Thursday, March 31, 2011

out of water

Friend of tin box Aziza Chaouni, of the innovative design research firm Bureau E.A.S.T., is co-organizing an important conference tomorrow and Saturday at the University of Toronto, entitled Out of Water.

cutting room floor

image courtesy of Evil Lairs
Some ideas, no matter how brilliant, need to be edited out. It's a necessary part of the design process.

Among the many genius strokes excised from the house is the secret passage Lydia and Harlan wanted between their bedrooms, hidden behind a rotating bookcase. Ah, well.

update: in case you were wondering about the Mel Brooks reference, click here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Our concrete subcontractor poured the foundation footings today. "Footings" is an ambiguous term, since it can mean both the full foundation piece supporting the steel column, or it can mean just the broad pad that supports the vertical piece of the foundation (the pedestal). In our case, we just poured the bottom half, which takes the weight of the column and spreads it out while transferring it to the ground.

The cage of steel rebar inside the concrete handles the tensile forces within the footing, while the concrete takes care of the compressive forces. From a sustainability standpoint, the steel is almost entirely recycled, and the concrete mix includes steel blast furnace slag as a replacement for half the cement that would ordinarily be used. The aggregate and sand that comprise most of the concrete mix are produced locally, to minimize the embodied energy that comes from transporting materials.

Monday, March 28, 2011


An interesting turn of events. We had planned to use fly ash - a waste product of coal-burning power plants - as a replacement for 25% of the cement in our concrete foundations and slab. Our concrete supplier, however, recommends using slag (ground granulated blast-furnace slag) to replace half the cement in the concrete mix. Slag is a waste product from steel production, which, magically, works a lot like Portland cement, so using it in the foundations will obviate the need for more virgin cement and find a useful home for an industrial waste product.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

solar prices are falling

we're pleased to present this guest post by friend of tin box, Bradley Stark:

Solar is now cheaper than nuclear with NO incentives.  

FPL is trying to build 2 new nuclear reactors at Turkey Point, for a cost of $16 Billion.  These costs are allowed to be and will be passed on to us, the electricity users.  So buy solar and do not contribute to the risk and costs of nuclear power.  Contact your city officials. county officials, state officials and then finally your Washington DC officials.  I suggest this order because this is the order in which you have a chance to influence policy.  Congress has done as much as they can with 'The Madhatter and White Rabbit' running wild in Congress.  Tallahassee has already passed legislation stating that 'nuclear is our future' and the new GOP dominated legislature is actually REPEALING solar incentives and RECs Program (Renewable Energy Credits) which is on the books but not implemented and moving to nuclear and Bio-Mass (read agriculture-polluting give away).  But your city and county officials CAN make a big difference, so start here first, but contact them all.

Why to install solar now:

Friday, March 25, 2011

young green professionals

The Miami Dade County Office of Sustainability maintains a web site with a lot of valuable resources. They also have a program – called Young Green Professionals – for undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in building analysis and benchmarking. [link to follow]

Thursday, March 24, 2011


One of the major factors in our decision to live in South Miami is the town's walkability. Walking is an essential part of building community - the streets we share with our neighbors are the civic realm in which we participate in everyday democracy. There is a fundamental difference between cities where you can walk, and cities where you cant. Cities with a rich pedestrian life have more cohesive bodies politic. After all, where do you have a Fourth of July parade in suburbia?

So how do you measure walkability?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Bicycling advocate Paul Steely White is going to lecture at the University of Miami Friday evening. This is well worth attending.

Of course, you could always join us for the second Tweed Ride through Coral Gables Saturday morning...

update: Green Mobility has some photos from the ride. Green Mobility is one of several organizations working to make South Florida easier and safer to bike around. Check them out. And if you have to drive, keep an eye out for bikes.

sustainability and diversity

image courtesy of the Miami Herald
Tin Box isn't the only attempt at sustainable living in South Florida. It's worth taking a moment to look at this house by Albert Harum-Alvarez.

Albert and his wife built a house that uses very different strategies for reducing energy and resource consumption. They use thick walls - including some interior walls - to moderate the temperature swings, and they are more committed to cross ventilation than we are. They also employ a composting toilet that provides organic fertilizer for their gardens. It's a very good house.

Here's Albert's response to our post on Fukushima:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

flash urbanism

Yes, Miami suffers from a lack of urbanism. We drive a lot. We get into our cars in our private driveways and garages, and we don't get out until we reach the parking lots and garages where we work and shop. We never walk, and we never congregate in the streets. We utterly lack a sense of urbanism, and thus, any sense of community.

Or do we? South Florida has a variety of walkable communities that create pockets of urbanism in the vast motopolis. One reason we chose to live in South Miami is its walkable downtown, just over a half mile from our house (we're within walking distance of four grocery stores, for example). In each of these pedestrian areas, you're likely to find whole communities of people drawn by the sense of community that comes with regular interaction with neighbors and strangers in public space.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fukushima and us

The continuing nuclear disaster unfolding in northern Japan makes our efforts to reduce our dependence on the electrical grid a little more urgent. In a general sense, it's important for us to limit our use of utility-generated electricity because of the numerous ways this energy source damages the environment and public health. But in a more direct way, our efforts will help prevent the construction of two new nuclear reactors in South Florida. More on that in a minute.

But first, the most important thing we're doing is not our photovoltaics. It's conservation. Every watt saved is a watt generated, or at least obviates the need to generate that watt.

Friday, March 11, 2011

building codes

Yesterday's earthquake off the shores of Honshu is one of the most powerful in Japan's history, and yet the death toll is remarkably small compared to that caused by smaller quakes in China and Haiti. The same is true of the recent earthquakes in New Zealand and Chile, which, though quite deadly, were not nearly as devastating as comparable events in the developing world. The key difference between these contexts - the difference between life and death - is each country's preparation for natural disasters. A big part of that preparation is effective building codes and inspections.

Building codes are registers of tragedy translated into empirical figures.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

community resources

One of the criteria that Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) emphasizes is a building's proximity to community resources, such as schools, public space, shopping, cultural institutions, recreational facilities, public transit, workplaces and houses of worship. The idea - and one we endorse - is that proximity to these resources fosters a sense of community by encouraging neighbors to walk or bike, rather than drive. This also has obvious environmental benefits.

One reason we chose this site was its adjacency to a lovely park. Note the excellent tree swing. Even if we don't spend much time in the park, however, we see it as a great value to us for its ability to engender community by providing a place for our neighbors to gather and play.

We'll blog more on LEED, later.


Our steel supplier/prefabricator has an interesting take on the house. One thing that is hard to convey succinctly is the importance of collaboration, and the many ways a project like this is the product of many, many hands.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Excavation went quickly. Foundations are relatively shallow in Florida, especially in the southern end of the state. Up north (say, in Georgia), foundations need to extend below the frost line - the deepest level freezing temperatures penetrate below the ground's surface - in order to avoid the damage caused when the frozen earth pushes the building upward. Down here, that's not a problem, so foundations are often only a few inches below the ground (compared to four feet in Boston).

Sunday, March 6, 2011

one pretty warehouse

Our friend, Jason Chandler, raising the bar on architectural photography with a great video of his recently completed 8601 Warehouse. Watch for the Mini Cooper cameo.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


The ground staked, contracts signed, and fair weather projected indefinitely, excavation begins tomorrow.

“Encouraged by these signs, let us therefore begin to dig.” Leon Battista Alberti, De Re Aedificatoria, Book X, Ch. 4