In our latest Dezeen x MINI Living video, we explore a proposal by Danish architect Sigurd Larsen to house Berlin’s growing population on the roof of an existing apartment building.

Larsen’s proposal would add dwellings set amongst a tree-lined linear park to the roof of a 270-metre-long apartment building located between the neighbourhoods of Kreuzberg and Mitte. It was first exhibited at last year’s Venice Biennale.

The new homes would be assembled using a modular system, centred on a basic wooden unit that can house single occupants or couples.

Each module would feature a large window occupying the outward-facing side of the home, offering views of the Berlin skyline.

Further plug-in modules could then be added to the unit to add up to two more bedrooms.

Larsen claims that this will encourage social diversity amongst the rooftop’s residents, as units can be optimised for families with children or groups of students.

The areas between the homes on the roof would be occupied by public lawns in which communal activities could take place.

By offering current residents of the building access to the shared facilities on the roof, the plan would offer benefits to current inhabitants as well as new arrivals, promoting social cohesion.

Larsen told Dezeen that the project has two aims – to densify Berlin’s sparse housing in order to tackle its growing population, and to activate areas of the city often neglected by urban planning and improvement initiatives.

According to Larsen, the scheme could be adapted to create new homes on the roofs of different kinds of buildings, and there are plans for a prototype to be built in summer 2019.

This movie is part of Dezeen x MINI Living Initiative, a collaboration with MINI Living exploring how architecture and design can contribute to a brighter urban future through a series of videos and talks.

Sigurd Larsen proposes modular village on apartment block roof [Dezeen]

Many employees hate open offices. Yet scores of them continue to be built around the world; after all, open plan designs likely save companies millions per year. Not content with its own open plan office, Ikea’s innovation lab, Space10, recently decided to redesign its Copenhagen headquarters to give its employees more privacy.

The Space10 redesign transformed the innovation lab’s three-story office, which serves as home base to its 27 employees as well as a rotating cast of designers and creatives that the lab collaborates with regularly. Spacon & X originally designed the office three years ago, and this refresh was meant to provide more privacy and give employees more flexibility in their individual work spaces.

The architects designed a series of modular pods that are a mix between an open desk cluster and a cubicle: each pod fits a small group of desks belonging to one team. The walls around the cube have inset acoustic panels made of recycled plastic to reduce noise and create more visual privacy as well. Teams that need more quiet time can add more of these panels to make the cube more isolated and peaceful, or the panels can be removed to open the space up to the rest of the office.

“The workstations are crucial for divvying up space for various activities, and people can customize their own work spaces as they see fit,” Kevin Curran, the program lead at Space10 who led the redesign, tells Fast Company via email. “By providing privacy and sound absorption, the solution means that those inside don’t get distracted–or distract others ‘outside.’”

Employees are also encouraged to move around, choosing their setting to suit what they’re working on, whether that’s a deep concentration cocoon, an armchair, or a standing desk–and the office provides all of these different kinds of environments to support that.

“The design accommodates both extroverts and introverts; catering to people who thrive from chatting to passing colleagues as well as those who need peace and quiet; providing space for creatives who prefer a neat desk as well as people who need to spread out sketches all around them to do their best work–so redesigning our space to accommodate subjective preferences was a necessity, not a luxury,” writes Polina Bachlakova, an editor at Space10.

Space10’s new office also includes a fab lab and technology studio, a test kitchen, event space, and a gallery, some of which is open to the public. In the last year, the lab has launched self-driving car concepts, a modular house prototype, research on coliving and AI, and even meatballs made of bugs. With a host of new projects coming, including a cookbook, it’s the perfect time for the lab to rethink how its space affects its creative output.

Following six years of construction, the Moshe Safdie-designed Raffles City Chongqing is nearing completion in China. Representing a genuinely impressive engineering achievement, the so-called horizontal skyscraper consists of a cluster of eight towers and a huge connecting skybridge. Developer CapitaLand reports that it’s now structurally complete and work is ongoing finishing its interior. The official opening ceremony is expected to take place in the second half of 2019.

Reminiscent of Safdie’s Marina Bay Sands, but even more ambitious, Raffles City Chongqing also involves engineering firm Arup. Its unusual design is inspired by the sails of the Chinese trading vessels that once plied their trade in the busy river that runs through the city.

The scale of the project is considerable, with a total floorspace of 817,000 sq m (roughly 8.8 million sq ft), spread over its eight towers. The curved skybridge, dubbed the Crystal, is its focal point and is supported by four 250 m (820 ft)-tall skyscrapers. It also connects another pair of 350 m (1,148 ft)-tall skyscrapers via two adjoining smaller skybridges.

The Crystal measures 300 m (984 ft) in length, which, if made vertical, would be almost the height of the Eiffel Tower. It’s clad in roughly 3,000 glass panels and almost 5,000 aluminum panels.

To get the Crystal into position some 250 m (820 ft)-high, it was divided into nine segments. Four pieces were built in place atop the towers and three middle segments were prefabricated on the ground and hoisted into place. The end pieces were mostly assembled in place, with finishing sections also hoisted up from the ground.

The Crystal’s interior will include two swimming pools, a gallery, large gardens with trees, and restaurants, and a viewing point, among other amenities.

The rest of Raffles City Chongqing will host residential and office space, as well as a shopping mall and a large landscaped site measuring 9.2 hectares (22.7 acres).

China’s amazing horizontal skyscraper nears completion [New Atlas]

Four designers from the Royal College of Art and Imperial College have developed a series of machines that turn seafood waste into a biodegradable and recyclable bioplastic.

The project, called Shellworks, saw Ed Jones, Insiya Jafferjee, Amir Afshar and Andrew Edwards transform the shells of crustaceans into a paper-like material that could act as a sustainable alternative to single-use plastics.

The material consists of a mixture of vinegar and a biopolymer called chitin – a fibrous substance that makes up the exoskeleton of crustaceans and the cell walls of fungi.

Despite being the world’s second-most abundant biopolymer, chitin needs to be chemically extracted from its source before it can be turned into a practical material.

After realising how expensive chitosan – the commercial version of chitin – is to purchase, and how time-consuming the available extraction processes were, the designers decided to develop their own method.

“We spent weeks trying to extract even a handful of chitosan, which was when we realised we needed the right tools for the job,” said the group.

They invented five manufacturing machines, called Shelly, Sheety, Vaccy, Dippy and Drippy, with which to transform the crustacean shells into different objects, being sure to not use any additives in the process that could affect the recyclability of the final product.

The first machine, called Shelly, is a small-scale extractor that enables the initial process of drawing out the chitin from the seafood waste.

“The extractor is designed to offer complete control over each parameter of the process in order to allow for further experimentation at the polymer level of the material,” explained the designers.

Each of the other four machines exploit a specific property of the bioplastic solution to demonstrate its potential, resulting in different products such as anti-bacterial blister packaging, food-safe carrier bags and self-fertilising plant pots.

Sheety, for instance, is an evaporative sheet former that uses heat and wind to transform the bioplastic solution into flat sheets of material. These can then be glued together using the liquid form of the bioplastic.

Vaccy, on the other hand, is a steam-heated vacuum former. The bioplastic sheets can be formed into moulded packaging, taking on the shape of whatever object is put in the vacuum former.

The Dippy machine is a heated dip moulder comprising two solid metal elements attached to a heat source, which are dipped in the liquid material and left to dry, forming 3D vessels like cups and containers.

The versatility of the material also enabled the designers to achieve different material properties by adjusting the ratios of the base ingredients. This meant they could control the stiffness, flexibility and optical clarity of the material, as well as its thickness.

Once dried into one of its three different forms, the material can later be turned back into the original bioplastic solution, making it infinitely recyclable.

This can be done using the Drippy hydro-recycler machine, which drips a liquid solution of water and vinegar into a cup containing scraps of the dried bioplastic, gradually turning it back into its liquid form.

Alternatively, it can be poured onto soil in its liquid form as a natural, non-polluting fertiliser.

The group hope that by developing their own manufacturing methods that are tailored to how the material behaves, the bioplastic will be more easily accessible and therefore more widely adopted by other designers. This in turn will help to achieve a more circular economy.

“By designing scalable manufacturing processes, applications tailored to the material, and eco-positive waste streams, we believe we can demonstrate how chitosan bioplastic could become a viable alternative for many of the plastic products we use today,” they said.

In a similar project, Chile-based designer Margarita Talep created a sustainable, biodegradable alternative to single-use packaging using raw material extracted from algae.

Shellworks turns discarded lobster shells into recyclable bioplastic objects [Dezeen]

Revery Architecture recently completed work on a performing arts center in Hong Kong’s Kowloon Cultural District. The Xiqu Centre features a striking facade made up of curved aluminum that envelops glazing. The firm likens the effect to a lantern shimmering behind a beaded stage curtain.

Created in collaboration with Ronald Lu & Partners, the Xiqu Centre has been in the works for quite some time (Revery Architecture was previously named Bing Thom Architects) and was built to a considerable budget of US$347 million. The aluminum facade comprises a total of 25,000 pieces that were CNC (computer numerically controlled) cut from untreated marine-grade aluminum piping in alternating patterns around the building. The result is quite unusual.
The interior of the building measures 320,000 sq ft (29,728 sq m) and is centered around a suspended theater. This was first built on the ground and then lifted into place and suspended on six large columns. The rest of the Xiqu Centre was then constructed around it. As well as being novel, the suspended design serves a practical purpose and helps, along with dampening and other measures, to mitigate the vibration and sounds from the surrounding city. This is crucial as a rail line runs underground beneath the theater.
“Qi (meaning flow) is expressed throughout the complex with curvilinear paths and forms and arched entrances designed around a mesmerizing, multi-level circular atrium,” says Revery Architecture. “The innovative design decision to suspend Xiqu Centre’s breathtaking 1,073-seat Grand Theatre at the top of the building 90 ft (27 m) off the ground, facilitates internal configuration of the atrium and public plaza while strategically isolating the auditorium from vibration and the high ambient noise levels of its surrounding urban infrastructure. This inventive design move was hugely beneficial in enabling construction to safely occur within and below the theater simultaneously, resulting in a reduced construction timeline.”
The elevated theater is flanked by two sky gardens offering choice views of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, while elsewhere in the Xiqu Centre lies a 200-seat Tea House theater, rehearsal studios, recording studios, education and administrative spaces, lecture rooms, and retail areas. The interior courtyard also includes exhibitions and stalls promoting the area’s cultural heritage.

We’ve covered a lot of very small dwellings here at New Atlas, but this has to be one of the tiniest yet. Created from an old diesel fuel tank, the aptly-named Bunker definitely wouldn’t suit claustrophobic types but includes lighting, shelving, and a bed.

Bunker brings to mind the professor who lived in a dumpster and came about when Argentinian artist and architect Martín Marro was inspired by the memory of the home he grew up in that happened to be converted from a roadside service station.

Marro sourced a fuel tank in his local area in Córdoba, Argentina, that was buried underground for 70 years next to a small roadside service station. Working with his brother, he cut it open and began to transform it into a cabin by adding ventilation, glazing, and an entrance, before installing lighting and electrical hookups.

The structure measures 3 m (9.84 ft)-long and 1.5 m (5 ft) in diameter. From the exterior, it looks pretty much like a standard fuel storage tank and is painted in yellow.

The Bunker was placed outside Marro’s family home for a while in 2017 and was also installed in an art fair in Córdoba in late 2018. In the future, additional exhibitions in Argentina are likely and the architect would also like to purchase his former family home, which is currently up for sale, and recreate the service station as an artistic installation with a residential element.

Fuel storage tank transformed into novel micro-shelter [New Atlas]

Acoustic products brand Baux has worked with a team of scientists specialising in biomimicry to create a line of biodegradable acoustic panels, called Baux Acoustic Pulp.

Made from a new paper-like, plant-based material, the series of nine panels was developed with Swedish industrial design studio Form Us With Love, in collaboration with scientists from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH).

The new chemical-free pulp material is based on over 25 years of research and formed of organically modified cellulosic fibres taken from sustainably harvested Swedish pine and fir trees.

The wood is first broken down into a liquid cellulose form before this pulp is dried out, in a process similar to making paper.

The wood fibres are then modified to mimic the natural protective properties of various plants such as the fire-retardancy properties of grass roots, the water-repellency of lotus flowers, or the strength of the catalytic combination of potatoes, plant wax and citrus fruits.

Working with the manufacturer, the team initially experimented with mixing in shrimp shells, but these didn’t prove strong enough and they were unable to locate a sustainable supply chain for this ingredient.

Launched during this week’s Stockholm Design Week, which runs until 10 February, the panels feature one of three patterns that are cut using advanced laser-cutting technology.

The panel with straight indented lines is called Sense, whilst Pulse and Energy both have zig-zagged surfaces.

The laser-cut patterns form nano-perforated surfaces inspired by origami paper-folding techniques that allow sound waves to enter the panels and get trapped in the honeycomb chambers on the back.

The technology, which was once reserved for aircraft and spaceships, keeps material usage to a minimum and means that no waste or pollution is created during the production process.

Instead of paint, the acoustic pulp is coloured with non-genetically modified wheat bran resulting in a palette of restful neutral colours.

The panels are available in three slightly varying colours that are created by incorporating 30 per cent or five per cent wheat bran, or no bran at all into the pulp.

Next the brand will look into using natural dyes from lingonberries, blueberries and beetroot, or mineral to colour the product.

The team imagines that they will be used for sound-proofing and decoration in communal environments like offices, restaurants, schools and boardrooms.

“In the face of climate change, environmental pollution, and excessive consumerism, we as an industry can no longer afford to ignore the part we play,” commented BauxCEO Fredrik Franzon.

“Designing and prototyping for the future is not enough. We need to create a sustainable future today. The Acoustic Pulp sound absorbing panel is the result of our deep commitment to this vision.”

Founded in 2014, Baux is a joint venture by entrepreneurs Johan Ronnestam, Fredrik Franzon, and the founding members of the design studio Form Us With Love, Jonas Pettersson, John Löfgren, and Petrus Palmér.

The founding concept was to take conventional architectural products and make them more visually appealing. Its inaugural product was a type of acoustic panel called wood wool made from spruce wood, cement and water.

Since then, the brand has gone on to produce the wood wool tiles in various different colours, shapes and finishes. In 2017 it released a pattern library of 500 downloadable panel and tile designs for architects and designers.

Baux launches biodegradable acoustic panels made from a plant-based material [Dezeen]

Russian studio Asketik has designed a cafe with bright white interiors in Moscow, offset with many indoor plants to soften the industrial space.

Bloom-n-Brew occupies a former Soviet silk factory overhauled by Asketik, which also led the branding design, including a new logo and menu with a type-based graphic.

The cafe’s name refers to the fragrant smell that is released when brewing a fresh cup of coffee.

Defined by high ceilings and hardly any internal walls, the space measures 1,238 square feet (115 square metres) and is located in the Russian capital’s Factoria Park neighbourhood.

Areas for baristas and customers are arranged between various cabinets and exposed pillars, with large windows bringing light in.

White walls, white ceilings, and light grey floors create a stark backdrop, amplified by exposed pipes that have also been painted white.

“The inspiration was the history of the space,” Asketik told Dezeen. “We wanted to save this industrial view and original purpose of the space.”

Softening the cafe are numerous indoor plants in terracotta pots, and different seating nooks. The lush foliage pops against the stark space.

The square floor plan is organised around a central coffee area, with four counters that are wrapped in powder-coated profiled sheeting, commonly used for roofs and fences.

A nook alongside the windows accommodates distinct, high wooden table designs. Another high-top area features a series of barstools, with simple hooks designed by Asketik.

The studio was founded by designer Maxim Maximov, who started with one small object at a time to grow a full collection. Asketik’s shelves are also used at Bloom-n-Brew, along with other pieces.

Curved-back chairs and small round tables are included in white, black and light wood. Designed by Delo Design of Saint Petersburg, these pieces have an eclectic yet unified effect.

Also new to Moscow’s food and drink scene are a shiny pink pastrami joint and a concrete-clad restaurant with a geometric exterior, both by Crosby Studios.

Asketik creates stark white coffee shop in Soviet silk factory [Dezeen]

Back in 2016, Nike first announced its HyperAdapt 1.0 training shoes, which automatically tighten their laces around the wearer’s foot. Now Puma is getting in on the self-lacing game, with its Fit Intelligence (Fi) line of footwear.

Unveiled this Thursday in Hong Kong, Fi builds upon the company’s earlier AutoDisc system, which never reached the market.

It incorporates cables that run through the shoe’s upper, and that also go through an electronic module on the shoe’s tongue. After stepping into the shoe, users simply swipe their finger upwards on the module. This causes a micromotor within it to tighten the cables, securing the shoe to the foot – a proprietary sensing system reportedly “learns” the shape of the foot to ensure an optimum fit.

Users can subsequently fine-tune that fit via a smartphone app (it’s possible to select different levels of tightness), plus they can adjust it while they’re running, using their Apple watch. And when it’s time to remove the shoes, a downwards swipe of the module loosens the cables back off.

Fi will first appear in a training shoe designed for workouts and light running. It should hit the market in the Spring of 2020 (Northern Hemisphere), priced at US$330 a pair.

Puma unveils Fi self-lacing trainers [New Atlas]

With its tropical climate, Singapore is well-suited to greenery-covered architecture and boasts the award-winning Oasia Hotel and Kampung Admiralty projects. Serie Architects and Multiply Architects’ lush Oasis Terraces is another worthwhile addition to the architecture-rich city state, providing locals with a versatile mixed-use space that contains a community center and health clinics.

Oasis Terraces has a total floorspace of 27,000 sq m (290,625 sq ft) and takes its place very well among the surrounding buildings in the town of Punggol, with a style that complements the area’s existing architecture.

“Our design is informed by the open frames commonly found in the facades and corridors of HDB’s [Singapore’s Housing and Development Board] housing blocks of the 70s and 80s,” says Serie Architects’ Christopher Lee. “We’ve transformed this precedent into a light and open frame that captures and accommodates diverse programs for the community in a landscape setting – it is an architectural framework for communal life to unfold.”

The building is centered around a series of stepped garden terraces that create children’s playgrounds, an amphitheater, dining tables, and other outdoor spaces. Elsewhere lies retail and restaurant space, while a good chunk of the interior is taken up by health clinic facilities. A large sloping green lawn flanks the building and a sheltered plaza is situated near the edge of a waterway.

Oasis Terraces is topped by a large green roof that features planting beds to promote urban farming. The idea is that locals will be able to plant, maintain and enjoy their produce. The building was designed with passive ventilation and natural lighting in mind and is partially cooled by the prevailing breeze.

Lush Oasis Terraces is covered in greenery [New Atlas]

It’s been 30 years since Marty McFly donned a pair of self-lacing Nikes in Back to the Future II, but sneaker enthusiasts are still dreaming of the day they can slip into their own. Though special edition models have offered lucky individuals a taste of this in recent years, Nike is preparing to launch a new self-lacing basketball shoe for the masses that can also accommodate prescribed tightness settings.

Dutch architecture firm Mecanoo has added the finishing touches to an impressive interior space inside an old railway station, rebirthing it as an “urban living room” known as the LocHal Library. In reality, its a co-working space, library and cultural center rolled into one, styled to make its visitors feel at home through an open and playful layout that honors the history of the site.

Having previously designed a library in Birmingham, an arts venue in Manchester and the world’s largest performing arts center in Taiwan, Mecanoo has some experience in designing spaces for public enjoyment. This time around it has put its interior design talents to use in reimagining an old industrial building as a hub for innovation and creativity, with fellow Dutch firms Civic Architects and Braaksma & Roos taking care of the overall architectural design and restoration.

Constructed in 1932 in Tilburg, Holland, the building originally belonged to Dutch Railways and remnants of this can be seen after the renovation with old train tracks remaining in place on the concrete floor. Three large tables built on old train chassis can be wheeled up and down these tracks to combine and form larger tables or butt up against the bar of the cafe. They can also be pushed outside to serve as stages for outdoor events.

The exposed industrial columns with speckles of old paint are a further homage to the building’s history and line an interior street with stacked bookcases on either side. This thoroughfare is also filled with wooden tables and lighting to make space for studying and reading, and includes terminals to check books in and out of the library.

The book theme continues in the children’s library, which is inspired by a nearby fairytale theme park and features book shelves built into huge colored pencils and rulers. An uneven platform at the base of tiered seating nearby, meanwhile, is built out of stacks of old books topped in new oak counters for lectures and presentations.

Also found throughout the LocHal Library is a cosy writing room with both walls and a ceiling lined with books to create a sensation of literary immersion; a central cafe decorated in eye-catching red, brown and gold ceramic tiles; and meeting rooms and secluded working spaces with textile walls acting as soft dividing walls. The library is also a permanent home to the Kunstloc Brabant culture and arts center and Seats2Meet co-working spaces.

At first glance the Oskron looks like a regular sporty chronograph-style watch. It has a crown flanked by two buttons, comes with a masculine metal bracelet, and is large and weighty on the wrist. Push the crown and the magic happens — a previously invisible screen springs into life on the bottom half of the face. This small display shows scrolling notifications, step count for the day, a timer, and international time zones.

COMPASS POINTS THE WAY

We love the attention to detail here. When the screen activates the watch hands quickly move out of the way, making it easy to read the display. Leave the buttons alone for a moment, and the screen disappears, returning the look to that of a regular mechanical watch. The top button activates a find-my-phone feature, while the bottom button activates the built-in compass. This is an unusual feature addition, but is part of the company’s DNA, as it makes the same magnetic compass mechanisms for other smartwatch firms.

The compass is driven by the same gearbox mechanism that shifts the hands to show the display.  They rotate smoothly and quickly, always updating with your direction. Obviously this feature can be used for navigation purposes, but we’re not entirely sure how many people will find it helpful. We were told it works in conjunction with navigation apps on your phone, and the watch will vibrate and point in the direction you need to travel, which sounds helpful. We couldn’t test this at the time.

At its heart the Oskron smartwatch is a hybrid, but as they usually don’t have displays, this sits somewhere alongside the stunning Alpina AlpinerX. The screen is bright and clear, and although it’s small, provided the information is concise and glanceable you’ll be fine. We can’t imagine reading long messages though. The buttons have a soft, quality feel to them, and the body feels heavy and well made.

WHERE TO BUY

The case is big at 45mm and the face is covered in mineral glass, while the charging port on the back clips into place rather than using unreliable magnets. It syncs with both Android and iOS phones, and the battery is expected to last at least a week before needing a recharge, which is decent for smartwatches with a screen.

If you like the look of the Oskron smartwatch, how do you go about buying one? That’s the difficult part at the moment. Oskron sells it through the firm’s own website, which isn’t the best we’ve ever seen, plus it’s listed only in euros. It’s also for sale though Amazon Germany, and both places charge 450 euros, which converts over to about $520. There’s no doubt that’s expensive — less than the aforementioned Alpina AlpinerX, but equal to a feature-packed Apple Watch Series 4.

It’s always refreshing to see smartwatches like the Oskron that do something a little different, especially when they edge towards traditional watch styles, rather than overly technical pieces.

Think this smartwatch doesn’t have a screen? Think again [Digital Trends]

 

This elevated take on a cabin in the woods was influenced by such disparate sources as children’s book regulars the Moomins, A-frame lodges, and electricity towers. Located in a forest in Norway, it’s currently available for rent.

The Pan Treetop Cabins project was conceived in 2016 by Kristian Rostad and Christine Mowinckel, who commissioned architect Espen Surnevik, and was completed in late 2018. It consists of two identical cabins raised 8 m (26 ft) above the ground, plus a storage shed with a similar aesthetic on terra firma. They’re located on a rural farm in eastern Norway, near the Swedish border.

“The vision of the architect was to create something that would easily settle into the landscape without making a big change in the surrounding nature,” says a press release. “The forest itself has been the biggest source of inspiration, but also the North American A-lodges, modern power line constructions, and the houses of the Moomin characters have all been central in the creative process leading up to the design of the Pan Treetop cabins.”

The cabins are finished in matte black steel and have been carefully situated to maximize natural light inside. They are accessed by an enclosed spiral staircase and a small footbridge and have a total floorspace of 40 sq m (430 sq ft) each. The interiors are finished in spruce and pine, with a seating area, fold-down dining table, kitchenette and bathroom.

Each cabin sleeps six and includes one double bed and four singles. They both have water and electricity connections and the chill is kept at bay with both a wood-burning stove and underfloor heating.

For those who’d like to spend some time in one of the Pan Treetop Cabins, they are available to rent from 4,900 NOK (roughly US$575), per night.

Novel cabins reach new heights in Norwegian forest [New Atlas]

Vincent Callebaut Architectures (VCA) brings a taste of the outdoors into the workplace with its proposal for a new headquarters for French company Soprema. Named Semaphore, it will boast sustainable technology, including solar power and greywater recycling, and have a massive amount of greenery, with around 10,000 plants, shrubs and trees.

Semaphore is envisioned as a showcase for Soprema’s range of products, which includes waterproofing, solar panels and insulation, so these would naturally be used wherever possible. The overall form of the building is inspired by a terraced rice field.

In what must be a first for our office coverage, a real skeleton of a woolly mammoth, which was procured at auction by Soprema (the mammoth is the firm’s logo) will be on display. Another focal point is a large plaza with fitness, dining, and babysitting facilities for staff.

Though it will have meeting rooms and offices, the interior is meant to be flexible and will encourage workers to find a spot wherever they choose, laptop in hand. It certainly looks like a pleasant place to work, with lots of greenery inside and generous glazing ensuring that natural light permeates within.

This wouldn’t be a Vincent Callebaut-designed project without a bucketload of sustainable design and such is indeed the case with Semaphore. Besides all the greenery, VCA calls for large roof-based solar panel arrays that produce electricity and hot water, 20 wind turbines, a biomass generatorthat produces heat, and some kind of geothermal heating system.

Additionally, passive ventilation, rainwater collection and greywater recycling would be used, as well as sustainably-sourced timber.

The landscaping of the project is significant too and consists of bicycle paths, walkways and fields, plus a marina. Greenhouses will be installed to produce fruit and vegetables, while the grounds will host apple and pear trees.

Semaphore was produced as part of an international architecture competition and it’s not clear whether or not the design will be going ahead, but we’ve reached out to the firm for confirmation. Its much-anticipated Agora Garden Tower is also nearing completion too and we expect to hear more about that soon.

Vincent Callebaut-designed HQ brings nature into the workplace [New Atlas]

With 1,006 backers and $247,674 raised, the campaign claims that Cybershoes are the world’s first virtual reality shoe to immerse players using natural movement. I tracked them down at CES, and they swept me off my feet.

Happy feet

The booth featured two demo stations, one with Doom VFR and the other with Skyrim VR. Since I wasn’t up for the chaotic pace of Doom, I opted to try Cybershoes while playing Skyrim. After sitting down on the chair, the team quickly strapped on the shoes, placed a Vive headset on my head, and just like that — I was in the world of Skyrim.

At first, I was tried to skate along the dirt path. It wasn’t very effective. Then I was instructed to pick up my feet, and as I did, I started to move along at a rapid clip. Slow, awkward movements became quick, swift little kicks, and after a few minutes I was climbing hills and shooting arrows at wolves without thinking about what my feet were doing.

My experience didn’t last long. A giant came along and bashed me with a club, and that was that. Off came the headset and the shoes, and to my disappointment, the demo was over.

I put on the Cybershoes with some reservations. Surely, I thought, they wouldn’t be intuitive or feel natural. My skepticism has now melted away. The shoes seemed easy to use, comfortable, and translated well to playing an open-world game like Skyrim. I the real world I was anchored in one place, but in the game I roamed freely.

The Cybershoes bundle

Cybershoes outdoes its competition by being a more compact alternative to walking and running in VR. The simple design is a little off putting. It looks too simple to work. Yet that might be because other VR traversal solutions often look like something out of a sci-fi movie. The shoes require you to be seated, which might be a deterrent for some, but the upside is you won’t have to worry about tripping over furniture.

You’ll quickly realize, though, that Cybershoes aren’t as simple or compact as they look. You’ll need a laundry list of very specific items to use them properly. The list includes a stationary chair that spins on its axis like a barstool, at least 59 inches of carpet with short, even texture, and a VR headset that supports SteamVR apps — particularly those that utilize free locomotion.

Wire management is another beast you’ll have to tackle, as spinning in a chair means you’ll inevitably end up tangled. While you can find some pretty great suggestions for that on their Kickstarter page, it’s yet another thing you’ll need to consider when buying in. There’s a reason why the Kickstarter campaign offered Cybershoes bundles instead of only recommending items on Amazon.

Without the bundles, you’re likely going to be paying more just to recreate the perfect setup for these shoes.

These shoes let me stroll through ‘Skyrim,’ and I desperately want to go back  [Digital Trends]

The Helsinki Central Library Oodi, designed by ALA Architects, is topped with large open-plan reading room under an undulating roof punctured by circular skylights.

Finnish studio ALA Architects‘ design for the country’s flagship library, which stands opposite the Finnish Parliament, aims to “embrace technology and progressive values to provide a variety of innovative services alongside its lending collection of books.”

In fact, the 17,250-square-metre building contains a relatively small number of books – around 100,000 – with the majority of space dedicated to public amenities including a cinema, recording studios, a maker space, and areas for hosting exhibitions and events.

An existing facility in the neighbourhood of Pasila remains Helsinki’s main lending facility and the administrative centre for the city library.

The new building instead uses online services and book-sorting robots to offer users access to nearly 3.4 million books, which can be delivered to the building.

The €98 million (£88 million) library, which is called Oodi after the Finnish word for “ode”, occupies one of the last undeveloped sites in central Helsinki.

Its location facing the Finnish Parliament is intended to symbolise the relationship between the government and the citizens.

Oodi is situated within the Helsinki Cultural District, which also houses a nearby art museum featuring subterranean galleries topped with angled skylights that project up from the surface of a public courtyard.

The long and narrow site designated for the new library presented some technical challenges, including the need to consider the future construction of a tunnel crossing underneath the building.

The design also needed to respond to the diverse aesthetic styles of the various other civic institutions positioned around the Kansalaistori square, which include the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, the offices of the Helsingin Sanomat Newspaper and the Musiikktalo Concert Hall.

The architectural solution utilises a pair of steel arches that span over 100 metres to form a bridge-like structure supporting the tensioned reinforced-concrete floor slab.

Secondary steel trusses allow a cantilevering balcony and roof to be suspended asymmetrically from the arches. The design creates open, column-free interior spaces and the possibility for the road tunnel to extend beneath the building without compromising its structure.

The library’s ground floor is intended as an extension of the plaza, with the wooden roof overhanging a covered space that can be used for outdoor events. A glass wall containing the entrance creates a minimal threshold between interior and exterior.

The library’s main amenities are clearly visible and accessible from within the open ground floor, which accommodates the National Audiovisual Institute’s cinema, along with a restaurant that can extends out onto the plaza in the summer.

The middle floor contains multipurpose rooms used as offices, studios, meeting areas and maker spaces. These rooms are slotted into nooks and corners around the trusses of the bridge structure.

The building’s upper floor is known as “book heaven” and contains the library stacks in another predominantly open space topped with a distinctive undulating white ceiling.

“Here, the best characteristics of the modernist library meet the possibilities provided by 21st-century technologies,” said the architects of the upper storey. “The serene atmosphere invites visitors to read, learn, think and to enjoy themselves.”

Circular apertures in the ceiling allow natural light to flood down into the centre of the room, which features a wooden floor that slopes up to form a casual seating area in one corner.

Full-height glazing that wraps around the room provides expansive views across the city, with a balcony on the west side occupying the bulging section of the cantilevered roof.

Spaces for maintenance and logistics are located in the basement, while administration and storage spaces are kept to a minimum to maximise the publicly accessible floor area.

The library building is constructed using local materials including a prefabricated timber facade. The Finnish spruce cladding wraps across complex curved surfaces developed using parametric computer software.

ALA Architects is known for designing public and cultural buildings, with previous projects including an extension to a theatre in the city of Kuopio clad in crinkled fibre-cement panels, and a concert hall in Kristiansand, Norway, featuring an undulating oak ceiling.

Helsinki Central Library Oodi topped with translucent “book heaven” [Dezeen]

If you’re taking part in Veganuary this year, listen up…

Marks & Spencer has launched its first ever vegan shoe range for spring and it’s so affordable!

Until now, the high street store has only offered vegan options within food and beauty. But, due to customer demand it’s expanding its vegan offerings into womenswear, menswear and kidswear

Broadening the existing synthetic range, the brand can now say the process of making the fancy footwear is 100% vegan-friendly.

Shoppers will soon spot the same vegan logo found on M&S food products on shoes in store and online.

From chic sandals to colourful trainers, over 350 footwear styles across womenswear, menswear and kidswear will be vegan-friendly this season.

What’s more, the stylish shoes are super affordable! You can pick up a pair of on-trend beige sandals for just £19.50 or causal, white trainers with a sweet rainbow design for £25.

Rachel Smith, Senior Footwear Technologist at M&S said: “After increased customer interest in veganism and a rise in online searches for related products, we decided to investigate the possibility of expanding our vegan-friendly offering into footwear and accessories.

She added: “Over the year we have analysed our products and gone the extra mile to ensure we offer a great selection that comply with all vegan requirements.”

Marks & Spencer launches vegan-friendly shoe range for spring [Goodhousekeeping]

From ancient times the Japanese had a tradition for creating gardens that capture the natural landscape. They combine the basic elements of plants, water and rocks with simple, clean lines to create a spiritual haven, which in times of war and strife was the only place they found peace.

When making a Japanese style garden the aim should therefore be to create a mood of mystery, calm and tranquility and capture something of the essence of nature where you can restore your inner harmony.

Where to start

For authenticity it should be designed in such a way to be viewed in its entirety from the house or timber teahouse, which is raised slightly above the ground. The idea is that you can look directly onto the garden and take in the sight, scents and sounds.

Winding stone paths, which represent the journey through life and the anticipation of what’s to come, should take you through the garden.

In a small garden, you could wind paths so they disappear into a shrub border to create the illusion that it takes you into a woodland glade.

What to plant

Japanese gardens rely on subtle differences in colour and texture.

Bamboo and Conifers in soothing shades of green are planted for year-round interest and trees are pruned into shapes that reveal their architectural form.

A typical feature is to have arching branches reaching over cushions of moss and groundcover, which is reflected in a pool of still water.

For the Japanese, bonsai also represents a fusion of strong ancient beliefs with Eastern philosophies of the harmony between man, the soul and nature.

These miniature trees are grown in ceramic containers then pruned and trained to mimic aged, mature, tall trees in nature.

Azaleas, camellias and maples are used with restraint with the sole purpose of marking the changing seasons.

Where space is limited use single cherry tree to announce spring, a blaze of potted azaleas for early summer and the fiery foliage of a maple to mark the onset of autumn.

Water is a key feature and pools are crossed by a zigzag bridge, which legend says will protect you from evil spirits as they can only travel in a straight line, so the bridge traps them and allows you to escape to safety.

Japanese garden ornaments

Stone lanterns, shaped as pagodas, and rain chains are staples of Japanese gardens but use them sparingly throughout the garden.

To add a pleasant musical note to a tranquil space add a deer scarer – a bamboo pipe on a pivot, which clacks as it drops down when filled with water – the tone of the note depends on the size of the pipe.

How to plant a Japanese inspired garden [Goodhousekeeping]

WORKac has unveiled its design for the Beirut Museum of Art in Lebanon, which features a facade of mismatched balconies that will be used to exhibit artwork.

The museum is described as “one of the most significant developments for Lebanese art and culture in a generation”, and will sit in the capital city’s new Museum Mile.

“Beirut Museum of Art (BeMA) will be centrally located in the heart of Beirut,” explained New York-based WORKac.

“It is positioned on a symbolic site in the city that once marked the dividing line in the Lebanese civil war – now to be transformed into a site of unification”.

BeMA will take a cube-shaped form, wrapped by seventy “Mediterranean” style balconies, and made from stone and glass fibre reinforced concrete (GFRC) cladding.

WORKac’s intention is that art will “spill out” onto the balconies, as well as creating meeting spaces – creating “a new type of flexible exhibition space”.

“By blurring the lines between the interior and the exterior, the porous facade dissolves the traditionally closed white cube gallery model,” added the architect.

“BeMA will invite the public to engage directly with the work, creating new and varied possibilities for encounters and dialogue with the art as well as amongst its visitors.”

BeMA will have six storeys above ground, and four below. It will feature 2,700-square-metres of dedicated exhibition space, and will house a permanent collection of contemporary artwork from Lebanon and Lebanese diaspora.

Alongside the exhibition spaces, seventy percent of the BeMA will be dedicated to space for educational programs and public events, a library, offices and a cafe and a rooftop restaurant from which to view the city.

Below ground level, there will be a black box theatre and workshops for collection storage and restoration.

WORKac has incorporated a number of sustainable features into the BeMA’s design. Alongside natural ventilation throughout the open lobby, there will be photovoltaic panels on the roof and passive and active solar shading on the facade.

Rainwater collection and usage system will also be directly connected to a green roof over the subterranean car park, while greenery will be integrated into the façade.

Founded in 2003 by Amale Andraos and Dan Wood, WORKac is a 25-person architectural firm based in New York City.

It has worked on a number of museums and galleries, including a reconfiguration of the galleries of the Blaffer Art Museum in Houston, Texas, for which it added a glazed entrance pavilion in front.

More recently, WORKac added a jagged black rooftop extension to historic Manhattan building.

Balconies will double as exhibition space in WORKac’s Beirut Museum of Art [Dezeen]

Clothing collective PANGAIA is committed to sustainability and ethical fashion at every step of the way. The new brand, which launched globally late last year, made history with their vegan down jacket, which is made from natural, dried wildflowers as insulation rather than goose feathers; the rest of the jacket is made from recycled materials such as plastic water bottles, as well.

The new insulation is exclusive to PANGAIA and took 10 years of research.

For those wondering why vegan alternatives to down is so important, L=last year, PETA released an exposé about down jackets — revealing that geese are often plucked for their feathers while still alive, creating cruel conditions for the birds. As PETA explained, “Live plucking causes birds considerable pain and distress. Once their feathers are ripped out, many of the birds, paralyzed with fear, are left with gaping wounds — some even die as a result of the procedure.” Before PANGAIA’s innovating wildflower insulation, many vegans and activists encouraged other vegan down alternatives.

The collective’s new vegan puffer is just one of the many ways they’ve proven to be committed to sustainability and ethical consumerism. When launching, items included t-shirts made with 20 percent seaweed fiber and finished with a peppermint oil treatment, which allows anyone to wear the shirt up to 10 times without washing. They also released hoodies and track pants made from recycled materials, and packed with TIPA packaging, a “bio-based, plastic alternative, which fully disappears with 24 weeks in your compost bin,” the press release states.

As part of the launch, PANGAIA donated 1 percent of proceeds from each product to 5 Gyres, a “non-profit that empowers action against the global health crisis of plastic pollution through science, art, education, and adventure.” As part of their commitment to a zero-waste circular system, they also teamed with The Renewable Workshop “to make sure that each PANGAIA piece lives on by either being repaired and upcycled or recycled on behalf of the consumer.”

PANGAIA was first previewed at ComplexCon and released globally late last year — with plans to not only expand their offerings, but also continue their mission of educating people about ethical fashion and sustainability.

“Starting with basic clothing, PANGAIA aims to create a global open source platform for the latest eco innovations and solutions connecting like-minded individuals and organizations who care about the environment,” the collective said in their release.

Ethical Clothing Brand PANGAIA Creates Vegan Down Jacket With Wildflowers [Green Matters]

This attractive building named the Mountain House in Mist, by Shulin Architectural Design, serves as a library and meeting place in rural China. It’s elevated on stilts and sports a translucent facade that offers lots of natural light inside during the day and makes it glow like a lantern in the evening.

The Mountain House in Mist is located in a remote area called Liangjiahe Village, in Zhejiang Province, that lays claim to fame as the place current Chinese leader Xi Jinping was dispatched to as a young communist during China’s Cultural Revolution.

The library is situated near the center of the village and has a total floorspace of 156 sq m (1,679 sq ft). It’s primarily constructed from pine and is elevated by 10 wooden stilts. Its raised design creates a covered semi-outdoor space beneath that includes tables and chairs for villagers to sit and chat, plus a small bar. The area also hosts a central water feature fed by rain.

The interior proper is finished in pine and is simple but well done. You get the sense that it was built to a budget, though we’ve no word on its actual cost. In the reading rooms, nets are used to make the staircases and mezzanine floor safer to use and seating is installed on the floor. Long book-lined corridors enclose the reading spaces and visitors are encouraged to stroll along them, book in hand.
Additionally, windows are strategically placed so that parents can sit on the windowsill and read while keeping one eye on their kids in a nearby playground below.

We’ve now entered the post-digital age. Given you’re reading these words on a digital screen, this obviously doesn’t mean we’ve somehow moved beyond the digital. No, the post-digital describes the blurring of the digital and analogue worlds, when real experiences become interchangeable with virtual ones. We’re seeing this in AR, health and activity trackers, iBeacons, geofences and the internet of things, to name just the few most obvious examples.

Apart from a few diversions into post-digital drawing, architecture however still exists outside this world. For the most part it remains stuck firmly in the digital age, utilising any number of cutting-edge digital tools, but mostly avoiding grappling with their cultural implications.

We see this manifested most clearly in architecture that aims towards the slick, fluid and seamless, which in its arbitrary formal gestures almost celebrates the fact it could only be designed on computer. While the images this architecture generates are intended to be seductively futuristic, they already seem old hat. No longer will architectural designs always be mediated through the building construction industry

But if we set these simplistic visions aside, on the margins of the profession we are beginning to see a number of practices emerge who are paving the way towards a post-digital architecture. Although still in its early stages, their work already illustrates, that in contrast to the familiar futuristic trope of sinewy forms and amorphous blobs, a post-digital architecture will be rough, provisional and crafted, with radical implications not just for design and construction, but for architecture’s fundamental relationship to time and place.

Walking around the Hackney studio of Mamou-Mani, one of the practices at the forefront of this transformation, already bears this out. In place of the typical banks of computers that one sees in most architectural practices, their studio is full of tools, machines, 3D printers, different materials and prototypes in varying degrees of completion. It’s very much the workshop of a craftsperson.

However what we see coming out of the workshop are not architectural objects in themselves, or even building components, but – as in the case of the Polibot, a prototype cable construction robot – new tools that will take over the work of construction.

The most immediate implication of this shift is that, when using technologies like the Polibot, architects are now designing in code. This is fed directly to the builders of their projects – robots rather than humans.

No longer will architectural designs always be mediated through the building construction industry. No longer, moreover, will clients be tempted to remove the original architects of a project in favour of a supposedly cheaper and risk-free design and build contract. As any software developer will tell you, the surest way to delay a project is to add more coders.The critical point is that all of this will be done by robots

Whether one sees robots or even 3D printers as replacements for human builders, or as tools for the architect that in effect eliminates the role of the builder, the consequence will be to reconnect the practice of architecture to the actual craft of building.

In a way this has an interesting affinity with the pre-modern role of the architect who would work in close collaboration with the a whole variety of crafts-people. While the digital essentially acts to hide labour – think of the huge steel roof of the Olympic swimming pool in London that was then covered in cladding panels to make it look effortless – or the way the infinite flatness of a screen conceals the work being done through it – the post-digital reveals and celebrates the act of making in the workshop and on the building site.

At the same time, the post-digital challenges the standard life-cycle of buildings that has held firm from antiquity through modernism and into the digital age.

Even today, construction, use, modification, demolition or decay operate as discrete moments in a building’s life-span. Very rarely does one blur into another. Post-digital turns this on its head. If architects become crafts-people – designing and also constructing through robotic technologies – then buildings can be designed as they go along. And if construction is run by a computer programme it will be inherently reversible, with buildings able to be continually redesigned, rebuilt, reworked, augmented, demolished and reused.

None of this will be slick or seamless, of course. In fact, the seam will be celebrated as the point where joins are made and new connections forged, physically but also socially and culturally.

It’s a crude analogy, but the closest existing example of how this might be manifested in a real building is something like Boxpark – a pop-up mall made from reused shipping containers, which mixes the global and the local. The key difference of the post-digital version is that, rather than being installed for a period of time and then removed, the individual units will be moved as required, creating new proximities and connections. When one unit needs to expand, another can be added; when new workspaces are required to supplement retail units, then these can be brought in; when a particular location isn’t working for a business, its unit can be moved elsewhere in the complex, and so on.

The critical point is that all of this will be done by robots not so very different from today’s Polibot prototype. Assembled and disassembled potentially almost at will, post-digital buildings will be inherently ad hoc in nature, existing in perpetual transition.Post-digital buildings will be inherently ad hoc in nature, existing in perpetual transition

Some of these possibilities remain still some way off, and, as with any new technology, it only becomes transformative when a tipping point is reached and the amount of energy or benefit got out of it exceeds what is being put in. But the prototypes that Mamou-Mani and others are developing will soon be ready for deployment and in ways that can rapidly increase in scale.

In any technological revolution there is as much that stays the same as there is which changes. No-one travels by horse and carriage any more, but even autonomous cars still use roads. Nevertheless the potential of post-digital architecture is not limited simply to questions of design and construction.

An architecture that is inherently provisional and transient will reshape not just buildings themselves, or even how they are used, but the cultures and economies that exist through them. Bring on the robots.

“Post-digital architecture will be rough, provisional and crafted by robots” [Dezeen]

Bringing to mind a child’s toy building blocks stacked atop each other, the newly-unveiled Vanke Headquarter Tower is another unique and confident design from Dutch firm MVRDV. The mixed-use project will rise to a height of 250 m (820 ft) and straddle a road in Shenzhen, China.

The result of an architecture competition, the design for the Vanke Headquarter Tower (referred to as Vanke 3D City by MVRDV) partly came about because real estate developer Vanke Group wanted a new headquarters in Shenzhen that would not only provide office space for itself, but host leasable office space for others, as well as shops, a restaurant, a hotel, and public space.

Another factor was the location, which is a little awkward and made up of two plots separated by a road. In response, MVRDV proposed a stack of blocks that connect the two plots and bridge the road.

“Vanke 3D City can be seen as a new type of skyscraper,” says Winy Maas, principal and co-founder of MVRDV. “By stacking the required programmatic entities, initially proposed for two separate plots, on top of each other, the two individual Vanke Group Headquarter buildings are turned into a Vanke City. They turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.”

Vanke Headquarter Tower’s base will be taken up by a multi-level public space incorporating the road, with plazas, green spaces and shaded walkways to take the sting out of Shenzhen’s tropical heat. It’ll be open to the public 24 hours a day and include restaurant and retail space.

Further up the 167,000 sq m (around 1.8 million sq ft) building will be the offices and hotels, plus additional open green spaces and green roofs. MVRDV also plans to install rainwater collection and recycling systems, and promises high-performance facades.

The project involves engineering expert Arup and preparation work is already underway on the site. Construction proper is expected to begin in mid-2019, though we’ve no word on its expected completion date.

MVRDV’s bold new tower has a road running through it [New Atlas]