Tuesday, May 24, 2011

our Italian cousin

It seems tin box has a cousin in Florence. This apartment and retail complex in Florence has some of the same material finishes as our house’s exterior: a metallic silver paint and a galvalume coating. We’ll have the silver paint on all the exterior wall surfaces, and the more economical galvalume will be on the roof. It was great to see how the silver paint reacts to bright sunlight. It was particularly nice to see that the reflection isn’t blinding, but instead rather soft.

update: I’ve now stumbled on four electric car charging stations in Florence, and one of my local contacts maintains that the popularity of electric cars owes in part to the fact that they are permitted in the limited traffic zone in the city center. And now I read, via fellow BAC alumn David Silverman, that Boston is getting charging stations, too. And they're cheap...

Monday, May 23, 2011

greener Florence

One more note about sustainability in Florence. They have a separate collection bin for organic waste, which is diverted to a municipal compost facility. This both reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and reduces the amount of compost purchased by the city for its parks. Alongside the organic material bins are ones for cardboard and paper, plastic, glass and metal, and undifferentiated trash. It's a laudable waste management system, but it raises an important question about urbanism.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

green in Florence

Over the past couple of days, I've walked past three electric vehicle charging stations in Florence. This one is next to the Piazza della Signoria, and it always seems to have cars, scooters and trucks lined up at the two charging stands. In addition to all the privately owned electric vehicles in Florence, the city's historic center is also serviced by electric transit buses. And the green initiatives only start there...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

more thoughts from the frecciarossa

Solar energy is big in Emilia Romagna, the rich (both culturally and agriculturally) region that includes Parma, Modena, Bologna, Ravenna and Rimini. The combination of financial incentives, social concerns and abundant sunshine have spurred the widespread adoption of solar panels on both a micro and macro scale. Small-scale rooftop installations have appeared on individual farmhouses and barns, and large-scale solar farms are increasingly common. In a landscape of field crops, orchards and vineyards, photovoltaic panels are sprouting in between their photosynthetic neighbors.

A site visit with plumbers

Last week our green plumber, Ross Terrano attended an international meeting of Green Plumbers in Palm Beach. On Saturday, he brought Ronald Lunt of Green Plumbers Australia and Jon Cruz from Green Plumbers USA, Sacramento California, two of the attendees down to our site so they could see his work and the other technologies and strategies we are using here. We had a very interesting meeting, sharing our perspectives, sources and experience. Australia's history with drought, including the last one beginning in 2003, the worst on record has greatly influenced the mindset on water usage there. People have become very thrifty. The design of our Caroma toilets responded to the resulting water restrictions. But Australians go beyond that, Ronald told us that often people will take the wash water directly out of the washer to water trees on their property. Even with the recent flooding and easing of the drought conditions, citizens want to keep the water restrictions in place and continue their thrifty habits since drought is part of the environmental cycle there. This led us to a more general discussion on drought, floods and other natural disasters and the need to produce a large quantity of housing quickly, efficiently and economically. Certainly, we added to that the opportunity and responsibility to also make them sustainable and environmentally friendly. Ecosteel would be an appropriate building system since it can be quickly designed and delivered prefabricated to the site. Jon and Ronald suggested an insulation product from Hemp Technologies that would also be of great use. Its a carbon dioxide collector, a natural desiccant as it expands and contracts according to the humidity, mold resistant and is an ultra efficient and economical material to grow and process.

Catching Up on Construction: anchor bolts

The anchor bolt templates have been made to place the anchor bolts on site. They will join the steel columns with the foundation. Our steel erectors from Litecrete came out last Thursday to verify the anchor bolt locations. A few of them will need to be reset slightly to be ready for the steel. We are double checking with the foundation engineers to be sure that the eccentricities placed on the column bases with the reset anchor bolts will be within a reasonable tolerance range.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Catching Up on Construction: vapor barrier

Our vapor barrier went down easily. It laps up the sides of the slab to help protect us from termites and moisture. While plastic may be a material we would like to have avoided using, in this condition, its negative characteristics will be quite helpful. Hopefully, others will have an alternative to use down the road.

The rebar and wire mesh create a marvelous texture that will be hidden in the slab but we get to record it here in photos.

day job, continued

Later today I will be in Cesena to talk about Italian colonial urbanism at the University of Bologna, where Maristella Casciato teaches a doctoral seminar. I gave a rough draft version of the talk at the American Academy last night. One of the things I really appreciate about Italian modernism - especially in East Africa - is its sensitivity to topography, climate and historical context. This doesn't excuse the architecture of its nefarious side. This was an architecture that eagerly represented a fascist, imperial state with racial segregation and class hierarchies. But it is an architecture that is much loved by the Eritreans and Ethiopians for whom it represents home, and I am fascinated by the way it has formed an armature for East African urbanism over the past 70 years.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

smells like... victory

Victory is ours!

Back in April, we got to attend a gala for Dream in Green, a Miami-area sustainability initiative, thanks in part to the generosity of Greg Hamra. The event featured a silent auction which included, among the usual vacation packages and whatnot, an awesome dual-flush toilet by Caroma. We just found out that team tin box prevailed. Actually, we're not sure anyone else bid on this beauty. No accounting for taste.

Caroma is an Australian company that has spent years developing plumbing fixtures that use water sparingly. Their local distributor, Alterna, is also a good source for other sustainable construction materials, like bamboo plywood and recycled paper countertops.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

preservation and adaptation

We don't get to talk much about preservation at tin box. Miami has a surprising number of historical preservation issues, ranging from the old wooden houses built by Flagler's railroad workers to modern landmarks like Marine Stadium. Rome has a whole different problem. Like a lot of cities, it has gorgeous buildings that defy easy integration of modern systems, or, more succinctly, you just can't jam a lot of ductwork into them.

And you should see what they do to get TV reception in Testaccio:

Friday, May 13, 2011

infrastructure and abundance

Rome has the world’s most picturesque plumbing. The constant flow of water from the city’s numerous fountains celebrates the surplus reaching the city from distant points through the region’s extraordinary system of aqueducts. Like religious offerings, these prolific fountains celebrate abundance by sacrificing a portion of the surplus publicly. These excessive displays are literally displays of excess.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Milan by bike

In honor of Wouter Weylandt, a few thoughts on cycling.

Milan gets better every time I come here. One of the happy new discoveries is a network of bicycle lanes in the city, like these on via Vittor Pisani. The benefits are clear: less fuel consumed and carbon produced, less air pollution, healthier citizens and a more accessible city. Good bike lanes - note how these are separated from traffic by a median and have their own crossings, away from pedestrians - are just a part of the solution.

Monday, May 9, 2011


FIAT Littorina arriving in Eritrea, 1930s.
Frecciarossa. The name means Red Arrow, and it is one of three high-speed trains operating in Italy. The monitor over the door says that we are going 301Km/h somewhere in the plains of Romagna. It will take just under three hours to travel from Rome to Milan, half the length of the peninsula.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

fiat lux

Check out the large array of solar hot water panels at the Vatican. This is one of at least two solar installations at the Vatican. The other is a gorgeous photovoltaic array atop the audience hall designed by Pier Luigi Nervi.

Back in the US, the New York Times summarized an industry report on solar-generated electricity that includes a juicy list of the top ten p/v states in the union.