Melissa Hope Matlins

Going Green in Antarctica
February 5, 2009, 7:51 pm
Filed under: Architecture, Design, Green, Sustainability, Travel


In some ways, designing for a climate like Antarctica is like designing for another planet. That is exactly what I thought when I saw my friend Ken’s pictures of McMurdo Station, like the one above – this is what a future human settlement on Mars will look like. Not like the Jetsons house at all. Just bunkerlike, uninspiring, unsustainable, and thoroughly un-designed! And how unfortunate, because the idea of designing a building to house all those arctic researchers, ice pioneers and  penguin aficionados that could be both beautiful and green is darn exciting.

That is exactly why I find this design competition for a “green” research station in Antarctica so intriguing. And not just a little bit green, but zero carbon emissions no less! I am imagining some sort of igloo, but with solar panels on it? I am really looking forward to seeing the results.

Competition via: Bustler

More Antarctica fabulousness: SpaceBit


Sleepy Subway Surfers
January 29, 2009, 10:20 pm
Filed under: Travel, Urbanism


Why is there a blog dedicated to pictures of people asleep on the subway? In the words of is creator, “Because seeing people fall asleep on the subway is a universal language…” I didn’t realize it, but I have been holding on to this picture that I took on the train back from the airport last summer, just waiting for a site like this. Thanks for the post, Asleep On The Subway! And for letting me know that blogging about micro-topics is a legitimate trend. If you have any doubt, check out my friend’s blog on Round Signs.

Inauguration Day Artworks
January 26, 2009, 7:30 pm
Filed under: Design, Travel


I spent inauguration day far from the D.C. crowds, in my sister’s first grade classroom in Miami. While we watched the historic moment, she led them in two art projects – coloring in printouts of the iconic Shepard Fairey posters from the campaign, and making collages of the day’s newspapers. Big thanks to Sandra for sharing her amazing photos, more here.


Moore Space Photo in Miami City Guide
July 29, 2008, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Architecture, Design, Travel

I took this photo in the atrium of the Moore Space in Miami during Art Basel last year, and now you can find it online as part of the new Schmap Miami Guide, a sort of online travel book and map with photos. You can also browse the guide on your iphone here if you are feeling fancy. The pulled taffy-looking installation criss-crossing the atrium is “Elastika” by architect Zaha Hadid.

Activating the Landscape
September 26, 2007, 7:02 pm
Filed under: Architecture, Middle East, Travel, Urbanism

Architects like the term activation. It makes them feel like putting up buildings, which essentially create permanent boundaries, maybe isn’t such a static, heavy sort of enterprise.

Jerusalem can be a heavy place. It is architecture heavy. Lots of stone, lots of people worshipping stone. What a delight to happen upon the Soundscapes exhibit at the Tower of David Museum one evening. I was able to observe and learn a lot about what activation really means in an architectural context, and in a museum context.


An entire automated orchestra is installed in the courtyard of this ancient citadel. Moving prongs pluck a harp, wired sticks beat on drums, and 15 foot high guitar strings reverberate in arched doorways. The space was truly activated, with both adults running about like children to observe the mechanical instruments at work. It was a welcome respite from all of the heavy sightseeing we did that day.


The colored lights that accompanied the music meshed beautifully with the city landscape, visible from the ramparts of the Citadel.

More information on the Soundscapes exhibit available at: Design Interact

The City We Choose To See
September 25, 2007, 12:31 am
Filed under: Architecture, Middle East, Travel, Urbanism

As important as it is to observe the architecture that a city chooses to build, it is equally important to observe the architecture that a city chooses to see. After visiting Beirut, and returning to New York City on the eve of September 11th, I realized that both cities have a few architectural ‘elephants in the room’ that natives don’t seem to be seeing.
The relics and remainders of Lebanon’s seemingly endless civil war would seem to be the most obvious. My hotel room in Beirut boasted both a lovely view of the coastline and port, and a more ominous view of a few destroyed skyscrapers, former hotels that were bombed into oblivion by competing factions in 1987. Twenty years on, enterprising Beirutis have reconstructed the adjacent beach club, which thrums with techno music all weekend long. The legal issues of responsibility for the cleanup, and ownership, are too complicated to wrangle, they say, and so the shell building continues to blight an otherwise lovely coastline.

After taking a few pictures from the street, we are shooed away by people that I assume are police officers. They lack uniforms, but do not lack automatic rifles. No pictures here. Noted. Don’t they know that we can survey the scene quite clearly from our hotel, and from the swank new Intercontinental Hotel across the street?

After twenty years of looking at these buildings, however, have they started to look normal? An entire generation of Lebanese are unaccustomed to the hotels looking any other way. Call it willful ignorance, or at worst a coping strategy, but, if acknowledged at all, they are generally perceived as a bit of a downer. The desire for reconstruction again stalled by fears of unrest, in another twenty years they may just melt into the sea.

I retained a rather judgmental attitude towards Beirut and its white elephants until I read a short piece in The Architect’s Newspaper on the woes of 130 Liberty Street, the former Deutsche Bank building, near the Ground Zero site. After the destruction of the World Trade Center towers nearby, this severely damaged skyscraper is being slowly deconstructed. A recent fire in the empty building claimed the lives of two firefighters, tragedy on tragedy, and work has halted to determine who is to blame. In the interim, 130 Liberty Street will remain shrouded, as it has been for the past six years. Meanwhile, the latest round of plans for the Ground Zero site have been released, and it warrants hardly a whisper among friends, some of them architects. Even New York City has its white elephants. I flash forward to a future, only ten years on perhaps. Wrangling continues at Ground Zero while adjacent areas, such as Battery Park City, forge on with their brash optimism, boasting expansive parkland and luxury green buildings with “city views” that include the stagnated site. I think of Beirut and somehow their willful ignorance of the destruction around them doesn’t seem so antiquated, or even so Middle Eastern. Maybe we all only see the city that we choose to see. There I was taking photographs of the destroyed, abandoned buildings of Beirut, and I have yet to take one picture of 130 Liberty Street, or Ground Zero, my own backyard.

(picture above: Matt Chaban for The Architect’s Newspaper)

Gone Swimming
September 16, 2007, 6:46 pm
Filed under: Middle East, Travel, Urbanism

It’s funny how something as simple as swimming can really shed some light on a culture. In Beirut, we stayed at a perfectly lovely boutique style hotel. But the hotel pool, we were told, was “under renovation,” although it appeared from the view out of our hallway window that for all intents and purposes the construction of this pool had been halted.


It was August, and it was hot, so we figured the least we could do is watch other people swim. As we walked along the promenade by the sea, we observed two types of swimmers, those with plentiful resources, and those without.


Expensive beach clubs along the shoreline feature large pools, thumping techno music and women in bikinis. Not to mention that this particular club was ringed by some of the largest concrete bollards I had ever seen. I don’t think that they have a problem with shoreline erosion here, so I can only think that they must be expecting a pretty significant invasion by sea. But for now the party continues.


Most Beirutis were hanging out on the natural rock formations below the promenade, fishing, getting some sun, or daring each other to jump from rocks that are too high into water that is too shallow. By most Beirutis I mean men. The few women I saw out and about were sweltering in burkas on the shade free walkway.


Towards the end of the route, the promenade, which was mostly rock and sand to begin with, became entirely sand and a bit difficult to slog through. Nature seems to have reclaimed the shoreline of this part of the city, at least temporarily. At dusk, the view of the half-built skyline is  spectacular.