Saturday, January 30, 2016

garden, el niño edition

The massive El Niño event we're going through has produced enormous amounts of rain in Miami this winter. Normally this is our dry season, with lower humidity levels and very little  precipitation. The Winter 2015-16 season, however, has been very wet. Our cistern is full, which means all our drinking water needs are met, and our gardens are bursting with crops. The raised beds in front of our house are filled with greens...

Friday, April 17, 2015

garden, feral edition

So, while I was in Ethiopia and Tanzania conducting research toward the next book (or two), the garden kind of went feral. It's been very hot and dry in Miami, which has stressed a lot of the plants. The greens have bolted and the sweet potatoes have wilted, but a few plants really thrived. This pile of tomatoes came from a volunteer plant (possibly a Roma hybrid) that plunked itself in just the right location.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

introducing mud hut

We’re pleased to announce that, today, we’ve begun transitioning from tin box to mud hut. Our new venture is rooted in a concern for timeless methods of construction, which utilize materials and building technologies that are inherently sustainable and carbon neutral. We plan to build a new home utilizing locally-sourced bamboo for the framework, with a fiber-reinforced mud infill (hence the new moniker, mud hut). We will adapt the traditional Miccosukee palm thatch roof to fit the house, though we’ll need to reinforce it a bit to support our photovoltaic panels.

Because Miami is poor in clay resources, the mud infill will be made largely from cow manure, mixed with straw for reinforcement. The dung needs to be mixed while wet, which can be a smelly job; luckily, we have two teenagers who have yet to start earning their keep. We expect resistance from the municipal building authorities, of course, who are famous for their irrationally anti-telluric biases.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

dealing with greens

Our weekly shares from the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group we belong/subscribe to are huge. It takes about a week of cooking to get through this pile of fruits, vegetables and greens. One advantage to joining a CSA is being confronted with unfamiliar plants, and learning new recipes. And sometimes, we just have to improvise...

Monday, December 8, 2014

garden, avocado-as-substitute-for-egg-salad edition

Eureka. This week we invented a cholesterol-free (and vegan) substitute for egg salad. We simply mashed up half of one of our enormous avocados, added a chopped stalk of celery and some chopped pickles, seasoned it with vinegar, turmeric, paprika, pepper and salt, and served it on slices of country white bread from Zak the Baker.

In our next version, I think we'll mix in small slices of very dry tofu, to add protein and calcium, and to take the place of the egg whites.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

garden, sweet potato edition

Clearing out the summer cover crops to make way for the fall planting season yielded us a few sweet potatoes and a lot of basil. These ended up in a simple curry, adapted from a recipe on Epicurious. This is simply a sauté of red peppers, onion and garlic, to which the potatoes are added (along with coconut milk and water), as well as snow peas. Their recipe calls for Thai green curry paste, for which I substituted red, and cilantro, which I replaced with Thai basil from the garden. I also added some dried hot pepper from the garden, since online recipes are never, ever hot enough. It's a relatively quick, filling, comfort-food-like meal, and goes great with Basmati or Jasmine rice.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

garden, cow pea edition

Admit it: ever since you first saw Casablanca you've wondered, "just what does a hill of beans look like?"

More importantly, why would anyone have a hill of beans, and what would such a person do with a hill of beans? In our case, it starts with climate and soil, and ends with lunch...

Monday, July 21, 2014

community supported agriculture

We're fortunate to have a number of excellent sources for locally-grown produce here in South Florida, including weekly farmers' markets and numerous growers who participate in community supported agriculture (CSA) programs. CSAs are a terrific way to support local growers; community members purchase shares which entitle them to weekly package of that week's harvest. One of our favorite local farms, the Little River Cooperative, has launched a new CSA. They offer pick-ups at two locations: the Upper East Side Farmers Market (Saturdays, 10am-2pm, at Legion Park, Biscayne Blvd. and 66th Street) and the Grove Green Market (Thursdays, 3-8pm, Coconut Grove Playhouse parking lot, 3500 Main Highway). Check them out!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

garden, future fruit edition

A number of plants in the back yards are flowering or starting to fruit. We hope to enjoy some summer crops. At left is the lone flower on our passion fruit vine, which has the triple benefits of offering a beautiful butterfly habitat plant (the streak on the left is a zebra longwing butterfly), producing stunning flowers, and rewarding us with delicious fruit. This vine does not produce much fruit, however, despite growing thickly (and quickly) on a sunny fence. We should look into figuring out how to get more flowers and fruit out of it.

What else is growing?

Friday, March 7, 2014

day job: edited volume edition

Four years ago, my friend Elie Haddad hatched the idea of editing a survey of architecture built around the globe during the last half century. Elie,  who I first met at the (then) Boston Architectural Center and is now Dean of the School of Architecture and Design at Lebanese American University, approached me with the idea of compiling what we hoped would become a standard text for scholars, teachers and students interested in the great diversity of architectural production in the contemporary world. We enlisted twenty collaborators, found a publisher (thank you, Ashgate!) and slowly assembled a book that carefully examines the broad range of approaches to the built environment that characterize this age of pluralism and globalization. The first copy of A Critical History of Contemporary Architecture just arrived, and I can't wait to start sharing it with colleagues and students. You can find a copy at Ashgate's website, or ask your local bookstore to order a copy.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


Been meaning to upload these photographs of tin box taken by Dana Hoff, a gifted South Florida-based photographer who frequently works for the American Institute of Architects. Several of these images were published in the Architect Magazine article, "Home Inspection," last September. They are far, far better than our instamatic shots, I have been told.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

garden, banana edition

Harvested our first bunch of Ice Cream bananas today. It'll be some time before they ripen and we get to find out just what, exactly, an Ice Cream banana tastes like. Typically, bananas will ripen once the bunch is cut off and hung indoors. We harvested our first bunch of bananas (the more commonly eaten Cavendish variety) back in the fall, and they took several weeks to start ripening. Interestingly, the Cavendish bananas we grew stayed firm long after their peels turned brown, unlike the ones we typically buy in stores.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

the garden at mid-winter

The winter solstice is a good time to take stock of the garden at tin box. It's been a weird winter with unusually high amounts of rain (we're still using rain water from the cistern for all our indoor use, about a month later than we could last year) and very hot temperatures (over 80 degrees most days). This has made it difficult to grow cool season vegetables. Nonetheless, we're starting to harvest green beans (left) and tomatoes from volunteers, those self-seeded plants that grow from last year's crops.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

spreading the word, USGBC edition

Next Saturday, November 16, the Miami-Dade branch of the US Green Building Council (USGBC) is organizing a tour of sustainable houses in South Miami and Coral Gables. They've graciously invited us to participate, and the USGBC bus should get to tin box around 1:30.

Besides the opportunity to compare strikingly different techniques for designing ecologically sustainable buildings, the tour will also offer insights into how public policy can make communities more livable, enjoyable and sustainable. Among the people speaking on the tour are Jennifer Korth, the Grants & Sustainable Initiatives Administrator for the City of South Miami, and Jenny May, the Chair of the Coral Gables Green Task Force.

You can register through this link.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Can one garden gnome propitiate the gods of football and gardening? Can one Gartenzwerg assure our first successful crop of collard greens and the Philadelphia Eagles' first Super Bowl victory? Who but a fool would challenge the fecund power of Priapus, Greek god of fertility and patron of gardens, and his minuscule descendants?

Much thanks to Adam, favorite brother of tin box, for the awesome birthday present!

Monday, October 7, 2013


We're very fortunate to be featured in Residential Architect magazine, in a terrific article by Ben Ikenson on net zero construction. The article is illustrated with one of the amazing photos of our house by Dana Hoff, commissioned by the editors. Great thanks to Bill Richards, the Director of External Publishing for the American Institute of Architects, for commissioning the article.

Monday, September 23, 2013

thoughts on stairs

How many great stairs do you encounter in your everyday life? How often do you look forward to climbing and descending a staircase? Stairs offer clear advantages from the viewpoint of sustainability – they consume less electricity than elevators and escalators, and they add some nice exercise to our overly sedentary lives. But too often stairs are hidden away in fire-rated shafts, with that combination of concrete block walls and fluorescent lighting that just screams “maximum security prison.” Build better stairs! Make them a joy to climb, to descend, to pause and to share.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Art Fallout 2013

On Saturday, October 5, we’re participating in Art Fallout 2013, an annual cultural event in Fort Lauderdale. We’ll present our ongoing thinking about the sustainable management of water resources in a talk, “Precipitating a Solution,” at Glavovic Studio. (If you’re not familiar with Margi Glavovic Nothard’s work, do yourself a favor and check out the remarkable housing, urban landscapes and cultural facilities she’s built.) We’ll be on a panel with John Sandell, a multifaceted architect who teaches at Florida Atlantic University. We’re going to talk about our experiences with tin box, and extrapolate outward to consider how cities and regions can approach water and waste more sustainably.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

cleaning up, continued

Night views of the kitchen and courtyard, staged with gorgeous furniture from PIE Studio in advance of professional publicity photos.

Friday, July 12, 2013

furniture, couch edition

Another piece of the house fell into place today when our new sofa arrived. The sofa is more than a place to park your tuchus. It is a key piece of the three-dimensional composition of the living and dining room. We chose this sofa based on its scale and proportions. It defines the sitting area without forming too heavy a barrier (it helps to have the mass of the couch lifted off the floor on light metal legs, which pick up on some of the other silver finishes in the room).

Thursday, July 11, 2013

garden, July harvest edition

Summer is the slow season in South Florida gardens. The heat and humidity send most food crops into dormancy, leaving us with just herbs and tree fruit. But there are still some vegetables out there, like the eggplants and jalapeño peppers (left). Today's harvest included them and some sweet potato greens, sweet potatoes (harvested a couple of weeks ago), lemongrass and Thai basil.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

maintenance, water filter edition

In addition to the normal maintenance schedule for most houses - changing the batteries in the smoke detectors, cleaning out the gutters - tin box has a few other systems that need regular service. One of them is the group of filters we use to make rainwater potable. The three filters are mounted on a skid in the garage, close to the point where the supply line from the rainwater cistern enters the house. The pump (lower right) draws water from the cistern whenever we turn on a tap or appliance; the water passes through a string filter (blue tube, far right), an ultraviolet lamp (silver cylinder, center) and a charcoal filter (left). These three items need to be replaced annually.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

garden, bush bean edition

Our first batch of bush beans from the garden.

act now, climate change edition

A much less sanguine, but even more important article, is Rolling Stone contributing editor Jeff Goodell's piece on the devastation facing Miami as a result of climate change. This is an important article, and the real shame of the matter is that it took a national magazine - not a local news organization - to make public what scientists and activists have been arguing for years. No amount of individual action is enough to stave off an existential threat to our lives and our region. We need collective action at the state and federal levels, and we need it now.

Our economy and our political institutions are driven by people who cannot see beyond the next quarterly report or the next election, and their disingenuous (in)actions on environmental issues will leave our city in ruins. Those who deny climate change and its effects will be seen by history with the same harsh judgment as those who did nothing in the face of other epochal threats to human life. But I will never feel any joy in being right, only despair that I did not do enough.

act now

James Jiler, the brilliant gardener and social activist who turned our back yard into a food forest and butterfly nursery, recently published an excellent essay on the value of gardening programs in prisons. Using examples taken from his own work in New York and Florida, as well as research and programs in the US and abroad, James makes a compelling case for reforming prisons to better support the rehabilitation of prisoners. We have a chance to help our neighbors and to relieve ourselves of the crushing financial burden of prison costs. Talk to James about how you can get involved.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Harlan, the elder child of tin box, had been sleeping on a mattress on the floor for nine months, and agitating for a real bed most of that time. No more. Last week, we had a chance to build a bed for him, and the results were not terrible. Harlan and I drew up a plan, found some sustainably harvested lumber and formaldehyde-free plywood, and knocked together a bed with a headboard and shelf, and which sits on a continuous book shelf. The whole assembly is lifted off the floor to leave a half-inch reveal at the base.

Friday, June 14, 2013

garden, pole bean edition

We harvested our first batch of pole beans yesterday. These insanely long (and surprisingly sweet when sautéed) guys grew from beans we planted in April. Beans like to be sown directly into the ground, and pole beans need an armature to climb on. These vines produce elegant violet flowers which then turn into two quickly-growing beans.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

garden, sweet potato edition

We just harvested our second batch of sweet potatoes. This huge pile came from a single potato we planted back in the fall. The vines spread quickly in the garden (the nutritious leaves make for a tasty sauté) and as they set down roots, some of them turned into tubers. And those tubers include some giants: the conch-shaped one in the photo is about the size of a conch shell (over nine inches long). Sweet potatoes are about as easy a crop as you'll ever encounter: they required no maintenance or irrigation, and spread throughout the shallow and loose soil. However, they are not without their problems...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

the garden at midsummer

Modern Farmer magazine just posted a letter to the editor under the provocative headline, "Can I Legally Grow Food in My Front Yard?"The response: it depends on zoning, deeds and neighborhood associations. In South Miami, we're fortunate that the city allows us to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs instead of lawns. As we head into mid-summer, it's a good moment to take stock of what's been growing out in the front yard...