Car Free Vauban

I’m glad to see that there are some town planners in this world who have the balls to try something new. In Germany a new suburban development has been built free from cars and Vauban’s residents say that they are all the happier for it. 70% of the 5500 people who live in Vauban don’t own a car, they ride bikes and catch trams.

Living in Melbourne I’ve been happily noticing that more and more I have to search for a place to park my bike because there are so many other bikes parked up around the place, that must mean there are more people riding. Yet at the same time the Victorian State Government wants to rezone much of the green belt surrounding the city so that it can be developed into housing. This will mean that Melbourne will spread across 120km, a city of 4 million people who take up more space than New York or London. And those who choose to live on the outskirts will have no option but to drive because increased public transport is not yet part of the plan. How short sighted and embarrassing, oh the suburban dream – a house in legoland and 90 minute commute.

Go Vauban!

Check it out: Germany leads way in creating auto-ban suburbs

Designing for Healthy

It is difficult for individuals to change their behavior,” wrote Ken Smith, co-author of the study and professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah. “But we can build environments that promote healthy behavior.

Below is a link to an interesting article on the relationship between healthy lifestyles and urban design.  Another indicator that there are  rational ways to argue for good design.

This Old (Healthy) House -The New York Times

A glimpse of Bahrain

I only spent 4 brief days in Bahrain, so my impression is a fleeting one. However it appears from the outside like this desert island (it actually is a desert on an island) is steadily pouring its one valuable resource down the drain. The island is a old-school kingdom ruled by their leader Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, it does have a parliament but 80% of the cabinet is from the Royal Family! Huge deposits of oil were found on the island in the 30s and 40s, so much that residents don’t pay any tax at all. The crazy aspect to the place is that all the money is being poured into huge air power consuming buildings and massive cars and big motorways. Not to mention massive reclaimations of land that make no consideration of raising sea levels or global warming. Its going to be a crazy ride for them when their oil starts running out!

Sadly they have demolished almost all of their old architecture and building systems, instead choosing to americanize the place with Air Con apartments and giant motorways. Fortunately they have an enlightened Minister of Culture and Heritage who is saving and restoring some of the old houses in the one of the quarters. Below are some photos of the beautiful architecture.

Continue reading A glimpse of Bahrain

Real Organic Architecture

While I travelled around Sri Lanka before I left a few weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit the stunning jungle abode  of Sri Lankin artist Laki Senanayake which is called Diyabubula, near Dambulla.  Calling Laki an artist is a bit of an understandment, he is also known as draftsman, architect, artist,  painter, birdwatcher, naturalist, sculptor, inventor, gardener, landscaper, etc etc.  An artist in the mold of De Vinci perhaps.  We spent a lovely evening and beautiful rare cool night upon Lakis platform in the jungle, a house without walls that floats above his carefully flooded property.

(Click on the pictures for full size photos)

Laki worked as one of Geoffrey Bawa’s main draftsmen and landscape advisers, and without any formal training as such he has more knowledge of how to build both houses and landscapes than most other people on the island; architects or not.  His latest design invention, which he is happy for me to promote, is his startling a-frame palm tree house, or Areca Palm house, which can be seen below.

On first glance this looks like a tidily designed and well proportioned A-frame house with a raised timber platform inside to provide a bedroom and bathroom.  Upon close inspection I was startled to see that the Areca Palms are infact pre-grown and then re-planted on an angle to provide the primary structure.  As can be seen in the photos these palms are alive and still growing vertically! Because this construction process relies largely on pre-grown palms and labour (which is compartively cheap in Sri Lanka), it is a much cheaper model for housing than alternative conventional one or two bedroom options.  ( If anyone has any further questions about this amazing house and its construction please contact me mrbarnabyb(at) and I’ll pass them onto Laki)

The disappeared

Murdered, missing, imprisoned in camps…The guns may be silent in Sri Lanka for the first time in 26 years, but the price of peace for the innocent Tamils caught up in the fighting could not be higher … Dan McDougall travels from the Tamils’ UK protest in Parliament Square to the killing fields of Sri Lanka

“A foul-smelling monsoon closes in from the north, carrying dark clouds of ash from the Hindu funeral pyres burning along the “Highway for Peace and Unity”. At the roadside, translucent glasswing butterflies flutter and dance in the charred iron shell of an old British Leyland bus, its undercarriage ripped apart and shredded like paper by a Claymore landmine.

Little more than a cratered strip of asphalt running 100 miles due north from the ancient city of Anuradhapura to Jaffna, the road’s grandiose Marxist title is typically deceptive: today it bisects a dramatically transformed landscape – the broken heart of Sri Lanka’s former Tamil Tiger country, a battle-scarred route lined with thousands of shallow graves, unexploded landmines and the rotting stumps of palmyra trees blackened by the rain.

Here, sheltering from the darkening skies at a remote army checkpoint, a group of weary teenage soldiers gather around an old Russian television impassively watching the capital, Colombo, celebrate the end of the war.

Dressed in messianic white, the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is walking through the streets of the capital as followers shower him with pink flower petals. At each street corner he is offered traditional kiribath (milk rice) and kavung (oil cakes). Crudely dubbed over the footage, hastily assembled songs declare “Our King Rajapaksa”, wishing him “Ayubowewa” – a long life.

“We won the war, we won, OK!” shouts an army NCO in coarse Sinhalese, breaking the silence and ordering the young soldiers on to a personnel carrier heading north. “Now get back to work.” “

read the rest of the article at the theguardian website

A (to the motherf*cking)K 47s

“Nothing in the world -organic or synthetic, methal or chemical- has produced more deaths than the AK47. It has killed more than the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, more than HIV, more htan the bubonic plague, more than malaria, more than all the attacks by Islamic fundamentalists, more than the total of all the earthquakes that have shaken the globe.  An exponential amount of human flesh, impossible to even imagine.

To calculate the state of human rights, the analysts consider the price of the AK47.  The less it costs, the more human rights violations there are, an indication that civil rights are gangrening and the social structure is falling to pieces. In Western Africa, an AK 47 can cost as little as $50. And in Yemen it is possible  to find second or third hand weapons for as low as six dollars.  The Cammora (Napolease Mafioso) in handling a large slice of the international arms market, could actually set the price of AK47s, thus becoming the indirect arbiter of the state of human rights in the West.”

Greased up muscle men smash through walls!

I just came across this frankly bizarre video that made me feel like it was suddenly time for a either a nap, or a big glass of cactus.

From what I can gather, the story goes like this:

I’m a Japanese (of course) body builder (which goes without saying) racing across town with my five buff buddies (and a…what? what is that? A… somehow sexy lady polar bear?), smashing through walls, running over taxis and ultimately attempting to shut down/pile upon a shifty grid iron player who has stolen my protein powder.


So, it’s actually a downloadable game for the wii, called Muscle March. Here’s the site, which is well worth a look, even if it is totally in Japanese and all you can do is, like me, randomly click around and squeal with glee.  For some reason there’s a wombat on the page. It’s like they’ve been reading my diary!

Pics: World Environment Day

The Guardian has produced a nice little photo essay of the impact of pollution on poor communities in various places around the globe. The critical thing to remember, which is what keeps getting imprinted on me again and again this year, is these examples are not sad exceptions but are tragically normal. Click on the image to follow the rest of the images.