Friday, June 17, 2011


Had a site visit today with some of our students from FIU. That's them in the shade, under the avocado tree in the rear yard. The big development at the site is that the contractor graded the lot by spreading out the piles of excavated soil (you might remember the large piles left around the perimeter of the site when they excavated the foundation). The soil is now at the approximate level it will be when the house is complete, which gives us a slightly better sense of how the house will sit on the site when it is complete. For example, we can see the scale and proportions of the courtyard and the patio a little better now (the patio is to the right in this image, under the sapote tree and facing the park across the street.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

concrete details

As we've noted before, our concrete foundation and slab have some interesting sustainability aspects. Half the cement portion of the concrete mix has been replaced by blast furnace slag, which means an industrial waste product has been substituted for virgin material (in our case, that means more than seven cubic yards of recycled material). The slag will make the concrete denser and harder once it has fully cured.

The steel anchor bolts will hold the steel columns in place. The bolts are embedded deeply enough (20" - 27") to secure the house, even during a category 5 hurricane. Some of the bolts moved a bit during the concrete pour, so they'll need to be "adjusted" with a sledge hammer before the columns can be erected.

and the number one reason we need to drive less is…

As pressing a matter as climate change is, it simply does not pose the immediate danger to our lives that traffic accidents do. This afternoon's three-car crash 60 yards from our house is pretty normal in Miami. We see one accident every half hour we spend on the road, on average. Crashes like this are particularly alarming, since this is where we cross the road with the kids when walking to downtown South Miami. Note the school zone signs.

We can walk and bike all we want, but we need collective action to make our roads safer.


The temporary construction fence got tagged at some point in the last couple of days. It’s not Banksy, unfortunately. But it is an interesting commentary on fences.

productive landscapes, avocado edition

The season’s first avocado, rescued from a pile of excavated soil and rock. Friend of tin box and expert on the unconscionable labor practices of the deep South, Alex Lichtenstein, points us to an excellent commentary on local industrial-scale agriculture by Mark Bittman, who also has a good blog post on the environmental consequences of meat production that’s worth reading. Bittman links to a bunch of recent articles on the environmental and health problems generated by meat production and consumption, including a nice piece by the brilliant Ezra Klein.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Met with our cabinet maker, Kaelsie Saravia of Surface Workshop, this morning, and picked up two big samples of bamboo plywood. This is probably the material we'll use for the kitchen cabinetry, and it'll bring some warm color and rich texture to an otherwise cool, smooth palette of steel, glass, concrete and gypsum board.

The "plywood" is made by Smith & Fong under the Plyboo name, and has three great attributes from a sustainability standpoint: it is made from fast growing bamboo, not trees, it is made without formaldehyde, and it is very durable. Aesthetically, it is gorgeous, and its grain makes it easy to disguise the slight inconsistencies from board to board, which will allow us to build a run of cabinetry over twenty feet long that looks like it was made from a single batch of (far more expensive) matched plywood.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

productive landscapes, lime edition

Stopped by the job site today to check on the slab, and took a quick look at the trees. While we've taken pains to protect the avocado and sapote trees on site, we really didn't invest much energy in the sad little Charlie Brown-esque citrus tree in the back yard. The excavating crew buried its trunk in soil and coral rock. Which, apparently, was just the fertilizer it needed, because now this sad little tree is producing more fruit in one season than in the last three years combined. Woo hoo! Now all we need is a tamarind tree and we'll be able to produce our own Major Grey Chutney. Pictured after the break, our first glass of home-grown limeade.

that new house smell

Formaldehyde causes cancer. Architects and environmental activists have known this for a long time, which is why the indoor air quality portion of LEED requires us to use materials that do not include added formaldehyde. Yesterday, the federal government’s National Toxicology Program finally confirmed this fact in their latest Report on Carcinogens.

Friday, June 10, 2011

productive landscapes

The intoxicating, thick scent of rotting mangos in the back yard is triggering more thoughts about food in the domestic landscape. One question we’ve been grappling with at tin box is the extent to which we’ll use fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices in our mix of plant species.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

mango season

We're big enthusiasts of the growing urban agriculture movement, especially when it comes in the readymade and maintenance-free form of already planted trees all around the house.

Mango season is here, and it's an awesome time to appreciate the broad range of mango varieties. The Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden alone has almost 400 varieties, and we're told there are many more spread throughout the tropics. We have three different varieties around the house we're renting, and their fruit range from fibrous and tart to creamy and sweet. Plus, they ripen at different times, so we'll have fresh mangos for over a month.

The new house has mature avocado and sapote trees, and access to the neighbor's mangos and the park's coconuts. We'll probably plant papayas, too.


The concrete subcontractor poured the slab Monday. We'll blog more about this in the coming days, but for now it's a big, tangible step forward.

Monday, June 6, 2011

rituals and sacrifices

This afternoon I’ll stop by the Trevi Fountain and toss three coins over my shoulder. Hopefully I’ll hit water, not other tourists, since that would be really bad luck. I usually treat superstitions with derisive laughter, before nervously and dutifully observing them, and the Trevi Fountain coin toss is no exception. I always do it, and I always end up back here. Clearly it works.

In fact, I’m a little freaked out about neglecting to grind my heal into the private parts of the mosaic bull on the floor of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. One must propitiate the gods of travel with appropriate rituals and sacrifices.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

day job, day 35

Tomorrow is my last day of archival research in Rome. Tuesday I’ll be coming home to a happy – and extraordinarily patient – family, and, hopefully to an awesome new concrete slab.

Despite the rubric under which I’ve been posting notes about my academic work, it’s worth noting how integral these practices are. Research, analysis, interpretation, teaching and design are facets of a single disciplinary stance toward addressing the world’s needs.

Vittorio Gregotti, the brilliant architect whose work includes design (at a number of scales), historical research, theoretical speculation, publishing and teaching, argues that, “for an architect to edit a magazine, like teaching, or participating in public debates, is a way of cultivating theoretical reflection, not as a separate activity, but as an indispensable part of design craft. Indeed, theory and history have been and still are, two important constituents of design, at least for my generation.”

I agree.  

[Vittorio Gregotti, “The Necessity of Theory,” Casabella 494, 1983, quoted in Kate Nesbitt, Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture, p.23.]

Saturday, June 4, 2011

one thing the Italians don’t do right

I don’t understand the Italian obsession with receipts. You get a receipt for everything here. Every time you buy a coffee, boom, out comes the receipt. Banana? Receipt. Focaccia? Receipt. All those little slips of paper add up. It seems like an easy opportunity to shrink the national ecological footprint.

the highways and cars/were sacrificed for agriculture

Back on the train, this time on the frecciabianca from Genoa back to Rome, and a chance to jot down some thoughts from my brief trip to Genoa. First thought: get back to Genoa. Genoa is an amazing city, and well worth the time of any thoughtful traveler. The city’s extraordinary beauty springs, in part, from its extraordinary topography, and the relationships between its urbanism and  architecture offer excellent examples of urban design from the Renaissance, the late nineteenth century, the Novecento and Rationalist movements of the early twentieth century, and the Brutalism of the late twentieth century. Genoa is a key node in the history of globalization based on maritime trade and transcultural exchange.

And the food is great.