August 7, 2013
Every superhero would be wise to heed the lessons of the Caped Crusader, as explored below in the first of our series on shark-related patents and designs.
Today we look at shark repellent, the most famous of which was seen in the exciting opening of the original Batman film –that’s with Adam West not Michael Keaton– when the Caped Crusader is attacked by a shark while trying to intercept a boat with a helicopter – I’m sorry, Batcopter. Pretty typical Batman stuff, really. His first solution? Punch the shark – sorry, Batpunch the shark. The shark doesn’t give up as easily as the average cartoonish henchman, so Batman tries plan B: Bat shark repellent. It works. The shark falls into the ocean and EXPLODES. I honestly didn’t see that coming.
Well, it turns out that shark repellent is real, although I’m not sure it has been bat-weaponized into a convenient aerosol bomb. So unfortunately, it looks less like this:
And more like this:
It probably won’t surprise you to hear that it’s not quite as effective as the explosive bat spray. (Correction: The Joker had rigged the shark to explode, as villains are wont to do.)
Real shark repellent was first developed during World War II in an effort to help save the lives of seamen and pilots who had to await rescue in open water. The patent for “shark repellent” was issued to a team of American chemists –Richard L. Tuve, John M. Fogelberg, Frederic E. Brinnick, and Horace Stewart Spring– in 1949. Typically, these patent applications are pretty dry, but this one introduces the invention with a surprisingly vivid description of the problem faced by soldiers during the war:
“Since the beginning of the war with its submarine and air activity, numerous occasions have arisen in which men have been forced to swim for their lives. Our armed services and merchant marine have been helpful by providing the men with equipment to help them stay afloat. This phase of the problem or, rather, the equipment long ago reached a point of development where remaining afloat for extended periods offered little difficulty. In cold Atlantic waters, the greatest menace has been the cold. However, in the warm Pacific Ocean and the South Atlantic, a different menace arises for the waters are alive with carnivorous fish. The weakened condition of wounded men cast into the water puts them at a distinct disadvantage in trying to fight off sharks and barracuda which are attracted by their blood.”
Their design is a small chemical disk in a waterproof package that can be attached to a life vest. In the event that someone is stranded at sea, the disk can be exposed to seawater, which will activate the chemicals to “cast a protective veil of a chemical material around the swimmer.” Those chemicals consist primarily of copper acetate. which is safe for the swimmer but has been proven to be so distasteful to sharks that they’ll ignore raw
meet meat floating in a pool of the mixture. It approximates the odor of dead shark – the only thing that’s been proven to repel the carnivorous fish.
The inventors had the good of all humanity in mind and specified that the deterrent could be used by any world government without the payment of royalties. While no shark repellent is fool proof, early tests of the 1949 repellent showed that the copper mixture was 72-96 percent effective. Later tests showed that maybe it wasn’t so effective. Work continued.
More recently, researchers have been working on a more effective shark repellent that is literally derived from a distilled essence of dead shark and has proven effective on a number of species. In 2001 chemical engineer Eric Stroud started the company Shark Defense to refine an array of chemical and electrochemical shark deterrents such as shark resistant sunscreen and fishing hooks, and hope to someday offer shark repellent fishing nets and other products to protect boats and submarines.
Although advancements have been made, the perfect shark repellent continues to elude scientists. So if you’re planning to watch all of Shark Week in situ, I’d recommend getting to work on a weaponized Bat Spray.
March 15, 2013
Every year on March 17, monuments around the world go green for 24 hours to celebrate St. Patrick’s day. The most famous of these temporary interventions is the dyeing of the Chicago River.
The tradition started in 1961 when water pollution controls were first enforced in the Windy City and a Chicago plumber was trying to locate a pipe that was dumping waste into the Chicago River. In order to find the waste line in question, a green dye was dumped into several waste systems to determine which one was dumping into the city’s eponymous river. It’s a simple enough idea. But at the end of the day when the plumber reported to Stephen Bailey, business manager of the Plumber’s Union, chairman of the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and consummate showman, Bailey saw the plumber’s dye-soaked jumpsuit and had an epiphany that would forever change the face of Chicago — at least for one day a year. A few phone calls later, during which he surely had to convince politicians and engineers that he was, in fact, not joking, plans were in place to dye the river green on St. Patrick’s Day using the same chemical compound that coated the plumber’s coveralls.
Although Bailey intended that the river remain green for only a single day, the process was something of an experiment and when it was first attempted in 1962, Bailey mixed 100 pounds of dye into the river with speedboats, which turned out to be a little too much and the holiday spirit was accidentally extended for an entire week. In following years, the recipe was refined and eventually perfected. Today, about 40 pounds of the dye is used.
That original dye actually has a pretty fascinating history of its own. It’s called fluorescein and was first synthesized in 1871 by Nobel Prize winning chemist Adolf von Baeyer, who also created synthetic indigo, so thank him for those sweet jeans you’re wearing.
Fluorescein is a synthetic compound that turns from an orange or red to green when mixed into water and excited by sunlight. It was commonly used to trace water flows, check for leaks, and study pollution or drainage. Outside of plumbing –way outside of plumbing– fluorescein has also played an important role in the air and space industry. Not only has it been used by militaries around the world to help locate parachutists who have landed in water, but it was also famously used to help locate the Gemini IV, the first NASA mission to be supported from Mission Control in Houston, after its landing capsule crashed into the ocean more than 40 nautical miles of course due to the failure of its guidance control systems.
Although it was deemed to be safe for the river, concerned environmentalists in Chicago petitioned the local government to find a more natural replacement for the fluorescein in 1966 and as a result, a “thoroughly tested,” top-secret, vegetable-based dye is now used. When asked about the safety of the current mystery dye in 2005, Laurene von Klan, executive director of Friends of the Chicago River, told the Chicago Tribune that “It’s not the worst thing that happens to the river. When you look closely at the problem, it’s not something that needs to be our priority right now. In fact, when that becomes our most important issue, we’ll all have to celebrate because it will mean the river has improved so much. . . . Studies show [that] for creatures who live in the river now, [the dye] is probably not harmful.”
But dyeing the river was only one of Bailey’s holiday urban design schemes. He also proposed using green flood lights to dye the Wrigley Building green, but ultimately had his idea rejected. Bailey was ahead of time, a holiday visionary. In the years since his first grand infrastructural intervention, cities around the world have started transforming their buildings buildings and even entire landscapes with go green on St. Patrick’s Day: The Empire State Building, The Sydney Opera House, the London Eye, Tornoto’s CN Tower, Table Mountain in Cape Town, the Prince’s Palace in Monaco, and the list goes on.
Today, going “green” has taken on a different meaning. Thanks to an increasing interest in climate change and sustainability, the color now carries political, economic, and urban connotations. It seems fitting then that the literal “greening” of the world cities on St. Patrick’s Day began with a law designed to control and reduce pollution.
February 26, 2013
Last January, air pollution reached new levels of toxicity in China. Just how bad did things get? According to the Chinese Air Quality Index (AQI), measurements of particulate matter in the air reached more than 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter the northeastern part of country. That probably doesn’t mean anything to you without context though, so here it is: anything above 300 is considered “hazardous” and citizens are warned that they “may experience more serious health effects.” For even more context, consider that the U.S. AQI only goes up to 500. Air quality in China is a constant concern and while the recent toxic cloud has dissipated for now, a number of businesses are creating new ways to battle pollution at every scale – from personal designer face masks to inflatable architecture.
The Shanghai office of the design firm Frog recently came up with a concept for a modern air mask that provides air quality data in real time. The AirWaves mask (top image) is an improvement to the standard air masks in both style and substance. As it filters the air breathed by the wearer, embedded particle sensors feed data to an accompanying smartphone app that connects to a larger AirWaves network, which users can access to view air data by neighborhood. Frog hopes that by “leveraging the community” they can create a more reliable and a more trustworthy source of pollution data.
The Shenzen-based company Broadwell technologies builds inflatable, pressurized domes to cover athletic fields in winter, but lately it has found new clientele for its enormous inflatable architecture: wealthy Chinese people and organizations who like to breathe. Broadwell has partnered with the California-based air filtration company UltraViolet Devices, Inc. (UVDI) to add air filtration systems to its domes so that Chinese residents can enjoy the outdoors in the safety of the indoors. The most widely publicized use of Broadwell’s new domes is their installation over the sports complex at the International School of Beijing (ISB), where the dome was fitted with a custom dual-stage particulate and activated carbon filter system designed by UVDI. The joint venture by the Broadwell and UVDI creates a space with an AQI rating below 50 – within the range of what is technically referred to as “good”.
Domes and inflatable buildings captured the imagination of architects in the 1960s and 1970s, but they have traditionally been affiliated with revolutionary artists and architects like Ant Farm, who traveled the country inflating temporary structures to hold lectures or screen movies, and Buckminster Fuller, who suggested that a two-mile diameter dome could be built over midtown Manhattan, saving residents more than 90 percent on their energy costs while also protecting them from inclement weather and nuclear attacks. Broadwell’s inflatables are decidedly less counter-cultural but are in their own way revolutionary, as they represent a new solution to temporary atmospheric control at a massive scale. These so-called “pollution domes” can cost more than a million dollars and measure over 54,000 square feet – not quite the size of a city, but unless the sources of the pollution are regulated, covering all of Beijing would only transform the Chinese city into the world’s biggest smokers’ lounge.
China is taking steps to improve its air quality but cleaning pollution takes times and governments tend to move slowly. While new policies take shape, Chinese designers and engineers will continue to affect change by doing what they do best: solving problems creatively.
November 28, 2012
Our previous post on the origin of Pabst’s blue ribbon got me thinking about the current state of the former Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Pabst left Milwaukee in 1996 after more than 100 years of brewing and the 18.4 acre site, which is listed on the National Historic Register, remained unoccupied until 2006, when its 16 decaying buildings were saved from becoming yet another industrial ruin. The late developer and philanthropist Joseph J. Zilber bought the entire property with the aim of transforming one of the city’s most prominent locales into one of the city’s most prominent neighborhoods.
After taking years to thoroughly and safely clean the site, development is now underway. One of the first development projects on the site, the Blue Ribbon Apartments, includes live/work spaces for artists and amenities such as a music studio, workshop, theater, fitness center and community space. Future plans for the Brewery development include additional apartments, senior housing, over a million square feet of retail and office space, a hotel, and educational facilities, including a 50,000 square foot building to house the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Public Health. The Brewery aims to be “one of urban America’s premier sustainable neighborhoods” and is currently on track to achieve LEED Platinum certification.
Pabst isn’t the only former beer maker in Milwaukee. Other former brew sites in the city have been repurposed and reprogrammed. Parts of the old Blatz brewery have been turned into luxury apartments while the former home of Schlitz, “the Beer that made Milwaukee famous,” is now a middle school and office park.
The adaptive reuse of breweries has been going on for quite some time and only seems to be gaining popularity in response to a changing economy and demographic shift toward urban areas. Old breweries, with their enormous, light-flooded spaces, are ideal for conversion into flexible artists lofts and creative spaces. But as these sites become more lucrative, many are also being transformed into luxury apartments, retail, and entertainment complexes.
The Brewery Arts Complex in Los Angeles was also a former Pabst Brewery. It was originally constructed in 1903 as the Edison Electric Steam Power Plant, then was transformed into a brewery when Pabst took over in 1953. Today, it’s full of small businesses and true artists’ lofts (so it’s probably safe to assume that there’s still a lot of PBR there). The adaptive reuse was made possible by changes to building codes pertaining to industrially-zoned buildings. America just doesn’t make as much as it once did, and as former industrial areas become decidedly less industrial, such rezoning, which once seemed unimaginable, has become commonplace. In 1980, Carlson Industries bought the 28-acre property and began transforming it into what is now often referred to as one of the largest arts colonies in the world. The Brewery’s 21 buildings house art galleries and raw live/work spaces that artists can build out according to to their needs.
In Baltimore, the former home of the Weissner and American Breweries now houses the social-service nonprofit Humanim. Originally built in 1887, the five-story, red brick building has stood empty since the American Brewery closed its doors 1973. The building remained vacant until 2010 when, after five years of restoration and renovation, Humanim moved into the transformed structure, using its large, well-lit spaces for collaborative work environments and an ersatz community center.
When the owners and architects first entered the building, they found rotting structure, decaying floors, and “mounds of rancid grain left over from brewing days.” The original building is a shocking eclectic mix of architectural styles that looks more like a haunted house than a brewhouse. The architects behind the renovation, Cho Benn Holback + Associates Inc., let those eccentricities shine. The designers also embraced the building’s past: they’ve reused the massive fermenting tank as a prominent design feature and have preserved other vestigial brewery artifacts. Whenever possible, salvaged materials were repurposed and used in the new construction. The high-profile adaptive reuse has had the added benefit of bringing attention to the nonprofit and has prompted discussions of further renovations, including the possible transformation of a former bottling plant into a charter school.
Of course, this isn’t just an American phenomenon. The Kunsthalle Zürich recently moved into a renovated brewery in the Löwenbräu art complex.
Designed by two Zürich architectural offices, Gigon/Guyer and Atelier WW, the Kunsthalle renovation was designed to create new space for offices, meeting areas, event space, exhibition space, archives, and a public library for the arts organization. The large spaces of a brewery are perfect for a kunstalle, which has no permanent collection but must be able to accommodate a variety of exhibitions and installations. The most prominent feature of the renovaiton is the addition of an upper floor in the form of a sparse white cube, which doesn’t only serve as a universal symbol for “art gallery,” but also as a giant exterior canvas for commissioned murals and site-specific installations.
In Brussels, Belgium, the former home of the Hallemans brewery was renovated to house 31 live/work spaces specifically designed for artists. Studios Cheval Noir, as the project is now known, is the product of a collaboration between collaboration between L’Escaut and Atelier Gigogne. The original structure was gutted and partly demolished to bring in more natural light and is connected by footbridges at each floor to a new, zinc-clad, distorted doppelgänger. Architects like to call this a “dialogue.”
These projects represent only a small number of the many instances of brewery restoration and renovation projects across the world. As factories and manufacturing plants close their doors, many local governments have been taking steps to ensure that the historic industrial buildings will be preserved with new policies that include zoning changes and tax credits offered for rehabilitating historic structures. Adaptive reuse isn’t always the cheapest or easiest option, but it offers environmental benefits, economic opportunities, and can help revitalize declining urban areas. As for the American beer industry, there is a small silver lining for patriotic beer enthusiasts: independent craft breweries are on the rise.
October 15, 2012
It’s like an old saying goes: One man’s trash is another man’s 2,200 acre park.
In 2001, Freshkills was the biggest dump in the world. Hundreds of seagulls circled the detritus of 8 million lives. Slowly decomposing piles of garbage were pushed around by slow-moving bulldozers to make room for more of the same. Larger than Central Park, the Staten Island landfill was established in 1948 by Robert Moses, the self-proclaimed “master builder” of New York City, responsible for much of the city’s controversial infrastructure and urban development policies during the mid-20th century. The landfill, which was only one in a series of New York landfills opened by Moses, was intended to be a temporary solution to New York’s growing need for waste disposal. The dumping would also serve the secondary purpose of preparing the soft marshland for construction – Moses envisioned a massive residential development on the site. That didn’t happen. Instead, Freshkills became the city’s only landfill and, at it’s peak in 1986, the once fertile landscape was receiving more than 29,000 tons of trash per day.
Fast forward to 2012. Freshkills is the biggest park in New York City. Dozens of birds circle the waving grasses, spreading seeds across the hillside. Slowly drifting kites hang in the air above mothers pushing strollers along dirt paths and kayakers paddling through blue waters. It is an amazing synthesis of natural and engineered beauty. During my recent tour of the former landfill it was impossible to imagine that I was walking over 150 million tons of solid waste.
The nearly miraculous transformation is due largely to the efforts of New York City Department of Sanitation and the Department of Parks and Recreation, as well as many other individuals and organizations. It is an absolutely massive feat of design and engineering that is still 30 years from completion. To guide this development, the DPR have a master plan from a multidisciplinary team of experts led by landscape architect James Corner of Field Operations, who was selected to take on the development during an international design competition organized by the City of New York in 2001.
Corner, perhaps best known for his work on the Manhattan High Line, is also responsible for Phase One of Freshkills’s development, which focuses on making the park accessible to the public and installing smaller community parks for the neighborhoods adjacent to Freshkills. Schmul Park, a playground that will serve as a gateway to the North Park, recently celebrated its ribbon cutting, and new sports fields should be opened before the end of the year.
Corner’s plan identifies five main areas in Freshkills, each with distinct offerings, designed and programmed to maximize specific site opportunities and constraints. Planned features include nature preserves, animal habitats, a seed plot, walking and bike paths, picnic areas, comfort stations, event staging areas, and every other amenity you could possibly ask for in a public park. While James Corner may have planned the park, the landscape itself is being “designed” by the birds, squirrels, bees, trees, and breezes that have returned to populate the new landscape since 2001. These volunteers, including 84 species of birds, are helping to hasten the restoration of the wetlands landscape by dropping and planting seeds, pollinating flowers, and just generally doing what comes naturally. A 2007 survey also identified muskrats, rabbits, cats, mice, raccoons and even white-tailed deer, which are believed to have migrated from New Jersey.
But how did the Freshkills landfill become Freshkills landscape? How do you safely cover a garbage dump? My first thought was that they would just pore concrete over the entire thing and call it day. I apparently know nothing about landfills. And probably not that much about concrete. The reality is a lot more complex. An elaborate and somewhat experimental six-layer capping system covers the entire landfill. But if you’re like me –and again, I know nothing about landfills– you may be wondering if the mounds of trash will shrink as they decompose until the entire hillside becomes a grassy plain (or, as I speculated, subterranean concrete caverns).
The answer is no. In fact, the garbage has already compressed as much as it ever will and any future change will be nominal. But to ensure this stability, before the capping was done, the trash heaps were covered with compressed soil and graded into the terraced hills seen today. While the resulting beautiful rolling hills offer incredible views all the way to Manhattan, it’s also kind of disgusting to think 29,000 tons of garbage that will just be there forever. Good job humans. But I digress. The complex multi-phase capping process is perhaps best described with a simple image.
You may be wondering about the plumbing in the above image. The landfill may be stabilized, but it still produces two primary byproducts: methane gas and leachate, a fetid tea brewed by rainwater and garbage. During the renewal of Freshkills, the excess of methane gas has been put to good use by the Department of Sanitation, who harvest the gas from the site to sell to National Grid energy company, earning the city $12 million in annual revenue. The only sign that this site was a former landfill are the methane pumps that periodically emerge from the surface of the ground like some mysterious technological folly. The leachate, however, is more of a problem. Although Moses did have the foresight to locate the landfill in an area with a clay soil that largely prevents any seepage into nearby bodies of water, there is always the risk that some leachate will escape. The new park addresses this risk with the landfill caps, which greatly reduces the amount of leachate produced, but also with pipes and water treatments facilities installed to purify any runoff until it is cleaner than the nearby Arthur Kill. To ensure their system works, 238 groundwater monitoring wells were installed to track water quality.
As the DPR continues the development of Freshkills, they’re dedicated to using state-of-the-art land reclamation techniques, safety monitoring equipment, and alternative energy resources to ensure that the new landscape is safe and sustainable.
Today, Freshkills may look like a wild grassland, but not all the piles of garbage are capped yet, although its almost impossible to tell. Take, for instance, the green hill at the center of the following photograph:
You’re looking at what remains of the rubble transported off Manhattan in the wake of 9/11. Freshkills was reopened after the attacks to help expedite the cleanup and recovery. Today, the rubble just looks like part of the park. The only step that has been taken is to cover the area with clean soil. All the grasses and bushes are natural. It’s amazing and a little unsettlling. When you see the site in person, and you know what you’re looking at, it’s still hard to comprehend what you’re seeing. It’s a strange and visceral experience to see this green hill and then to turn your head and see the Manhattan skyline and the glint of the clearly visible One World Trade Center. It’s hard to reconcile the feelings that so such beauty can come from so much destruction. Currently, there are plans for an earthwork memorial to be installed on the site.
In 2042, Freshkills will be the most expansive park in New York. A symbol of renewal for the entire city. Slowly rotating wind turbines and photovoltaic panels will power the park’s comprehensive network of amenities. The biome, baseball fields, and bike paths concealing the refuse of another generation. A symbol of wasteful excess will have become a symbol of renewal.
If you’re interested in visiting Freshkills, the next public tour takes place on November 3.