Earth Shelters

I’m reading a book right now called The Worst Hard Time which is about the infamous Dust Bowl that hit the Great Plains during the Depression. Fascinating stuff. The dust storms wreaked so much havoc on the land and people at that time that the Great Plains has never recovered.

Just as fascinating is the glimpse the author gives into the lives of these early settlers. They came to the area with next to nothing and were enticed by free land from the government and a false hope that the dry land could be farmed. But before they could begin to plow the land, they needed to create shelters. Since there were no trees to build log cabins, these farmers made their new homes out of prairie sod. These were known as dugouts and were typically carved out of the side of a hill. The roof, floor and three walls were made out of the earth and only the front facade was built with purchased materials. Obviously a shelter like this saved these poor farmers the major cost of building a more conventional home.

These farmers built these crude homes purely out of necessity. Aside from cost, there wasn’t too much desirable about a dugout back then. They were cramped, dark and dirty. But the principles of a house integrated with the earth have evolved into a method of sustainable architecture known today as “earth sheltering.”

The benefits of homes integrated with the land are great. These homes regulate temperature naturally by staying cool in the summer and maintaining heat in the winter.

Today we have more choices, but it may benefit us to think about how these settlers lived and integrated the earth to create their passive solar and energy efficient homes. Check out these modern interpretations of earth shelters here. As you can see these homes are light-filled, open and optimistic spaces - very different from the early forms of this type of housing.


Antanas Mockus

Yesterday I heard Fred Dust of IDEO speak about how museums can be more innovative and interactive.  He asked everyone not to look at other museums as sources of inspiration for new ideas, but to look outside the field.  I couldn’t agree with him more.  One story that really struck was about the creative solutions the former Mayor of Bogota developed to combat one of the big problems facing the city—reckless driving.   After realizing that fining people for committing traffic offenses was ineffective, Mayor Antanas Mockus hired mimes to enact these offenses, essentially mocking the ruler-breaker, while holding signs that say “Incorrecto!”  Due to his creative measures, traffic fatalities dropped more than 50%, proving that the fear of humiliation is far more powerful than the threat of a fine.  Mockus is a brilliant thinker who I plan to channel in times when only a truly out-of-the-box solution will do.


Mary Ann Strandell

Mary Ann Strandell is fast becoming one of my favorite artists.  Enjoy the gorgeous images of her work above and my review of her Oklahoma City exhibition in the Austin-based journal called …Might Be Good.


Felt Loft

This post is for my better half of Twin Pique who has a love of all things felt. I came across this story in the Times today about Dana Barnes, a textile designer who works almost exclusively with the material. Some may even go so far as to say that she has a serious felt fetish. She first had the idea of working with the material when her family moved into this SoHo loft. The space was raw, unfinished and desperately needed softening and noise deadening for their two young children. Dana began by creating chunky, braided felt rugs and soon felt found a way into the artwork and furnishings as well. In fact very little furniture, in a conventional sense, can be found in the home. Instead the family makes use of low-lying felt platforms and pillows as seating options for more casual and informal interactions. And because these pieces are lightweight, they can be stacked up, stored away, and repositioned daily to suit the needs of the family. Think of it as a constantly changing landscape of felt.



There are a lot of reasons to be proud of Oklahoma recently, namely the cowboys Jet and Cord’s domination in The Amazing Race (as far as I’m concerned, they won the competition) and the comeback of Hanson.  That’s right: Hanson.  Thirteen years after their "MMMBop" success they are experiencing a renaissance.  They performed last night at the Brady Theater for the Conan O’Brien Legally Prohibited to be Funny Tour and I was really impressed. Their voices are incredible and they looked like they were having the time of their lives up there.  They are fantastic performers.  They did a cover of Hoyt Axton’s "Never Been to Spain" that was so much fun and they have a new single "Thinkin ‘Bout Something" that’s equally uplifting.  See above video.  Keep an open mind about these Tulsa brothers—their catchy, feel-good power pop songs might just be the antidote to a bad day.  


Campana Brothers, part 2

As promised, above you’ll find the Campana Brothers' plywood project I wrote about yesterday. Come to think of it, its functionality is a moot point to me—it’s just so much fun. Isn’t that reason enough to create something?


Campana Brothers

The Campana Brothers came up in conversation today so I thought I would pay my respects to the influential designers on Twin Pique. Best known for their furniture made out of found materials, including rubber hose, tissue paper and teddy bears, the brothers draw their inspiration from the streets of Brazil. Their goal is to transform “something poor into something decadent” and I think that has a lot to do with the creative reuse that happens every day in the slums of Sao Paulo. I’m familiar with a lot of their furniture, but discovered a project today I hadn’t heard of—sheets of plywood embedded with stuffed animals. Apparently during the process of gluing layers together to make plywood, the brothers would throw various stuffed animals into the machine, resulting in sheets of plywood with furry friends sticking halfway out. I’m dying to find an image of this and hope to post one soon. Even better would be an image of a whole wall installed in an actual home. I’ll see what I can come up with!


Graffiti debate

Two films about prominent graffiti artists have come out this year. One is Exit Through the Gift Shop, a “prankumentary” by the notoriously reclusive British street artist named Banksy. The other is Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, a traditional documentary featuring never before seen interviews with Basquiat who made a name for himself doing graffiti work before landing in galleries and museums.
I’m excited to see both films, but it re-opened an unresolved debate for me on graffiti: is it art or crime?
When I was a bit younger I unequivocally loved street art. It all seemed so bad-ass and more like an urban beautification effort than anything destructive. Ironically enough, it was the seminal documentary from 1983 called Style Wars that made me change my mind.
Maybe I’m just getting old, but to me, the same people glorified in the film and who I thought were so cool (before I actually knew much about them) seemed more immature and disrespectful than anything else. Rather than making ugly urban spaces look more interesting, they were really just defacing other people’s property by plastering their initials over everything. What egomaniacs!
To me, Banksy is a bit of a different case because he often really does make ugly urban spaces more interesting and because he is creating actual, often political, artwork not merely signing his signature (see images above).
Now I have some qualifications when I say I like street art. For it to be good it has to be 1) more than just a stupid signature 2) it has to actually look cool 3) and most importantly, it can only be on an abandoned building about to be torn down.
Where do you stand on the graffiti debate?