Melissa Hope Matlins

Sponge Parks for Superfund Sites
May 7, 2009, 4:32 pm
Filed under: Architecture, Design, Green, Sustainability, Urbanism

Brooklyn’s own Gowanus Canal is on the verge of becoming a Superfund site, pretty incredible since my friend was spotted paddling down the Canal in January, clearly at his own peril. The pending Superfund declaration has generated significant debate about how, exactly, the polluted waterway will be remediated. The industrial polluters that once lined the Gowanus are long-gone, but New York City’s own 19th century sewer system, which combines sewage from buildings with stormwater from streets, empties into the Canal and other waterways surrounding the city practically every time it rains. (It has been raining for almost a week straight here, so it’s on my mind.)

ARO Principal Stephen Cassell, and his friend Susannah Drake, Principal at dlandstudio, have a proposal for you – “Sponge Parks” along the Canal that will harness the incredible absorptive power of dirt and plant roots to capture water where it hits the ground, stemming the tide of stormwater that slicks our urban surfaces, building rooftops, sidewalks and roads. I have to admit, the term Sponge Park sounds pretty fun, a place that you might want to hang out in, enjoy the weather and such. It a significant improvement over the industry terminology of bioswales and rain gardens; the former sounding too technical and the latter sounding too age of Aquarius.

Via: WNYC Cityscapes project


The First 100 – Captured
April 29, 2009, 10:03 pm
Filed under: Design, Green, Sustainability | Tags: , , , , ,


I just discovered The Official White House Photostream, a beautiful chronicle of Obama’s first 100 days in office. The most endearing image to me of course is this photo of both the President and Vice President atop the solar panel bedecked roof of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Check out how much energy the system produces (and how it works) on the museum’s website.

Image: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Bed-Stuy Meadow Project

Photo credit: Kate Glicksberg via  21st Century Plowshare

I braved the rain on Saturday in support of a beautiful and simple vision – to blanket the vacant lots of New York City’s Bed Stuy neighborhood with native wildflowers. The project’s creators, 21st Century Plowshare, supplied us volunteers with nifty bags filled with a seed/sand mixture and “seed bombs” for throwing over fences (shown here in Kate Glicksberg‘s great photo). I am hoping that April showers will work their magic and we will see some sprouts soon. More neighborhood plantings are in the works. And testament to the power of the idea – New York Times coverage here.

Image: Kate Glicksberg via 21st Century Plowshare

Green. Simple. Funny.


Environmentalism is serious, complicated business, so a bit of humor on the subject is quite refreshing, especially when the jokes call attention to simple green solutions. I had a good laugh over the “Tongue-in-Cheek Guide for Green Gadget Buyers” in Fast Company this month, especially the recession-friendly “efficiency toggle” that “can achieve a 100% reduction in power usage.” Building daylight monitors and occupancy sensors are cool, but lets not forget that the simple act of turning off the lights (like your parents told you to) doesn’t require a complicated calculation to determine the payback period.

Via: Fast Company

Tapping Green Retail
March 16, 2009, 8:57 pm
Filed under: Green, Sustainability


The pub-style taps at the new Green Depot store on the Bowery dispense dish soap, not beer, and consumers are sidling up to this “bar” in increasing numbers. According to IRI’s latest study, the growth in the popularity of sustainable products continues to trend upwards, ailing economy be damned. The report parses shoppers into eight different, curiously titled segments, based on their demographics, purchasing power and attitude towards premium pricing for green goods. While the habits of dedicated “Eco-centrics” haven’t changed much, the “Respectful Stewards” and “Proud Traditionalists” are stepping up their spending, even in these tough times. How to capitalize on this lone bright spot in the consumer-verse? “Understand core values across key consumer segments; align product assortment and merchandising programs accordingly,in short – reduce, reuse, recycle and retail.

More info: Businesswire
Image via: Dave Pinter on Flickr

Update: More promising statistics from the Carbon Trust via UK’s Times Online

Lieb House, Boat?
March 13, 2009, 3:29 pm
Filed under: Architecture, Design, New York City | Tags: ,

I think that most architects would argue that what distinguishes their work from art is a consideration of “context.” Architects like that word – context – and it can be used to describe everything from a skyscraper to a schoolchild. When there is a disjunction between a building and its context, it is often because the neighborhood changes around it, or the building is adapted to another use or program. But every so often a disjunction occurs when a building is actually removed from its context, and transported via barge up the East River perhaps.


The Lieb House, designed by Pritzker Prize winner Robert Venturi of Venturi Scott Brown Associates, is a notable 1,500 square foot beach house that lived on a large lot in New Jersey – until recently. To save the structure from demolition, the house was purchased by a couple who happen to own another Venturi-designed house. The Lieb House will be joining their Kalpakjian House in Glen Cove, Long Island.

More pictures here

The New Design Ascetic
February 23, 2009, 9:50 pm
Filed under: Architecture, Design, Green, Sustainability

At their most relevant, design objects are a reflection of the moment that we live in. In leaner times, design downsizes accordingly, casting off the trappings of the baroque in favor of an austere, and even ascetic, sensibility.

The coveted objects of the past decade were born of excess and eschewed function in favor of frivolity. If I had to select one piece as a symbol of this heady time, I would single out the absurdly oversized chandelier.

The oversized chandelier is an entirely non-functional object. Unless you harbor a devious plan to incapacitate a ballroom’s worth of revelers in a very dramatic fashion, you probably don’t need one. A new asceticism, coupled with a renewed interest in ecology, is paring design back to its roots in function. The oversized chandelier has been usurped by the humble compact fluorescent bulb. The chandelier-lovers deride it, but it looks like progress to me, and its going to light the way toward a more purposeful future for design.


Must we repent, banish decoration and bathe in dumpsters? Probably no. (Although it does look roomy.) But as designers, we may want to take a hard look at the detritus around us and put our thinking caps on. I don’t want to see another bathtub carved from a single chunk of marble excised from the ground at the opposite end of the earth in a pricey apartment, pretty much ever again. There has to be a more intelligent way to make things.

Dumpster bathtub image via MAKE