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Building & Design Blog

The Building & Design Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about building projects, tools and equipment, materials and hardware, and environment & energy. Here, you'll find everything from application ideas, to news and industry trends, to hot topics and cutting edge innovations.

Deep Blue is Giving Me the Blues

Posted November 14, 2015 7:00 PM by Cygnet

A whopping 8.8 million tons of plastic floats on the oceans every single year. There is now a floating plastic island in the Pacific the size of Europe.

Whales filled with piles of plastic bags and other garbage in their stomachs. And plastic in the food chain. It's depressing.

So it was inspiring to find that some companies are actually seeing excess ocean plastic as a largely untapped business opportunity.

From Blue to Green

RAW for the Oceans

Pharrell Williams believes we're "happy" (get it?) to wear garbage/rubbish. Pharrell is a co-founder of RAW for the Oceans - a collaborative project retrieving plastic from our oceans and transforming it into denim.

I am very impressed and have even decided to buy my son a RAW for the Oceans T-shirt for his birthday!


Method sells environment-friendly cleaning products. They use harvested plastic for all their packaging.

Plastics and the Construction Industry

The construction industry is the second largest user of plastic after packaging. I found an example of a house made of plastic in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

However, I was a bit surprised. It was full of mahogany bookshelves! Hardly a sustainable wood…

Images courtesy of Ocean Conservancy,, De Zeen Magazine

I work at IHS BRE Press, exclusive publisher to BRE.View our publications

22 comments; last comment on 11/16/2015
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Poached or Scrambled – How Do You Like Your Egg (Building)?

Posted November 07, 2015 7:00 PM by Cygnet

I have now written nine blogs since I started in July. It has been a lot of fun and I really appreciate it when I see that you guys have read them!

Once I'm inspired, the blog comes to life and takes on a life of its own. This is called creation. And creation is a large part of how the concept of a building begins.

Then it got me thinking about why on earth we have to endure carbuncles on the landscape. Unusual buildings have sprung up all over the place and I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder.


My carbuncles (well not mine exactly) are the Cybertecture Egg in Mumbai, India. A 13-storey office building and the corporate headquarters of Longaberger Basket Company in Ohio. Known locally perhaps as the Basket (case). Sorry but I think they look terrible, in particular the Basket…

The Creative Process

According to Bob Borson, who writes about architecture, there are three steps in conceptualising a building: distraction, inspiration and creation. Distractions quoted include throwing pencils into the ceiling boards (a particular favourite of mine) and playing with Cubebots.

I have never heard of a Cubebot, and was no good at the Rubic's cube, so probably not for me but I can see the attraction.

Architects' Bingo

I suppose if the architect needs more distraction s/he could master some designer-y words to impress people with.

My favourites is the first one (for obvious reasons):

Tartan grid: a design of straight lines of varying widths and distances, crossing at right angles

Will our descendants look on the carbuncles as follys? We will never know.

By the way, I like scrambled eggs.

I work at IHS BRE Press, exclusive publisher to BRE. View our publications

6 comments; last comment on 11/10/2015
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Big School Based on Little Building Blocks

Posted October 27, 2015 12:00 AM by IHS Engineering360 eNewsletter

A special school for little kids is about to break ground in Singapore. The Early Years International School is big - more than 50,000 sq ft. However, its unique design is said to give it the feeling not only of being personalized, but intimate. Developed for more than 2,000 students and 400 educational professionals, the school's construction relies on many individual but connected blocks that will contain four classrooms each, all of which will be no larger than a small nursery school you might find in a country town or village.

Editor's Note: This news brief was brought to you by the Building & Design eNewsletter. Subscribe today to have content like this delivered to your inbox.

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A Cloak of Algae

Posted October 26, 2015 8:00 PM by Cygnet

We all talk about green buildings, but what if they were actually green? And what if you could tuck into the products of that very building? Or use it as fuel?

A Living Skin

ecoLogicStudio, a London architectural and design firm created a 430-square-foot gazebo called the Urban Algae Folly at Expo 2015. The Folly produces oxygen and absorbs considerable amounts of carbon dioxide algae-filled plastic serving as a living "skin". If you want to see the Folly, you'll need to get to Milan by this Saturday, 31 October!

The Folly is made of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, a transparent plastic building material. Its hollow interior is filled with water and spirulina, a type of algae often used as a dietary supplement. The growth of the algae depends on sunlight and temperature.

Image copyright ecoLogicStudio

Algae Helps Us Breathe

Did you know that algae and other marine plants make 70% of the world's oxygen?The folly produces about 4.4 pounds of oxygen per day and can also suck about 8.8 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air per day. Compared with a tree which absorbs only about .132 pounds.

Algae has also been used in a number of other recent urban innovations. French biochemist Pierre Calleja created a prototype for a "smog-eating" street lamp, which uses bioluminescent microalgae to light streets while absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen.

Wonder Cures

Spirulina, a dietary substance extracted from algae was once the momentary wonder food. Spirulina can be taken in tablet form but I found out that you too could be the owner of the X-System - a tank system which produces algae so you can make some scrumptious, yumptious algae dishes.

Now I have not tried either the tablets or fresh Spirulina but I have to say I'm not really tempted… As you will see from the photo it does not look that appealing. Which brings me on to a time when I was tempted to buy a potion from one of the ubiquitous Chinese Herbal medicine shops. I don't remember what was in the potion, and it was not cheap, but I diligently boiled them up… Let's say my Scottish taste buds went "yeugh" and that was the end of that particular experience. I still have the symptoms.

Image copyright X-System

I work at IHS BRE Press, exclusive publisher to BRE. View our publications

2 comments; last comment on 11/16/2015
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Ponte City: Prison or Funky Pad

Posted October 18, 2015 7:00 PM by Cygnet

In 1995 I moved to Johannesburg. Hailing from the Frozen North it was quite an eye opener, from a climate and life experience point of view.

Not for the Faint Hearted

I certainly don't regret living there, but it was a frightening place to be. Burglar bars on doors and windows, armed response at the push of a (panic) button and not stopping for red traffic lights at night.

I initially lived in an apartment close to Hillbrow, a notoriously drug-filled hellish place. In past years it was a common sight to witness fridges and washing machines thrown out of windows from a great height... I did say it was not for the faint hearted.

As in many cities the privileged and not so privileged live cheek by jowl - many years later Nelson Mandela died at his Johannesburg home a few streets away from Hillbrow.

Coca Cola Companion

Near my apartment was Ponte City - the tallest residential building in Africa at 185 metres high. Every night my constant companion was the flashing of Coca Cola lights beaming down from the top of Ponte.

Ponte was built in the 1970s, built as a luxury apartments for white people only.

Over the decades, as white people decamped to the suburbs, Ponte became overrun by drug dealers and gangs. It was dubbed "suicide central" because it was a good place to end life by hurling off the top of Ponte.

Prison or Palace?

By the late 1990s there was talk of turning Ponte into a prison. But in 2001, it began a journey to redemption. The developers promised purpose-built bachelor pads (complete with raised and revolving beds).

However, the dreams were quickly dashed. The initial fantasies never came to fruition eg an indoor ski slope. It began a descent into infamy and decay. The building's centre space became a disgusting dumping ground.

Nasty Trash

On a recent trip to the Frozen North ie Edinburgh, I visited an exhibition about Ponte curated by Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse.

I was particularly fascinated by the photographs the debris found at the bottom of the cylinder - the tower's trash dump. Dead cats, nappies, photographs and documents (and plenty of nasty "things" I won't go into).

A New Start

Ponte has now been renovated and black professionals have moved in. A few white people have too. North-facing windows offer a stupendous view, including the FNB stadium that hosted the 2010FIFA World Cup.

It is still one of the most dangerous parts of town. But I am pleased something good seems to be happening there... but I won't be returning to live there - I don't fancy living in a prison again or being bathed in flashing lights every night.

I work at IHS BRE Press, exclusive publisher to BRE. View our publications

3 comments; last comment on 10/21/2015
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Luxury Tower Takes Parking to New Heights

Posted October 14, 2015 4:19 PM by IHS Engineering360 eNewsletter

If you've ever sweated out finding a parking space, you'll want to consider moving into Florida's Porsche Design Tower where the parking is sky high. The new, $560 million, 59-story high-rise is said to be the first ever to feature sophisticated lift tech that delivers drivers at a rate of 800 vertical ft per min from street level all the way up to their living rooms. Topping off at 650 ft, the luxury condo, where apartments cost between $7 million and $32 million, will be the tallest oceanfront property in the U.S., and the only one to feature glass-walled garages that display tenants' treasured rides as if they are works of art. Catch a slide show and a feature story here.

Editor's Note: This news brief was brought to you by the Building & Design eNewsletter. Subscribe today to have content like this delivered to your inbox.

4 comments; last comment on 10/16/2015
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