Thursday, September 6, 2012

Almost Finished!

So many small details remain to be installed, but I can't resist posting a few quick pictures now that the painting of the lower level has been completed.  It's been a long journey but worth all the time and money - it's gorgeous and I couldn't be happier with the result.

Main area with view to fireplace

Fireplace with bookshelves and future art panel

View to bar

Exercise room is up and running!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The floors are in!

The floors are finished and the "lower level" is taking shape.  Cabinets and trim are coming next week - fingers crossed it will be finished and usable (with better quality photos) soon!

main space


wine cellar

exercise room

playing soccer!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Latest Construction Photos

Our "lower level" is coming along nicely - check it out!  After a delay due to stone availability and summer vacation schedules, we've started back in full swing and the masonry was finished today.  Next week, the FSC certified engineered flooring is installed.  And after that, we wait again for FSC wood availability to make the cabinets.  Fingers crossed it is finished mid-August!

main space 


wine cellar 


exercise room 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Biomimicry Inspired Art Exhibits!

Amy wrote a blog post for Biomimicry Chicago describing new biomimicry inspired art exhibits in Chicago.  Head over to the Biomimicry Chicago blog for more information!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Basement Construction Photos!

Oh, this project has completely taken over my life - and I'm loving it.  For this basement renovation, we sprayed 1" of Icynene insulation directly to the concrete wall and then offset the framing inside of it.  This detail will act as a vapor retarder, eliminate thermal bridging between the studs and the concrete and give us a R19 insulation value- well exceeding energy code.  The Building Science Corporation has great information on this and other high performance wall details. The mechanical ductwork is in and framing is almost complete.  Electrical and lighting started today and we're moving along so quickly.

Before: Main Space

Now: Main Space
Before: Game Area

Now: Game Area
Before: Entertainment Center

Now: Entertainment Center
Before: Bar Area

Now: Bar Area
Before: Exercise Room

Now: Exercise Room

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Planting Edible Landscaping at Millennium Park!

Attractive (with a bit more water) and edible urban agriculture! I wonder what they'll do with the harvest?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Failures in Composting

I've been keeping a compost pile going on six years now and I don't think I've ever had a good batch that I can use in my garden.  I'm so frustrated I'm about to give up.  I just had the last straw when I went to go turn over my (spinning drum style) composter and saw that I have an entire ecosystem of fruit flies flying around it.  Gladly, it's in an out of the way part of my yard, but it's a nuisance and a reminder that composting is an art, not a science.

Composting experts will tell you to have a 50/50 ration of "dry or brown" to "wet or green" ingredients. I tend to put more green ingredients, my kitchen and garden scraps, and forget to put in more brown ingredients, such as shredded bills, newspaper or leaves.  The result is an anaerobic mess that never quite cures and attracts pests.

But as much as I want to, I'm not giving up.  In fact, I'm doubling down and getting a cute little crock that will sit on my counter when I have kitchen scraps (instead of a plastic bag out the back) and I'm going to go dump a bunch of leaves in the composter.  Then I'll cross my fingers and hope that history does not repeat itself and I have usable compost by the time planting season begins.

An idea for entrepreneurs out there - start a composting service.  Green minded folks with no ability to compost (me) will sign up.  You can pick up our kitchen scraps once or twice a week, compost it, and then sell us back our waste in the form of local, organic garden soil.  I know the awesome community Prairie Crossing has a similar service in Gray's Lake, Illinois.  Someone needs to start one in my town.  But for all the reasons mentioned above, it won't be me.

Backyard Living Space

Backyard Proposal by Amy Coffman Phillips for Liquid Triangle Sustainability
This is why I love having friends who buy houses - I get to think of fun ways to spend their money!  I have a friend who bought a beautiful home in the downtown area of a local suburb.  The lots are usually pretty small, but she found one larger than most and wanted to expand the living space back there to include an outdoor kitchen and fireplace as well as some additional seating.  I'm pretty happy with it - I hope she is too!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Bees are out...and it's March

Photo credit:
As I sit here in my backyard on this record breaking warm day in March, I am buzzed by bees and wasps flying near my head.  While this is a startling occasion at any time, I wondered how the bees will fare when this unseasonably warm weather cools to the normally chilly spring that we normally have.  We will still have a frost, right?  And thinking about it, how do bees survive Chicago winters at all?  And is there anything we can learn from them?

Learning Resilience from a Sea Star

Image credit:
I am continually amazed by the diversity of life on this planet.  I remember walking the beaches of Sanibel Island as a child and seeing shells and seaweed in so many forms, and having difficulty understanding that these "things" aren't inanimate objects, but forms of life.  They are all so unique and so unlike us, and there is so much we can learn from them to naturally inspire our creativity.  On my recent trip back to Sanibel, I was particularly fascinated by the sea star, which as an echinoderm and related to the sand dollar, an organism that has fascinated my mother for as long as I can remember.  Thinking about the sea star's regeneration abilities got me thinking about natural resilience, so I did a little research.

What I've been doing for the last month...

My Future Basement
I haven't been posting much about biomimicry lately, for a good reason.  I've been spending all my spare time working on a pricing and construction set for my basement build out.  It's been really fun to dive back into the world of architecture, design, and even CAD and I'm excited to transform the concrete dungeon to a fun entertainment space for my family.  We'll likely start construction in a month and I'll post photos of things I find interesting, but for now back to biomimicry!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

How do you recreate Africa in Orlando?

I recently returned from my first trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida for the first time in over twenty years and I'm exhausted, but my kids had a great time. At 2 and 4, they were rather overwhelmed, but my 2 year old son really took to Animal Kingdom, which was the one I was most looking forward to as well. And it got me thinking - how did the designers really make it possible that the flora and fauna that is adapted to an African climate can survive in a former swamp like Orlando? I would have thought that the two climates would be too different, but as I sat outside of my room at the Animal Kingdom at night with a constructed savanna outside my balcony, they somehow did it.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

So the groundhog got me thinking... do animals adapt to freezing Chicago winters?

Humans seal ourselves off in conditioned homes and cars, burning a lot of fossil fuel energy to do so.  But animals don't have that option.  So how do they do it?  I decided to revisit my grade school classes and relearn what I've forgotten.  And maybe there is something we can learn for design.

Photo credit: National Geographic Society 
Groundhog Day got me think, of course, about groundhogs.  As I learned in grade school, they do in fact hibernate from approximately October to March, but toward the end of hibernation (oh, say February 2nd or so?), they enter various stages of arousal to test the temperature and scope out new territory before entering into a semi-hibernated state like torpor.  The purpose of hibernation, of course, is to conserve calories when food is scarce, so the animal's metabolic rate slows and the body cools, respiration and heart rate are depressed.  Groundhogs enter into obligate hibernation, where they are aroused by internal mechanisms and usually unable to be aroused due to external stimluli. Other animals enter into facultative hibernation, or semi-hibernation, where they are able to be aroused but the purpose is the same: conserve energy when it is scarce.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Thinking about Niches - a Spanish Biomimicry iSite

In Spain for our latest BProfessional intensive, we had an iSite where we picked an organism and looked to find it's niche - how it fits in with its environment. The location of our retreat was a hilly area with lots of clay, falling rocks, and erosion.  And even without a lot of water - the area was almost considered a desert - plants were there to stabilize some of the soil.  There were quite a few plants with really gnarly roots that seemed to zigzag down the slope in such a way that I thought it could be a stabilization mechanism, much like how we spread our feet and place them parallel to the slope to stabilize ourselves on a steep slope.  I can't find any mention of this form in the literature I've referenced, but I'm sticking with my observation until proven wrong.  So when looking at the contextual limiting factors for this Rosemary bush, it would seem that its ability to thrive in unstable soil with poor nutrients and not a lot of water allowed it to carve out a niche where other organisms aren't able to survive.  And the zigzag form is one that I find interesting. This tool for natural observation is one that I find useful when trying to understand the contextual factors that influence an organism's ability to survive and be resilient against adverse conditions.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Upcoming Biomimicry Seminar in Chicago

I am presenting a seminar on Biomimicry as a design innovation strategy at the Chicago Center for Green Technology Thursday, April 12th at 6pm, with Lindsay James (BProfessional 2013 Candidate and Sustainability Strategist at InterfaceFLOR).  The course is a professional service and free, but registration is required.  Hope to see you there!

Biomimicry: Naturally Inspired Design Innovation

SPEAKER: Amy Coffman Phillips, Liquid Triangle Sustainability; and Lindsay James, InterfaceFLOR

Biomimicry, the practice of learning from nature to solve human problems, is emerging as a powerful tool for creating sustainable design and systemic transformation. Applied at a variety of scales, from individual products to buildings and organizations, biomimicry bring nature’s 3.8 billion years of innovation experience to the table. Our discussion will examine this quickly evolving practice, review what it is, how it is being applied and its powerful potential for the future. AIA/CES: 2LU

Click here for the full course catalog - lots of fun programs!

Biomimicry in Architecture, and in My Life

I just got back from my fourth BProfessional intensive in Almaria, Spain, and as always, it was a transformative experience.  While there I had the pleasure of meeting and learning from Michael Pawlyn, British architect and founder of Exploration Architecture, a firm focused exclusively on sustainable projects that take inspiration from nature.  His book "Biomimicry in Architecture" is a gorgeous treatise on embodying natural forms and processes into the built environment, and for those of you who haven't seen this TED talk, I highly recommend it.  

In this TED talk and in our session, he eloquently describes what drew me to biomimicry in the first place, that it is a positive way of thinking and talking about sustainable design.  It doesn't focus on incremental changes, but on complete paradigm shifts that change your perspective.  He says that biomimicry is about "synergies, and abundance, and optimizing" and "sets people's souls ablaze."  I couldn't agree more.  I had the same feeling after my first BProfessional intensive that I did after reading "Cradle to Cradle" by William McDonough - it was a paradigm shift in the way we look at fitting in with this world.

The idea of mimicking the interactions between mature ecosystems, as shown in Grahm Wiles' "Cardboard to Caviar" project and the Sahara Forest Project, is particularly appealing to me.  Mr. Pawlyn talks about competition as a sign of an immature ecosystem where in mature ecosystems, symbiotic relationships are the standard.  To me, that's radical thinking in our capitalist environment where everyone, it seems, is out for themselves.  But we aren't going to change the world to be more sustainable within the competitive power structures that exist today.  We need a paradigm shift.  The following became our mantra for the week:
Go fast = go alone
Go far = go together
I hope to embody this meme everyday in my work and life.  It goes against the normal business grain, so this won't be an easy challenge to live up to.  But it is necessary to accomplish great things.  We need networks.  We need collaborators.  We need to work together.  Biomimicry, for me, is so much more than mimicking forms and processes into design.  It's about reconnecting with the natural world and embodying the ethics of sustainability within my work and life.  It's about reconnecting with the genius of the place I live in and learning from life around me.  And it's about setting lofty goals and living my life trying to achieve them.

As always, the BProfessional intensive retreats are intense sessions of visioning and transformation and I feel so fortunate to be on this path.