167. Breaktime.

Dear Readers,

I'm pursuing a project that I'll tell you about later, so I don't have much time to blog. I'll get back to it as soon as I can, and I'll tweet and post on Facebook as normal. Thank you for listening.



166. Big Jump (into the Elbe)

I'm not alone in wanting to swim in the river that runs through my city.

The people of Zurich swim in their rivers. My friend M. said:
In Switzerland there are lots of swimming places on rivers...Nobody cares about diseases here. Some are just places to jump in, some are more similar to what you proposed (like the one in Schaffhausen, where there is quite some flow), many are more like swimming pools but with natural water:




My wife used to live in Switzerland, and she noted:
  • There was typically a rope that spanned the river downstream. People could hang out in the water while hanging onto the rope. It was easy to grab so you wouldn't be carried away by the current. 
  • The width of areas where you could swim were not very large.  
A Swiss tourism consultant told me there were not necessarily life guards at all river swimming areas. So people need to care about their own safety.

There is a movement dedicated to Europeans reclaiming their rivers called Big Jump. On one day per year, everyone jumps into their local river to call attention to how important protecting our rivers are, and to have fun. Of course they recommend the water quality be measured before jumping in. The next Big Jump is July 12, 2015.

Specifically Big Jump calls attention to the Water Framework Directive, implemented by the EU. Paraphrased by Big Jump, it states:
The primary environmental objective of the WFD is that all freshwater bodies reach the status of "good condition" by 2015, which corresponds to being as close as possible to undisturbed, natural waters.
Unfortunately that goal is far from being achieved. Which means we need to continue fighting for clean water, because really, we shouldn't be concerned for our kids' lives when they swim in nature.

This is a big issue. There is a documentary in German called "Flussversönung" about how activists, architects, and politicians are trying to clean up the Spree in Berlin.

I was wondering about why an architect was interested in a river, and then I realized, if the water in the Spree were swimmable, its banks would be a much more attractive place to live. It is the same with the Elbe.

Who's interested in jumping? If the water is clean enough, I'm tossing my kids in. And yes, jumping in after them.

165. Problems with the Swim Ring

At a big brunch that the Magdeburg Japanese community organized, I spoke with a physicist by the name of BB about my Elbe Swim Ring idea. He works to analyze and clean former coal mines that have become lakes.

He sees three problems with swimming in the Elbe:
  1. a powerful current (horizontal motion)
  2. tide (vertical motion)
  3. disease (such as Hepatitis A) 
My proposed solutions:
  1. The current can be reduced by the perforated screen, or if that doesn't work, by a series of baffles that slow the water. 
  2. The part of the system in the water can be designed to float. 
  3. In conjunction with the perforated screen, use the + Pool filter (see bottom of the webpage) to filter contaminants.  
Sketches coming, stay tuned.

164. Open Source Design: East Africa Children's Clinic

We're traveling at the moment, visiting Sara's family in southern Germany and Switzerland.

So I'll keep it short: I made a blog page where I can list my designs with an open source license.

They are hosted at the Open Architecture Network, an open source design network started by Cameron Sinclair, who started Architecture for Humanity, a charitable design organization.

This project was my entry into Architecture for Humanity's competition for a children's clinic in Rwanda. (Hint: Click the button in the upper right hand corner of the image to see a larger version.)

Here is one of three competition boards (posters):

It was the only competition I have ever done. I knew my chances of winning were slim, but it still hurt my soul that no one would ever use my design. Most likely the biggest problem with my design was a lack of understanding about how clinics actually work. I focused on creating a bright, sustainable building that reused transportable tanks to store rainwater.

I learned a lot, but I became an architect because, although I want to create beautiful things, above all I want my work to be useful to people.

So here's my work, that I put out into the world with this Creative Commons license.

Go for it: download it, hack it, build it.

163. Proposed Swim Ring at the Elbe Riverfront

Here are sketches of my proposed design for the Elbe Swim Ring. More details at the Open Architecture Network, a project of Architecture for Humanity.

1. Perspective view. It's an elliptical (oval) wood deck that protects people while they swim in the river.

2. Plan (overhead) view. You can walk on the Ring without ever going in the water, sit on it to put your feet in the water, rest your arms on it with your body in the water. Like at the edge of a regular pool.

Kids can play on the childen's platform.

3. Section (cut) view. The Ring slopes gently from the sand to the water. The deck is supported by steel beams and columns, resting on pilings in the earth.

I'm not sure yet how to deal with the high and low tides of the river surface.

4. Detail view. The structure is simple.

5. Section detail view. Notice the perforated sheet metal between the columns protects the swimmers from river debris.

They can be placed in all kinds of locations because they are small. 

Why not take back the Elbe River for our families, for the citizens of this city?

162. Why can't we swim in the Elbe River?

Magdeburg doesn't have a city center like other European cities, I thought to myself when we moved here. Other residents agreed with me.

However, I realized the Elbe River is the city center.

It's enormous: it flows from the Giant Mountains of the Czech Republic through Magdeburg and other cities such as Hamburg, and into the North Sea, a route of almost 700 miles (1100 km).

It is thus far my favorite part of the city, because it connects the city to the landscape at a very large scale, and yet at a small scale, because the city was built around the river.

My favorite destinations are around the Elbe: parks, restaurants, beach bars. I can ride to the riverfront from home in about ten minutes.

Yet why haven't I seen anyone swimming in it? It seems like an obvious question but no one seems to know why. The most I have seen are dogs, kids, and parents dipping their feet in it.

I didn't find any clear answers on the Net. In Hamburg, a politician wondered as well (automated English translation), and she pointed out the water quality is good enough for swimming.

My friends say no one swims in it because the current is too strong. There is also light barge and boat traffic.

What if we could solve the problem by creating a space for swimming that protected people from the current, the boat traffic, the debris?

I'm inspired by an architect in Brooklyn by the name of Dong-Ping Wong, who is creating a pool that filters water in the Hudson River so people can swim in it.

More thoughts coming.

161. When two kids at kindergarten spoke English to each other

We made it: Thomas started kindergarten.

When I would take him to drop off or pick up Emi, he would often cry because he wanted the tasty food there, he wanted to ride the tractors, he wanted to play with the kids. Now he does it all.

Mimi, currently the sole native English speaker teacher, told me yesterday that L, a three and a half year old native English speaker who just moved to Germany and started at the kindergarten, was thrilled to be able to speak English with Thomas.

No other kids at the kindergarten speak English with each other, so I was ecstatic to hear that all those hours of blabbing to Thomas was paying off.

I encourage Emi to speak English with L, but she has her own girl clique.

(Update, Oct 4, 2014): Mimi says Emi speaks English with Logan. Huzzah!