No, this isn’t an annual report for a spy company. German design group, Serviceplan, came up with a memorable way to help its client, Austria Solar, demonstrate the power of its business by printing its annual report with a special ink that is invisible until exposed to sunlight. Shipped in a lightproof foil wrapper, the perfect-bound document looks completely blank, except for the blind-embossed title on the cover. Viewed under ultraviolet light, however, the words and images magically appear. It’s a neat idea, but it must drive printers nuts to press check.
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In a town renowned for its spectacular architecture, the new Aqua Tower has become the latest attraction in Chicago’s skyline. Designed by Jeanne Gang, principal of Studio Gang Architects, the 82-story mixed-use building is much more than the standard straight rectangular glass tower. The contoured façade appears to undulate, rippling between waves of concrete balcony overhangs and organically shaped areas of glass that mirror back the sky.
Although this undulation seems random as if formed by nature, it was designed to serve an environmental purpose. The balcony overhangs shade the interior from the scorching summer sun keeping interior temperatures fairly even, and they protect the building from Chicago’s heavy winds — so much so that the building doesn’t require a tuned mass damper to stabilize it against wind vibrations and sway. Built to LEED certification, Aqua Tower incorporated many other green and energy-efficient features, including an 80,000 square foot rooftop garden and six different types of window glazing to cut solar load on the exposed glass.
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Consider this: Consumers in China went through 57 billion pairs of disposable wooden chopsticks in 2009 alone, which equates to more than 3.8 million trees. For a nation that ranks 139th worldwide in forest land per capita, that means that China’s forests may be wiped out in 20 years if consumption continues at that rate.
Last winter Greenpeace East Asia and Ogilvy Beijing teamed with artist Yinhai Xu and students from 20 Chinese universities to stage a public awareness campaign. Together, they gathered some 80,000 pairs of used chopsticks from Beijing restaurants to assemble a “Disposable Forest” in a popular Beijing shopping center. The display urged people to carry around their own pair of chopsticks when eating out and asked them to sign a pledge to stop using disposable chopsticks. The 80,000 pairs of chopsticks that were transformed into four full-sized trees are a mere sliver of how many disposable chopsticks are used worldwide. Even though wood is a renewable resource is it really worth it to cut down a tree to make an eating utensil that is used once and thrown away?
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If this thermostat looks like something that Apple would have designed had it been interested in home heating, there’s a reason. Tony Fadell, who conceived of the iPod and then went on to work on the iPhone while at Apple (he left in 2008), came up with this household device through his own company, Nest Labs. The clean Apple aesthetic and intuitive ease-of-use are evident in the Nest Learning Thermostat. The temperature is displayed in bright, clear numerals, and the rim ring acts as the dial. The LCD-lit center turns red if you are raising the temperature and shows blue if you are lowering it. A green leaf appears under the number to indicate a setting for optimal energy savings. Not only that, the Nest programs itself, using software to analyze and track your usage patterns over time. Once it learns your preferences, it adjusts itself automatically, and even turns itself down to the “Away” mode, if it doesn’t sense any movement in the house. The Nest also comes with a mobile app that lets you change the temperature and schedule remotely by laptop, smartphone or pad.
Programmable thermostats, even ones that can be controlled remotely, are not new to the marketplace. What makes Nest exceptional is that it is designed for the user. You don’t have to squint to read the temperature gauge or gnash your teeth when trying to figure out the instructions to get it to do all the things that the ads promise it can do. It doesn’t try to impress consumers by displaying the complex engineering of the product. That’s more intimidating than impressive. What good design does best is create an interface with the user that makes the complex simple. Given the large number of consumers (including me) who don’t know how to program their existing thermostats, a device that is pleasing to view and as easy to use as an iPod is a welcome advance.
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The wicker basket façade of the Spanish Pavilion, designed by Barcelona-based architects MiralleTagliabue EMBT, for the 2010 Shanghai Expo has appropriately garnered awards and accolades—to the point where the cardboard signage system inside has not attracted much media attention, which it also deserves.
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