Category Archives: sustainability

Preorder Aluminum Upcycled from Johns Hopkins University Press

zimringpostedThis year, Johns Hopkins University Press is publishing my book Aluminum Upcycled: Sustainable Design in Historical Perspective. It is available for pre-order now, with shipping this month. From the press:

Beginning in 1886 with the discovery of how to mass produce aluminum, the book examines the essential part the metal played in early aviation and the world wars, as well as the troubling expansion of aluminum as a material of mass disposal. Recognizing that scrap aluminum was as good as virgin material and much more affordable than newly engineered metal, designers in the postwar era used aluminum to manufacture highly prized artifacts. Zimring takes us on a tour of post-1940s design, examining the use of aluminum in cars, trucks, airplanes, furniture, and musical instruments from 1945 to 2015. 

By viewing upcycling through the lens of one material, Zimring deepens our understanding of the history of recycling in industrial society. He also provides a historical perspective on contemporary sustainable design practices. Along the way, he challenges common assumptions about upcycling’s merits and adds a new dimension to recycling as a form of environmental absolution for the waste-related sins of the modern world. Raising fascinating questions of consumption, environment, and desire,  Upcycling Aluminum is for anyone interested in industrial and environmental history, discard studies, engineering, product design, music history, or antiques.

Pratt Sustainability Studies Minor Resources

PrattEastBuildingA new semester begins Monday, and Pratt students with questions about the Sustainability Studies minor can find some answers in the following places:

What classes count for the minor? We have a list of the permanent catalog courses that may be used for the minor on the minor’s web site.

How do I declare the minor? Check with your academic advisor to ensure you have enough time in your schedule to complete the minor as well as your major and general education requirements. If you do, download this form and arrange to see me. We’ll discuss your schedule, and once I approve you for the minor you can bring it back to your advisor [EDIT] go to Myrtle Hall and turn it in to the Registrar’s Office and be registered.

When do you have office hours? I hold regular office hours Tuesdays noon-2pm in DeKalb 108. I can also make appointments at other times pending my teaching schedule and committee obligations.

Does Pratt have sustainability resources on campus? Yes, all sorts. If you are interested in integrating sustainability into your design process, I highly recommend visiting the Center for Sustainable Design Strategies in the basement of the Engineering building for brainstorming and options on sourcing materials, evaluating material choices, and assessing design options. (CSDS just moved into a new, larger space; go down the stairs and follow the signs.)

Art students who would like to conserve supplies can check out Turn Up Art’s room to get salvaged materials. Turn Up Art is also in the basement of the Engineering building.

The library’s expert research librarians have developed a set of useful LibGuides for pursuing sustainability research. Here’s one for the Sustainable Core course. We have access to several databases relevant to sustainability, including Building Green (case studies of sustainable architecture projects around the world) and Material ConneXion (materials library in Manhattan with searchable database indexed on materiality issues such as durability, toxicity, recyclability, and just about any factor a designer would want to consider for clothing, buildings, furniture, or the range of designed goods). Access is free for Pratt students logged in through the campus network.

Does Pratt have student groups interested in environmental issues? Yes. Pratt Envirolutions meets regularly during the school year; the faculty advisor in 2015-16 is my officemate Professor Jen Telesca. Pratt’s chapter of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) regularly undertakes political action campaigns related to the environment. Pratt students have also worked with groups such as Greenpeace, though the two organizations above have perhaps the most visible presence on campus.

What do I do if I have questions about the minor that are not answered by this page? Talk with me and I will do my best to answer them.

The Obama Presidential Library Should Be Designed With the Help of Chicago’s South Side Residents

Washington Park, one of the two South Side neighborhoods proposed for the Obama Presidential Library's site.

Washington Park, one of the two South Side neighborhoods proposed for the Obama Presidential Library’s site.

Chicago Tribune architectural critic Blair Kamin reported that the Barack Obama Presidential Library that (according to multiple news reports) will be built on the South Side of Chicago in 2017 may be designed by London-based, Tanzanian-born architect David Adjaye. Kamin discusses the possible controversy over not using a Chicago-based, or African-American, or American architect — for this iconic national building.

Adjaye would be the first non-American architect to design a presidential library. Boosting his already substantial profile, the Art Institute of Chicago in September will mount a solo exhibition of his work, which includes the under-construction National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall and Denver’s cool, cubelike Museum of Contemporary Art.

Yet some are asking: Why the focus on Adjaye? Why not an African-American architect like North Carolina’s Philip Freelon, who designed a Washington, D.C., library that Obama visited last week? Or why not one of Chicago’s leading architects, like Jeanne Gang, Helmut Jahn, Ralph Johnson or John Ronan?

“Why aren’t we bringing up the names of African-American architects?” said Marshall Brown, an associate professor of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, who is African-American. “Why aren’t we talking about younger architects, bringing someone new onto the national or international stage?”

As a sustainability scholar, I have further questions, though perhaps not ones one might suspect from a sustainability scholar. True, I could hope that the building be designed to adhere to LEED or Passive or Living Building Challenge specifications, all of which focus on the performance of the completed structure as it relates to environmental concerns. I do support those goals, but my question is simple. Shouldn’t this library that will reshape a large swath of the South Side of Chicago be designed with the help and approval of the oft-negelected South Siders who will live around it?

Before dismissing my question as silly, consider that what I propose is in keeping with the work MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellow Rick Lowe has done for decades. His most famous achievement, Houston’s Project Row Houses (PRH), is lauded for its use of artistic expression in neighborhood revitalization. Central to that innovation is a careful, sustained dialogue with the members of the affected community about what a development may mean to them and how it may serve them.

The MacArthur Foundation recognized the value of Lowe’s work, stating:

Originally trained as a painter, Lowe shifted the focus of his artistic practice in the early 1990s in order to address more directly the pressing social, economic, and cultural needs of his community. With a group of fellow artists, he organized the purchase and restoration of a block and a half of derelict properties—twenty-two shotgun houses from the 1930s—in Houston’s predominantly African American Third Ward and turned them into Project Row Houses (PRH), an unusual amalgam of arts venue and community support center.

Since its founding in 1993, PRH has served as a vital anchor for what had been a fast-eroding neighborhood, providing arts education programs for youth, exhibition spaces and studio residencies for emerging and established artists, a residential mentorship program for young mothers, an organic gardening program, and an incubator for historically appropriate designs for low-income housing on land surrounding the original row houses. While inviting constant collaboration with local residents, artists, church groups, architects, and urban planners, Lowe continues to provide the guiding vision for PRH as he pursues his overarching goal of animating the assets of a place and the creativity of its people. He is not only bringing visibility and pride to the Third Ward by celebrating the beauty of its iconic shotgun houses; he is also changing the lives of many PRH program graduates and expanding the PRH campus to cover a six-block area in an effort to preserve the historic district’s character in the face of encroaching gentrification.

Why is this important? Barack Obama’s presidential library has strong symbolic value as one sited in an urban area with many social and economic challenges. Too often, the people who live near the proposed sites have suffered neglect or conscious abuse by those in power (such as the municipal government or, as Jane Jacobs illustrated in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the University of Chicago). At a time when Chicago’s municipal government is criticized for not attending to the voices and needs of many of its citizens, planning a presidential library with the help of the working-class people who will be affected by its construction and operation strikes me as the most sustainable process possible. Giving these community members a stake it its design may lead to them creating ways to use and contribute to the library in the decades ahead. Allowing their voices to be heard in a meaningful way also strikes me as setting a tone for the legacy of community organizer-turned-President Obama in history.

Bringing the library’s neighbors into the planning process is more revolutionary than selecting a particular architect. It is consistent with the state of the art of sustainable building strategies (as this half-hour video from the Rocky Mountain Institute emphasizes). It runs counter to the decades of neglect and abuse heaped upon the communities surrounding the sites. It also would be a favorable part of the legacy of whichever architect gets her or his name attached to the project. I urge the Barack Obama Foundation to consider this approach when planning this important historic development.

Pratt Sustainability Studies Minor Resources

Registration for Fall 2015 is upon us at Pratt, and the Institute has updated its website. Students wanting to register for sections relevant to the Sustainability Studies minor can click on this link, scroll down to the bottom half, and click on each linked course to see scheduling and availability of sections. Next term, my classes include a Friday morning section of SUST 201 The Sustainable Core and a Tuesday afternoon section of SUST 405 Production, Consumption, and Waste.

Students interested in declaring the minor should speak to their advisor and also to me prior to declaring. The minor declaration form may be downloaded here.

“Mitigation, Adaptation, Resiliency” for Pratt’s Green Week 2015

crash-courseEvery spring, Pratt hosts a Green Week, with lectures, activities, discussions, and events about environmental themes in teaching, activism, design, art, and pretty much everything we study at this school. Green Week 2015 has commenced under the theme “Mitigation, Adaptation, Resiliency,” and you can open a schedule of activities here.

Three events of particular relevance to the Sustainability Studies program include Saturday’s Sustainability Crash Course, the Sustainability Minor display at Pratt Library all week, and an information session about the minor I’ll lead in North Hall 307 Wednesday afternoon from 2-4pm.

If you have questions about the minor, the video display on the library’s first floor has basic information about courses, registration, contact information of the coordinator (me) and a few photographs of student work and activities in our classes. If you would like to learn more, or simply have a conversation about the minor, drop by North Hall 307 Wednesday afternoon and speak with me.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Pratt’s Sustainability Minor (But Were Afraid to Ask)

Pratt_DeKalbAt Pratt, we are fine-tuning our social media, and one of the results of that effort is the new, updated Sustainability Studies minor page. Pratt undergraduates curious about their options in the 15-credit minor can see which courses are required, what electives are offered, and follow links to those courses’ links in the schedule.

The department is likely to expand the list of elective offerings for the minor in the future, and this page is an excellent resource for students curious about the program. If you are interested in the program or its courses, feel free to ask me questions.

Distillations Podcast: “Trash Talk: The Persistence of Waste”

CHFlogoRecently, I spent an afternoon discussing various aspects of waste past and present with the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy for their Distillations podcast. The episode is now complete. Listen or download to iTunes here.

Thanks to Michal and Bob, as well as Mariel Carr for producing and David Barnes for suggesting me as a guest.