For the good

Hydro Box

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We love having plants and greenery around, but space and time are hard to come by in New York. So we were excited to come across this simple, modern hydroponic window planter now on Kickstarter. The design is nice and minimal – essentially a box – but within the box hides a whole hydroponic system, complete with a programmable timer, air pump, clay pellet medium (instead of soil), and organic fertilizer. Options for the box include a white, chalkboard, or weathered gray finish – or made entirely from reclaimed wood from Rebuilding Exchange, a nonprofit organization in Chicago.

World as 100 People

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We recently came across the enlightening, incredible set of statistics known as the “World as 100 People,” which has been interpreted infographically a number of times. The concept, based on this 1990 article by Donella Meadows, provides a clear picture of our global state of affairs by simplifying the world into a village of 100 people. Graphically presented, the information can be incredibly powerful – whether shown simply divided in one image, or cut-paper style into geometric pie charts. One of the best visual interpretations is this bold, clean set of postcards – one for each category, showing clearly that of 100, 83 villagers have clean water, 20 consume 80% of the energy, and 7 have computers.

Community Pop-Up

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Seeing opportunity in “hidden” spaces, a new group hopes to work with vacant storefront owners and entrepreneurs to build community in New York’s Lower East Side. miLES (made in the LES) is a group of well-supported architects, activists, and designers, working to connect landlords of empty storefronts with potential temporary tenants looking to activate the spaces. Their hope is that entrepreneurs wanting to test pop-ups can capitalize on the large number of dark storefronts in the neighborhood, improving things for all. The team begins operations out of a temporary space themselves with classes, co-working opportunities, and events on April 1.

Food City

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Atelier Food is a new Swedish organization dedicated to examining and improving society through food. To promote their mission, founder and art director Petter Johansson created a gridded city-of-food, set against the backdrop of an architectural plan. Some of the cubed fruit and vegetables sits atop of others, forming little stacks of buildings, while some is left in its natural shape and form, like pieces of broccoli on green blocks. The organization will operate as a restaurant, holding workshops and food labs, bringing together artists, designers, scientists, business developers and chefs to change our food systems.

Shelter Relief

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Visible Good – a new startup from an architect and a consultant – is focused on the task of making improved disaster relief shelters, helping make the already tough task of  temporary shelter easier. Their RDM (Rapid Deployment Module) is a light, flatpack tent/trailer housing that can be easily shipped and assembled. The 9 x 14 foot base unit has well-insulated, strong plastic walls, windows, and locking doors. Modular, it also can attach to other units or shower/bathroom units. The company is currently working with the US Army on an extreme weather version.

Drink it Up

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A billboard in Peru is providing much more than a visual glimpse of another ad for passers-by. In a collaboration between the University of Engineering and Technology in Lima and ad agency Mayo DraftFCB, the incredible billboard actually produces purified drinking water – generating 25 gallons per day. In an effort to show off the capabilities of the University, while also solving problems of lack of drinking water in Lima, the billboard uses an inverse osmosis filtration system to take advantage of the unusual high humidity in the air above the city, filtering it down to a water tap at its base. Anyone can access and use the cool, clean water, providing many families using polluted wells with a wonderful alternative.

Play and Heal

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The Royal London Hospital recently introduced a wonderful play room for children, tapping into the potential of play in healing. The room, designed by Cottrell and Vermeulen architects and designer Morag Myerscough, along with artist Chris O’Shea and Nexus Interactive Arts, is a giant living room for kids to explore. A giant lamp projects colorful characters on the floor, wallpaper is a lovingly-drawn menagerie of animals, and big foam puzzle blocks are scattered throughout the space. Central to the concept and space is a massive television screen in which kids can become part of a story, “Woodland Wiggle,” jumping and moving their way through it as their actions paint, play music, and trigger weather effects on the screen. It’s an incredibly heartwarming escape for hospital-goers.

Printing the Body

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Incredible new developments are being made in the world of 3D printing and health – organs, bones, and even skulls are now being created with the technology. Recently, a man underwent surgery that replaced 75 percent of his skull with a 3D-printed version, thanks to Oxford Performance Materials in Connecticut. Life-like ears (shown) can also be created thanks to a team at Cornell, using artificial body tissue combined with living cells. And an innovative new honeycomb-shaped polymer was developed at the University of Southampton in England, providing an ideal “scaffolding” that allows tissue to re-grow around it, as broken bones heal.

Move It

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There are now several armband tracking devices (the Up, Fuelband, and soon the Fitbit Flex), all available to track and visualize your movement and behaviors throughout the day, and all connect to your computer or smartphone. Now, the free app Moves takes away the band, using only your smartphone’s accelerometer and GPS to track and record where you go, and how fast. Upon turning on the Moves app, it automatically begins recording every step and movement made (with your phone, of course). Its interface then maps out where you went, following along whether you walked, ran, or paused. The app is a simple and easy introduction to quantifying movement, providing a gentle impetus to move more.

Stone Paper

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We were surprised to learn that paper use has gone up in recent years, even with most people relying frequently on digital communication. Although recycling is up, we still lose many precious trees to the paper industry, so its interesting to hear about a new company creating paper from stone. Made from calcium carbonate, a natural by-product of limestone, and water, the paper is naturally white, waterproof, and can be wiped clean – lasting longer than its tree-made counterpart. The Italian company currently makes a collection of notebooks, and we’re curious to see where it goes next.

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