Biodesign – would you embrace it?

Article by Jake Wallis Simons and photos for CNN, August 29, 2014

IMG_3719.JPGWill bacteria solve our world problems? Biodesign looks to be a key factor in reaching global sustainability. Architects Howeler + Yoon and Squared Design Lab have imagined a future where derelict building will be covered in pods that grow biofuel algae.

(CNN) — You get out of bed and open the curtains.
The grey light of dawn is mingling with the glow of the trees, which have been injected with luminescent jellyfish genes.

You can barely believe that such primitive things as streetlights ever existed.
Your stylish bespoke watch — which was grown in a lab from biodegradable calf’s cartilage cells — tells you it’s time for breakfast.
Which you will eat at your de rigueur mousetrap table.
Which attracts mice into a tube in one of its legs, kills them, and feeds them into a microbial fuel cell, generating more power for the house.

The Paternoster device in the kitchen ( shown above), which “upcycles” your waste plastic and uses it to grow fungus, has a rich crop of mushrooms.
You fry them up on the methane bio-digester, which heats the hob with methane produced by bacteria digesting organic matter in the waste-disposal unit.
To this you add some trout, which you net from the artfully illuminated aquarium in the living room and kill on the chopping board; and some spinach from a collection of plants that lives on the nitrate-rich fish waste in the aquarium.

IMG_3721.JPGThe avant garde designer Mathieu Lehanneur has created a concept called Local River, in which a home aquarium produces both fish and plants that can be killed and eaten

Finally, for an artistic touch, you garnish it with some chives.
Which were grown using nutrients automatically extracted from your Filtering Squatting Toilet.
If all this sounds like second-rate science fiction, think again.

The power of nature

According to writer and curator William Myers, author of the book Biodesign, concerns for sustainability and increasing pressure on the world’s resources is leading to increasing collaboration between design and biology.
“Biodesign means forging relationships with non-human life to improve the ecological performance of manufacturing and building,” he says.
“Evolution has shaped a biosphere teeming with miraculous machines. The degree to which we can successfully integrate with them for mutual benefit is limited only by our imaginations.”
As Salvador Dalí once said, the future of architecture will be “soft and hairy”.

Biodesign is already having an impact on the way we live.

To promote the 2011 film Contagion, Curb Media, a London-based “sustainable media company”, created a billboard that spelled out the title of the film using living bacterial and fungal stains, which grew and spread over time. Members of the public were alternately “fascinated” and “disgusted”.

Indeed, every one of the examples above — from the calf cartilage watch to the Filtering Squatting Toilet — are actual concepts produced by a range of bio-design teams around the world.
The mousetrap table, for example, is part of a series of “carnivorous domestic entertainment robots” conceived by a two-man team at Goldsmiths College in London.
Their collection also includes devices that attract flies and other insects, digests them, and uses the energy produced to power clocks and household lamps.

A team from Eindhoven in the Netherlands, which is behind the methane-powered hob, has a whole range of ideas for household products that are capable of filtering, processing, and recycling sewage, effluent, garbage and waste water.
And researchers at Delft University of Technology have already developed BioConcrete, which is embedded with limestone-making organisms that allow the material to repair itself.

IMG_3728.JPGDr Henk Jonkers, a micro-biologist at Holland’s Delft University, has created this self-healing concrete by infusing it with limestone-producing bacteria

Clearly, the possibilities are tantilizing.
But the discipline has attracted its fair share of skepticism, with Wired magazine referring to biodesigners as “mad scientists”.
The practitioners themselves, however, strongly reject this criticism.
“Fantasy has nothing to do with it,” says Alberto Estévez, one of the leading architects on the Genetic Barcelona project (the team behind the glowing trees).

IMG_3720.JPGThe Genetic Barcelona Project, a research team at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, plans to inject jellyfish genes into trees to make them glow, creating a sustainable alternative to streetlights

Bacteria saves the world?
“We are working towards an actual reality. Society needs to understand that biotech is the best — and perhaps the only — way to achieve sustainability for the whole planet.
“People need to appreciate the benefits for it. Nature has such huge potential. Humans need to take advantage of it to solve the big challenges in the world today.”
Myers agrees. “Biodesign is too expensive to implement at the moment. But this may change with the development of green taxes and incentives, which are still relatively new,” he says.

“Another significant obstacle is the ‘ick’ factor. We are firmly conditioned to be afraid of biology. Ideas like infusing concrete with bacteria that allow the material to heal seem scary to many people.
“But the effects are potentially so transformative that in the long term, biology will likely be the dominant design platform of the 21st century.”

So the working day is done.
You come home from work and prepare yourself a meal, using your microbial home.
For pudding you have some ice cream with honey, which you take from the handsomely egg-shaped “urban beehive” device that is mounted on the wall.

IMG_3722.JPGPhillips’ Microbial Home project includes an ‘urban beehive’ that provides a constant supply on honey in the home

Then, before you settle down in front of the television, you release your homing pigeons into the city.
For years, they have been fed only a special yoghurt containing bacteria that have harmlessly altered their metabolism.
Now they excrete a kind of soap, which helps to clean streets and cars rather than fouling them.
(This too is a genuine concept. A Belgian designer called Tuur Van Balen is working on it, funded by the Flemish Ministry of Culture.)

IMG_3725.JPGThe Pigeon d’Or project, created by Holland’s Institute for the Unstable Media, proposes modifying pigeons to make them defecate soap across the city, cleaning rather than fouling it

IMG_3726.JPGA Pigeon d’Or launcher which set pigeons free to defecate soap across the city

The sun is going down. The trees and plants are glowing. The end of a perfectly normal day in your biodesigned future.

IMG_3723.JPGThe Spanish designer Eduardo Mayoral Gonzalez has created an alternative to electric lighting. Billboards are illuminated using glow-in-the-dark bacteria and a species of algae that glows when it is shaken

IMG_3724.JPGAmsterdam-based Joris Laarman Lab has created this Halflife Lamp, which uses genetically modified hamster cells as a light source

IMG_3727.JPGThe Bacterioptica chandelier, by the New Jersey company Madlab, uses a range of glowing bacteria and fiber optics to produce different effects

IMG_3729.JPGThe Wyss Institute at Harvard has created this Lung-on-a-Chip, which mimics the complex biochemical and mechanical behavior of the human lung


Levitation – that mysterious art of floating

Photos and Article entitled “Can levitating appliances take off? ” By Kieron Monks, for CNN
August 29, 2014

(CNN) — Ger Jansen is puzzling about how to fit a windshield. His problem is not installing it in a car, but hanging the glass in thin air and keeping it hovering for a prolonged display.

This is a fairly typical challenge for the Dutch engineer, who along with his daughter Angela runs Crealev, a leading levitation design firm.

The mysterious art of floating has been largely confined to ultra-specialist industry applications and magician tricks, but the Jansens have developed a repertoire for any occasion; from lifting a model’s top hat for a fashion shoot to a giant rock in a striking art display. They have given sneakers air for Nike, and produced a range of self-suspending lamps for the home.
These are all given flight by patented modules that induce magnetic levitation.

The kit is comprised of two parts: a magnetic disc that can be integrated into the chosen object, and a base containing sensors that pin it in space. The latest and most heavy-duty module can support up to 10 kilograms to a height of nine centimeters, but bespoke services are available for unlimited height and weight.

“Our customers drive us by requesting more demanding solutions,” says Jansen. “For the higher and heavier loads we have to combine the largest levitation modules.”


Vinyl touch: a blend of old-school and high tech in the hovering record player by Crealev.

IMG_3708.JPGhovering lamp

The company is also developing programming to make the magnets smarter, more responsive and capable of more sophisticated movement.

“People don’t want something to just float but also to interact with it. What should happen then is that sensors around the object move depending on the movement of people, so the object is more intelligent.”

Jansen is flooded with requests to make every conceivable item levitate. One popular option for illusionists and thrill-seekers is to make a human float, which he is pursuing with some reservations.

“You could have magnets inserted into clothes but it would not feel like resting on the clouds … If you have these magnets working together it’s a giant force. It can hurt the skin. There need to be safety precautions.”

The Jansens are not alone as there is a growing market of levitating applications for consumers.

A Californian company has released a set of floating speakers, promising a unique experience for the listener.

IMG_3709.JPGfloating speakers

Czech designers have produced a computer mouse buoyed by magnetic levitation, designed to alleviate carpal tunnel syndrome.

But the limiting factor of magnetic levitation is requiring a base to float over, effectively requiring that objects are stationary.

This largely puts paid to the hoverboard dream inspired by “Back to the Future” — another of the Jansens’ most common requests — and explains why transport seems the best placed industry to make use of the technique.

Until recently, “Maglev” trains were expected to revolutionize public transport, promising increased speeds over 300mph. But the high cost and energy consumption has slowed their growth and today only China and Japan operate such a system.

IMG_3710.JPGFloating (just slightly) above the rails of Japan’s notoriously speedy train network, the new L0 series magnetic levitation trains don’t need conventional wheels to reach speeds of over 500 km/h (310 mph).

That could change with the advent of superconductor-powered vehicles, able to generate greater magnetic force with lower power consumption. High concept projects such as China’s ‘Super Maglev’ would use this system for supersonic transport, and it could even support space missions.

Dr. Ludwig Schultz of Dresden’ Institute for Metallic Materials works with maglev vehicles and feels superconduction offers significant advantages.

“It gives you much more freedom. The energy storage is more efficient, and there are no moving parts. It can be extremely fast with frictionless motion.”
Schultz has developed his own superconducting levitating vehicle — the “Supratrans,” a lightweight buggy that hovers above tracks, held in place with a self-stabilizing mechanism. He imagines it being used for rapid transfers in airports, although one research area looks at creating routes and vehicles for private use.

IMG_3711.JPGDr. Ludwig Schultz’ superconducting levitating vehicle could be coming to an airport near you.

IMG_3712.JPGTel Aviv is set to built a raised network of personal cars that run along elevated magnetic tracks, the BBC reports. The 500 meter SkyTran loop will support two-person vehicles, which can reach speeds of up to 70km/h (43mph).

The applications from superconductors need not be limited to transport, says Schultz. He has consulted on projects to float a 60-ton stage, and to enhance gravity in space, among other ambitious plans.

Another levitation breakthrough has come at the micro level, and by a different method. This year, Japanese scientists used acoustic levitation to manipulate small objects with three-dimensional capability for the first time. Researchers created a “moveable ultrasonic focal point” that allowed them unprecedented control with sound waves.

Experts hailed the potential impact for molecular analysis for chemistry and medicine, but lead researcher Yoichi Ochiai of the University of Tokyo also foresees wider applications: “I would like to draw huge levitated graphics in stadiums or concerts,” he said. “Or for use in our daily lives such as floating interactions at home and small object levitation.”

In many cases, levitation technologies have yet to find meaningful functions, either serving novelty purposes or yet to break out of the research stage. But the possibilities are multiplying, and the applications are becoming established in fields such as entertainment and transport.
If the spread continues, magicians may need to learn some new tricks.

IMG_3713.JPGKickstarter is currently awash with hovering projects, including an already-funded project from Chris Malloy, whose slick looking hoverbike could be coming your way soon.

IMG_3714.JPGMalloy is not selling the bike (yet) but you can get your hands on these one-third-size drones with robot passengers now.

IMG_3715.JPGHoping to meet its tough quarter-million dollar target is the OverDrive “high performance roadable aircraft” (that’s flying car to you and me.)

IMG_3716.JPGCalifornia’s Aerofex has built a proof-of-concept hover bike, which flies using two ducted fans.

IMG_3717.JPGThe company is now working towards creating a model reminiscent of the speeder bike from “Return of the Jedi,” which can rise to a maximum of 15 feet (4.6 meters).


Article by Chris Davies from slashgear

Projecting computer graphics onto buildings or rooms to make them digitally come alive isn’t new, but how about if your canvas is a living, moving, human face? Omote does just that, a combination of real-time face tracking and projection mapping that takes a model’s face and turns it into something far more mesmerizing, even as it moves around.


It’s the incredible handiwork of a team led by Nobumichi Asai, which brings together digital designers, CGI experts, and make-up artists. Combined, they create what seems to be the electronic equivalent of makeup.

Technical details are scant at this stage, unfortunately. Judging by the video below, however, there’s an initial scanning stage – in which presumably the contours of the model’s face are mapped – and then the graphics are overlaid and manipulated in real-time to follow.

Asai is no stranger to projection mapping, having worked with Subaru and other companies in the past to put CGI onto everything from cars through docks to buildings. Most of the time, however, the subject of the projection is stationary.

It’s not clear how much movement the system could handle – for instance, if it could be used even if the model was walking around a stage rather than seated – but it’s an incredibly impressive demonstration all the same.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is known to be working on its own projection-based immersive environment, dubbed IllumiRoom, which expands Xbox One games from out of the TV and to cover the rest of the room’s surfaces.

Cat cafés in Japan

Article by Brian Ashcraft from Kotaku

Japan has loads of cat cafes. Loads. Many of them look the same—like coffee shops with cats or, even, like somebody’s apartment with, well, cats.


For many Tokyoites, an evening after work spent in a “neko cafe” (cat cafe) sounds purrfect. The metropolis is home to several dozen of these cafes, which charge patrons by the hour to play with cats.


For regulars, the cafes offer a place to unwind and play with cats, while they sip coffee. Many urban apartments do not permit pets, meaning that pet lovers are left without furry friends to call their own. The neko cafes fill that void.

Pet lovers often describe the joy their animals give them. Those living in environments that do not permit pets yearn for that interaction.

“It’s a great place, it calms the stresses of working life,” Ayumi Sekigushi, 23, told Reuters about her favorite cat cafe.

An example of cat café is Temari no Ouchi which looks like something out of a Studio Ghibli anime.

Located in Tokyo’s Kichijoji, the cafe opened last year. There’s a 1,200 yen ($11.81) entrance fee on weekdays and a 1,500 yen ($14.80) one on weekends and holidays. Once inside, there is an array of foods and beverages that can be ordered (of course, for additional fees).

What’s neat about this cafe is that it really looks like it was influenced by Studio Ghibli anime. There’s space for the cats to wander about and play, as well as explore and relax, which, as these types of cafes go, seems to be good for the animals.

Below you can see photos of Temari no Ouchi via websites AsItShouldBe, Buu Buu no Blog and the cafe’s official Facebook page (all the images are from the cafe’s Facebook except where noted):

Buu Buu no Blog20140717-112548-41148986.jpg


Buu Buu no Blog20140717-112549-41149124.jpg































Obsession with Manhole covers – Japan

Article from Amusing Planet

One of the coolest attraction in Japan lies beneath the feet. All across the country, manhole covers are custom made for individual towns and cities and they are colorfully painted. Designs ranges from images of cultural history, from flora and fauna, to landmarks and local festivals, to fanciful images dreamed up by school children.


The trend started in the 1980s when Japan wanted to standardize their sewer system. Until then, Japan used regular geometric shaped manhole covers similar to those used in other countries. As communities outside of Japan’s major cities were slated to receive new sewer systems these public works projects were met with resistance. One dedicated bureaucrat solved the problem by allowing the town folk to choose their own design. Today nearly 95 percent of the 1,780 municipalities in Japan sport their own specially designed manhole covers.

The art of manhole covers has now reached the point of a national obsession in Japan with numerous municipal departments competing against each other in the pursuit of the perfect manhole cover. The designs are manufactured by a municipal foundry where they are cast and created. The city or council will submit ideas and the symbol of choice to the foundry and their in-house designers will then create a design based on these specifications, going back and forth until the design is approved. The foundry will then cast a prototype before doing the final cast. These manhole covers are made of metal, as opposed to European manhole covers, which are typically constructed of pre-cast concrete. After the covers have been cast the carved wooden masters are saved in an enormous central library.

One of the first books celebrating this unique form of art is Drainspotting, penned by Remo Camerota. The English book published a few years back details the history of these manholes, along with several pictures of some of the best designs.















That little thing called yo-yo

Article and images from Wikipaedia

The yo-yo in its simplest form is an object consisting of an axle connected to two disks, and a length of string looped around the axle, similar to a slender spool. It is played by holding the free end of the string known as the handle (usually by inserting one finger in a slip knot) allowing gravity or the force of a throw to spin the yo-yo and unwind the string (similar to how a pullstring works), then allowing the yo-yo to wind itself back to one’s hand, exploiting its spin (and the associated rotational energy). This is often called “yo-yoing”. First made popular in the 1920s, yo-yoing remains a popular pastime of many generations and cultures. It was first invented in ancient Greece.

20140519-221617-80177098.jpgA Greek vase painting from 500 BC shows a boy playing yo-yo (see right).[3] Greek records from the period describe toys made out of wood, metal, or painted terra cotta (fired clay).

20140519-222414-80654472.jpgA 1791 illustration of a woman playing with an early version of the yo-yo, then known as a “bandalore”

Lady with a yo-yo, Northern India (Rajashtan, Bundi or Kota), ca. 1770 Opaque watercolor and gold on paper

In the simplest play, the string is intended to be wound on the spool by hand; The yo-yo is thrown downwards, hits the end of the string, then winds up the string toward the hand, and finally the yo-yo is grabbed, ready to be thrown again. One of the most basic tricks is called the sleeper, where the yo-yo spins at the end of the string for a noticeable amount of time before returning to the hand.

Modern day yo-yo has different technology, especially using ball bearings.

There are also national ( e.g. Japan National Yo-Yo Contest) and international contests (e.g. International Yo-Yo Contests) for the best yo-yo players to compete against each other.

world champion yoyo kid




The rise and rise of McMansions

Article by CNN

Between 2006 and 2012, Swedish photographer Martin Adolfsson set-out to capture the rise of gated, suburban communities in emerging nations around the world.

Intrigued by the rising middle class in these fast-expanding economies, Adolfsson visited 44 model homes in eight different countries. All displayed strikingly similar characteristics and seemed to be taking their lead from architectural and structural ideas popularized across the U.S over the last century.

The houses featured in this image for instance would not seem out of place in Florida or Arizona. In actual fact, they are part of the Millennium Park development situated on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia.

But why does the great American suburban dream (and the imaginatively named “McMansion” style house) hold such appeal outside of the U.S.?

A model of the Vintage Sao Paulo suburban community in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Adolfsson said he believes people in emerging nations are drawn towards projects such as these because they believe they evoke an image of success, wealth and affluence.

“What I think we’re seeing is an upper middle class that has been growing fairly rapidly over the last two decades accompanying the economic expansion in these countries,” he said.

“In many of these countries they haven’t had an established upper middle class before. They’ve had a ruling class but not perhaps a professional upper middle class.”

“I think (these homes) are a way for them to indicate that they have achieved a certain standing in society.”

Building work nears completion at the Saint Andrew’s Manor complex in Shanghai, China.

“What we are seeing is essentially the American suburban dream,” Adolfsson said. “This has been brought to people through movies, through soap operas, through magazines for decades. That’s really what people see as something desirable.”

“These trends are a result of decades of American dominance when it comes to pop culture … and the export of pop culture which is predominantly American.”

“The picture on the nightstand was something that was reoccuring in every country,” Adolfsson said.

“In Cairo, for instance, the pictures had more of a Middle Eastern feel. In Mexico City they looked more Latin so they appeared similar to the people who would be buying the homes.”

These pictures were taken in Brazil (left), Russia (center top), South Africa (center bottom), Egypt (right top) and China (right bottom).

But not everywhere adapted to meet the profile of the local population…

“China was the country that took the (bedside pictures) to a whole new level,” Adolfsson continued.

In these images taken in a show home at Saint Andrews Manor in Shanghai, China, pictures of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry adorn two different bedside spaces. “In one home there was even a photo of (film director) Michael Moore,” Adolfsson added.
“I’m not 100% sure whether they thought John Kerry just looked like a successful businessman or even knew who he was.”

Strikingly similar furniture and sculpture at separate suburban show homes in the Sheshaun Yinhu Noble Villa in Shanghai, China (left), and the Southridge complex in Bangalore, India (right).

“It was interesting in that the homes themselves were very similar but the surrounding cultural community (outside of the gates) was very different,” Adolfsson said.

“The people living in these enclaves seem to have more in common with each other than they do with their fellow citizens living outside the gated community.”

“I think that’s really what’s interesting. It’s almost like you have these small isolated islands of prosperity. They seem to strive for the same things as other people in these enclaves in other emerging countries.”


“I think the majority of people simply go with what they see in different outlets in terms of media or what the neighbors are purchasing or buying. I mean, we do this to some extent after all,” Adolfsson said.

Nevertheless, “it’s really impossible to tell if you’re in Shanghai or Sao Paulo or if you’re in Bangalore or Mexico City,” when you visit these communities, he added.

“Suburbia Gone Wild” – book by Adolfsson- took Adolfsson to India, Mexico, Egypt, Brazil, South Africa, Russia, Thailand and China. He said he wanted to create a “project that could talk about these trends on a global rather than just a regional scale.”

While welcomed with curious bemusement in some places, Adolfsson was viewed with suspicion in others. This led to him occasionally taking the delicate approach of posing alongside various fixers as a husband and wife couple to gain access to the show homes.

“In Egypt, people were very concerned about me taking photographs so I had to hide the camera and make sure I didn’t get caught. In other places like India or Mexico City they didn’t really care that much,” he said.