still around across the world.” More here.

You know, that last sentence strikes a chord. I was just explaining to a friend today how this blog resulted from my daughter asking if I would apply my love of blogging to support the vibe of the jewelry company she founded, which emphasizes deep, personal relationships.

If you’ve never clicked on the Luna & Stella site (or even if you have), please do now. Suzanne and Erik have posted a steady stream of new birthstone-jewelry designs and charms over the five years I’ve been blogging. Each one is full of meaning.

Photo: Takram/Miyuki Kaneko
The one-room bookstore Morioka Shoten in Tokyo

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Dezeen magazine has an article on an apartment building in Australia that seems to change color depending on your viewing angle.

“The triangular window bays that project from the facade of this Sydney housing block by MHN Design Union appear either red or yellow, depending on the viewing angle.”

The apartment block was designed “for local developer Crown Group on a plot in Waterloo, a former industrial area that is gradually being redeveloped into a residential neighbourhood.

“The architects based the design of the facade on the sculptures of Yaacov Agam, an Israeli artist who is known for his brightly coloured kinetic and optical illusion works – which also influenced a series of rugs by London studio Raw Edges. …

“The building’s form tapers to a point at the rear, creating triangular floors that range from 10-high at the front to seven at the back. …

“The building is shortlisted for two awards at this year’s World Architecture Festival, which will be held in Singapore at the beginning of November.” More here.

Photo: John Gollings

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I’ve been wanting to say something about the inspired landscaper at a building in Boston. His vision is so different from that of most people responsible for office or apartment building plantings. You know what I mean: “It’s fall. Time to line up a row of yellow chrysanthemums. No, let’s do something creative this year and alternate them with maroon chrysanthemums. Just a foot apart.”

Plunk.

In contrast, landscaper Paul tells a story, writes a poem with his design, thinking about the changing seasons far ahead. Birds love him.

color
texture
light
shade
movement
dappling
swaying
open
huddled
reaching
clinging
weight
breeze
peace
song

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roof-garden-at-office-building

flowering-4th-floor-roof

4th-floor-roof-garden

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Gotta love MIT. There is always something crazy going on over there. And when MIT and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) ideas come together, watch out.

At WBUR radio, Fred Thys explains about a new, multidiscipline design program.

Matt “Kressy has put MIT’s first-ever integrated design and management (IDM) students in a kind of boot camp. He wanted to immerse the engineers, designers and business school students in a project where they would have to work in concert. …

“The task: build instruments from found materials. And boy did the students find materials. Mechanical engineer Maria Tafur, from Bogota, made a clarinet from a carrot. Engineer Tammy Shen, from Taipei, has made an instrument that includes glass bottles. …

“Kressy was teaching a course at the Rhode Island School of Design when he got the idea for the new IDM master’s program. He was also teaching engineers and business students at MIT — but it was the design students from RISD that caught Kressy’s attention by asking a critical question:

‘How does this product enhance our lives?’ …

“Kressy says it took 13 years for his idea for a design program to get traction at MIT. When it did, he was able to pick 18 students with completely different criteria from what MIT typically uses.

“ ‘And that rubric had crazy metrics, such as the metric love,’ Kressy says. ‘And the love metric was basically: Does this candidate have a large capacity for love and compassion? …

“ ‘When I showed the rubric to my colleagues here, let’s just say it got mixed responses,’ he says, laughing.”

To get at the love-and-compassion metric, he asked applicants to submit a portfolio indicating their efforts to make the world a better place.

You can read here about the impressive portfolios, struggles to get to MIT from poor countries, and inventive ideas for the future.”

Photo: Jesse Costa/WBUR
MIT integrated design graduate students Maria Tafur and Masakazu Nagata play their homemade instruments along with Brave Sharab, 7, on Main Street in Cambridge.

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Treehugger recently featured some rather magical lamps in the shape of mushrooms.

Kimberley Mok writes, “Whether they glow in the dark or are uncommonly rare, mushrooms are the incredible, unsung heroes of the natural world. They can bio-remediate oil spills, potentially cure diseases, and when used in your garden, can lessen its need for watering. Now, thanks to Japanese artist Yukio Takano, you can even have a LED version of them on your desk, transforming any mundane workspace into one of glowing, fungal wonder.

“Made with glass, salvaged driftwood and outfitted with energy-efficient LEDs and unique little light switches, Takano — who creates under the name The Great Mushrooming — seems to get the little details right enough to make these lamps look like the real thing (they come with hidden battery packs, to up the authentic-look factor, apparently). …

“Takano’s mushroom lights are one-of-a-kind, and while he sells at design fairs like Tokyo’s Design Festa, according to blogger tokyobling he doesn’t ship them abroad, due to the fragility of these glassworks. You can always feast your eyes over at Yukio Takano’s site The Great Mushrooming and visit the portfolio.”

More styles at Treehugger, here.

 Photo: Yukio Takano

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Here’s a good one from The Atlantic’s City Lab on how Cleveland is turning a traffic circle into a park.

Eric Jaffe writes, “To hear Clevelanders talk, Public Square is a place you pass through to reach somewhere else. When Moses Cleaveland laid out the town in 1796, he imagined the open area at its center as a New England-style commons: a gathering space for settlers, a grazing area for livestock. …

” ‘Over the years, it just turned into more like a series of big traffic islands,’ says the landscape architect James Corner. …

“Locals who find themselves in one of the quadrants have a tough time getting to another. If the cars aren’t enough of a hindrance, the lack of things to do or see in the area is: of the square’s 10 acres, more than six are paved over with concrete or asphalt. …

“By the time Cleveland engaged Corner’s help, in 2008, many ideas for how to revamp the square had come and gone.

“They all suffered from the assumption that traffic around the site could not be disturbed. Corner came in with a bold idea: if we can’t remove the streets, let’s build an elevated park above them.

“The hilltop-park concept didn’t pan out, because of the cost and complexity, but [Land Studio executive director Ann Zoller] says it got locals reimagining Public Square as a place prioritizing people over cars. A traffic analysis determined that the city could close one of the streets and narrow the other to a passage for buses, which could be rerouted during major events. Construction started this spring on Corner’s final design, which is estimated to cost $32 million.”

Read more here on how cities are thinking about improved public spaces.

Image: James Corner Field Operations
A rendering of the new design  for Public Square in Cleveland

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One of Studio 360‘s regular hosts spoke recently with a woman who believes good design can and should be used to enhance the most mundane and cheerless places.

The radio show’s website says, “Going to the DMV, doing the dishes, commuting to work: what would you change if you could? Kurt talked with designer Ingrid Fetell about how better design can make all the difference.

“Fetell wants to ‘create principles that are informed by what the cognitive sciences are showing us about the way that objects, surfaces, colors, textures, patterns make us feel, and use those as principles for designing things that really make us feel good,’ she tells Kurt Andersen. Her curiosity stems from noticing that certain things seem to universally make people feel a sense of joy — like confetti, balloons, and bubbles. ‘It was really born out of a curiosity to understand why certain things make even babies smile.’

“She points to Edi Rama as a real-life example of putting these ideas into practice. Rama, who is now Prime Minister of Albania, was named the World Mayor in 2004 after painting much of Tirana in bright colors. The results were remarkable. ‘He found that people actually started paying their taxes after the painting,’ she tells Kurt. ‘People stopped littering as much and the shopkeepers started taking the metal grates off their windows and opening glass window fronts back out to the street.’ ” More here.

I like the idea of trying to understand what makes a baby smile. Or laugh. There are so many wonderful YouTube videos of babies laughing hysterically when someone tears paper or when a dog eats popcorn. Why is that hilarious? Because it’s startling?

By the way, Studio 360 is collaborating with Fetell and IDEO “to redesign a thing, place, or experience that is unnecessarily joyless.” Send your ideas on Twitter or Instagram, and tag #bringjoy. I sent “homeless shelter.”

Paint job: Edi Rama, who became prime minister of Albania

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Although my husband and I are not in any design field, we’ve enjoyed watching videos like Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica (the history of a typeface) and his Objectified (on industrial design). It’s  interesting to see how designers think about things like a new font or machine.

Recently at National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition, Ari Shapiro talked about a new typeface meant to represent Sweden.

He reports, “Nearly every country has a national flag, a national anthem, a national bird. Not many countries have a national typeface. Sweden recently commissioned a team of designers to come up with a font to represent the country on its websites, press releases, tourism brochures and more. …

“The typeface that [Soderhavet] designers created looks pretty much the way you would expect a Scandinavian typeface to look, too.

” ‘The Scandinavian tradition is pretty humble, easygoing and clean,’ says Stefan Hattenbach, one of the designers of the new Sweden Sans. Less is more, you could say.’

“He started by collecting images of old Swedish street signs and company logos. He pulled images of Swedish wallpaper, cars and furniture, and looked for what he calls the red thread running through it all.

” ‘There’s an expression in Sweden, too,’ Hattenbach says. ‘We say lagom, which is not too much and not too little.’ ”

The ancient Greeks had a similar expression: “Nothing in excess.” The only letter with a flourish is q. Says Hattenback, “Q is not used that much, so you can often be a little more playful with that.”

See what you think of Swedish Sans, below, and read the rest of the NPR story here.

Swedish Sans, by Soderhavet
A typeface to represent official Sweden

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