Monday, April 19, 2010

The Village Bottoms

The Black Dot Cafe, which we blogged about last week, is part of a larger effort of The Village Bottoms community in West Oakland to re-claim and re-vitalize their neighborhood. Anchored at one end by the Black Dot Cafe and at the other by the Black New World cultural center, the three block stretch of Pine Street has the potential to become a vibrant historic and cultural focal point of West Oakland.

Besides the Black Dot Cafe, we are also working with Marcel Diallo, and other members of the Village Bottoms Community, and EcoCity Builders to upgrade the Black New World space so that it can once again become a cultural events gathering venue. Between the Black Dot Cafe and the Black New World are other cultural and historical attractions as well as the beginnings of a large community garden. The lot where the garden is situated is big enough to have space for a sizable greenhouse and an aquaponics system.

Right now we are primarily helping with the drawings and documentation for the two spaces at either end of the district, so that they can begin functioning and drawing people to the neighborhood. Funding the improvements necessary to getting the permits and licenses is as always the major challenge. Anyone who wishes to help please check out the website of Friends of the Black New World. Or be in touch with us -- we’d love to have your involvement!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Black Dot Cafe

The Black Dot Cafe in West Oakland, CA is going to be a cafe and cultural center. It will hopefully be an anchor for the African-American community there in a recent wave of gentrification. Located in the new Woodside Zoning Area, the cafe includes sitting and performance spaces.

fDC is helping draft the permit documents to have this space go from a studio apartment to a cafe. We've taken as-built measurements, documented new appliances and fixtures and, along with EcoCity Builders, conferenced with the Health Inspector.

This cafe is the much beloved project of Marcel Diallo. Read more about Marcel and his work here.

Monday, April 5, 2010

I spent a good part of the day yesterday at CCA's [California College of the Arts] open studios for potential grad students, since I've been accepted into the Masters of Architecture program there and intend to enroll this fall. I found myself filtering much of what I was hearing through the lens of my experience with our developing organization and wondering how my MArch education at CCA will enhance my work with our mission as an organization. There were many areas where I saw a dovetailing of purpose with our real world work and the academic pursuits of the CCA School of Architecture. One example: Last year students from CCA's architecture and design program entered the Solar Decathalon jointly with engineering students from Santa Clara University and created the Refract House. The design is one that is potentially low cost and sustainable while being simple and elegant. Although it incorporates some hi-tech and, at this juncture, costly elements to drive its energy efficiency, it is nonetheless exciting to see academic design institutions involving themselves in real world concerns using holistic approaches. Our goal is to find solutions that make high performance, good design available to all, in collaboration and conversation with communities and organizations that want and need that design.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Umbrella Structures, anyone?

Wow...I feel cheated. I guess now I understand how all the "greats" feel when an idea is spawned from them, yet credit is not attributed in the line notes. Sure, we're probably not the FIRST group to use umbrellas in an interesting way (see us in, but i do feel strongly that in some way, shape, or form, we may have helped others find both tranquility and excitement through the mundane and tattered.

Our friend and group member Stephanie found this link/image and passed it onto the group...why do i feel so "hurt" and cheated? (See ...SAME WEBSITE, nonetheless!) Isn't mimicry the most sincere form of flattery? Since our group is still in its infancy, I'll shrug it off and not call in the Intellectual Property lawyers. Our "greatness" can be kept to the small few for the time being...we know what we accomplished and how to replicate efforts like these in the future. Thanks to committee member Sarah for bringing a great idea to the group and allowing us to aid/support that vision.

One thing's for sure...if the Dutch are imitating us, I guess we're doing something right! ;)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Visiting Crissy Field Center with AIA

On Friday, I joined with other members of the architectural community through AIA SF for a tour at the new Crissy Field Center (CFC) at its new location, a stone’s throw from the beach at the beginning of Crissy Field. The CFC teaches San Franciscans about the intersection between the urban and the natural environment. This temporary location is anything but temporary. It hosts a wide range of healthy aspects for humans and our habitat. I was happier inside the building than out. The glazing and roof lines all emphasize its orientation towards the Golden Gate Bridge, which in some wild combination of science, nature, and man is also the most desirable orientation for sunlight and passive heating during winter.

The building has already achieved LEED Gold, but it is expected to reach LEED Platinum. I can verify that the luminescence of the work spaces does not require any additional lighting, just as it was planned to do. While on the tour we got a unique look at the rainwater cistern, which has not yet been fully buried and got to talk to the installer. He made some valuable points about the scarcity of water and amazed us all with the fascinating statistic that 1 inch of rain water on the CFC roofs equals to 10,000 gallons of water. The roof space is a feature of every building which needs to be further utilized – it has so many beneficial qualities, a possible gathering space for people, greenery, water, and sun-power.

This project was designed and fabricated by the wonder child of pre-fab modern design, Project FROG. You can read more about them at their website here.

Well readers, you might be asking yourselves - How does this pricey building (I make this conjecture on the fact that the Architect wasn’t allowed to reveal the budget to us) relate to the Free Design Clinic? How is it a model for the freeing of design and information? Let me tell you.

There is an opposite side to our efforts, whereas we try to give people free information and design, it is also important to let people experience good, healthy design at no cost. This is the void that the Crissy Field Center fills. Just by being in this space, a person’s expectations change for what is appropriate and normal and achievable. This is a huge benefit of civic architecture – it belongs to the people.

When I first sat down to write this blog posting I spent most of the time ranting about my terrible memories of the sweltering portable I had to spend third grade encased by. It’s my hope that this building technology of prefab, cost-effective healthy structures can benefit other students and not just in their after-school programs.

Photo is from Green Building: Project FROG

Illustration: Transparency House, Inc.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Site Studies Package completed for ArtHouse / ArtsDeCo!

It's great to work with partners who understand your initiatives and believe in your efforts.

This past week, our design group submitted a Site Studies Package to ArtHouse / ArtsDeCo to give objective site information for use in a later feasibility study. This will determine proper site occupancy and strategic uses for the built environment to come. It was a large undertaking, since most of us have full-time jobs while balancing the rest of our lives. All in all, three people totalled over 100 hours - periodically working on the project over the last two months...sounds like a long time to work, but OH, how time flies!!!

One thing I'm trying to learn through this continuous project is how to balance life/work/extras. Though many strive and complete this balance, I am a "one-track minded" person who must finish a task before completing another. Thankfully, I've had motivated people alongside me, whom without we would not have completed what we did.

Special thanks to members Frances Reid and Beth Moore. Let's continue this project with meaning and vigor!

Thanks to the group - your continual interest, love, and creativity ceases to amaze me.

Extra special thanks to Brendan Dunnigan, John Wong, and ArtHouse...I cannot wait to see where this pursuit takes us.

With great excitement through humble project beginnings,

Jason Harm

Monday, January 18, 2010

The founding members of the Free Design Clinic are hard at work creating an organization for those who need our design services and for those who want to lend a hand to providing good design to those who need it. We're having fun doing it and can't wait to share it with you all...soon! The devastating news this week from Haiti makes us more aware than ever of the urgency of this work and how much there is to do to help make the world a safe equitable sustainable place.

In the meantime, in honor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, we leave you with these quotes from Dr. King:
"The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood."
And this: "The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists"
We're looking for a bunch of disciplined nonconformists and creative extremists to help us change the world.