Chrome, Pigeon Poop, and Botanical Gardens

October 26th, 2010 — 10:36pm by Alison Gradischer

The historic tanneries of Morocco are an integral part of the Old Medina located in the heart of Fez. For close to a thousand years the tanneries in the Old Medina have been preparing animal skins into soft, supple leather for shoes, handbags, purses, etc. To this day there are only a handful of tanneries left that still implement the use of organic materials for the tanning process. These materials include (but are not limited to):

  • cow urine
  • pigeon poop
  • quicklime
  • wheatbran
  • tree bark
  • grenadine

National Geographic Segment on Tanneries in Morocco – You Tube

However the new generation tanneries that exist in Morocco are much dirtier and more toxic than the old ones currently in the Medina. Many people don’t realize that there are in fact 58 tanneries in Fez and most of them are located in the industrial areas of the city. These newer tanneries employ modern techniques and materials in order to increase production. On average some of the newer tanneries can process 2000 sheepskins a day, whereas the ones located in the Old Medina produce far less. Many of the traditionalists who admire the historical process of tanning are opposed to the use of chemicals such as:

  • sulphur
  • sulphate
  • formic acid
  • chrome

And while tanning is an ancient art in Morocco, it is nonetheless incredibly toxic and creates an enormous amount of pollution. Much of this pollution stems from the use of Chrome in the tanning process. Liquid chrome, as well as other chemicals, that’s used in the tanning process is dumped into Morocco’s water systems and reeks havoc on the ecosystems within the Fez and Sebou Rivers. Out of the 58 tanneries located in Fez, only 17 of them are linked up to Morocco’s first chrome removal plant that was established in 2003. The plant can handle up to eight cubic meters of water a day and recycles the chrome and sulphuric acid in order to sell back to the tanneries to be used again. Yet there is still the problem of over 1000 tons of chrome being dumped into the Sebou River every year. The chrome removal plant can only handle roughly 40% of the chrome that is dumped into the rivers.

In recognizing this problem, Harvard trained architect and native Moroccan Aziza Chaouni (and creator of bureaueast.com) was the recipient of a 2008 Gold Holcim Award for Africa Middle East for her river remediation and urban development scheme for Fez. The remediation project calls for a range of various interventions:

  • revitalizing the ecology of the Fez River – also known as the “River of Trash”
  • enhance wildlife habitats
  • maintaining and improving Fez’s world heritage UNESCO status
  • create public spaces in the poorest areas – a playground
  • revitalize economic development – a transit hub

Above all the goal is to regenerate the river into the Medina as the city’s lifeline.

Degradation of the Fez River

So where do the tanneries fit in…

From vats to botanical gardens

Aziza Chaouni and LA-based urban planner Takako Tajima, are looking to move the tanneries that exist in the Old Medina elsewhere. More than likely these tanneries will be moved closer to the newer establishments. Since the tanneries are one of the main perpetrators contributing to river pollution, Aziza has proposed to move the tanneries and establish a botanical garden in its place. This aims to clean up the tannery process as well as the contaminated vats and other surroundings. This project aims to capture new opportunities for the city’s leather industry and align with international standards.

However there is quite a bit of backlash in regards to removing the tanneries to a different location and installing a botanical garden. Many feel as though that is Western “beautification” concept would be imposed on Fez and wouldn’t speak true to the organic nature of the Medina. Many wonder where the tannery workers will find other employment since many of them have been making a livelihood out of this their entire lives. It is hard for me to comment on the cultural nature of the Medina, having only been there for two days, but for some reason I don’t feel that a botanical garden is something that would necessarily fit in with the Old Medina.

Mint leaves - given to tourists (like me) when you enter the tannery

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Land vs. Laboratory

December 16th, 2010 — 12:39am by Laura Allcorn

Land vs Laboratory

Land vs Laboratory Notes

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Nomadic Network: A proposal to increase dialouge between disciplines for exchange and dispersal of design solutions.

December 14th, 2010 — 12:50am by Christina Conant

Over the course of this semester I have been researching nomadic tribes and populations. Much of this research has led me to the realization that many of these populations, share plights similar to those of people who are migrating into cities and building makeshift cities usually referred to slums or favelas.  Currently in the United States the homeless population is on the increase as well. In many cases nomadic and pastoral people are moving away from their way of life and into more sedentary and urban areas. Traditional techniques of culture and survival are abandoned out of economic neccessity. Desertification and other environmental disasters are placing extra strain on already fragile communities.

As a designer and someone who has been personally involved with a variety of sustainable living communities I am interested in issues regarding land use, community development and craft traditions. Fringe populations including nomads, climate,political and economic refugees are disconnected from the societies they share geography and resources with. In both emerging economies and developed nations these populations face issues from meeting basic sustenance, hygienic, safety, and education needs to disembodiment from cultural heritage. Traditional nomadic populations of Africa, the Middle East and Asia have long faced similar threats and challenges in these arenas. Although many nomads now choose more sedentary lifestyles there are benefits to understanding techniques and traditions that sustained them for centuries. These various techniques may be useful to similarly marginalized populations in other parts of the world. A vehicle for dialogue between these groups and organizations working with these populations may lead to new design solutions as the world faces issues surrounding climate change, growing population and increased pressure on natural resources. Open dialouge between these citizens on the periphery could enable new design solutions and moral support.

Through my research I have found many organizations both governmental, NGO’s and non-profits that are tackling these issues and working within these populations to make life better. Some of these organizations are already set up to network with similar organizations, others are taking on specific environmental problems such as desertification and water contamination.  It is the intention of this project to initiate a response and perhaps cultivate a discussion around the diverse issues these organizations face and, in the end, perhaps develop a more permanent network or mode of communication which can disseminate design ideas and support for these growing fringe populations.

Allan Savory : 2010 Winner of the Buckminster Fuller Design Challenge

“Allan Savory argued that while livestock may be part of the problem, they can also be an important part of the solution. He has demonstrated time and again in Africa, Australia and North and South America that, properly managed, they are essential to land restoration. With the right techniques, plant growth is lush, the water table is higher, wildlife thrives, soil carbon increases and, surprisingly, perhaps four times as many cattle can be kept.”

Allan Savory uses methods derived from natural systems to transform arid land into fertile eco-systems.  These methods are similar to ancient techniques used by some nomadic people to produce cereal grains.  He works with many nomadic communities to develop sustainable land use practices.  He is the founder of the Savory Institute whose mission is “

…to restore the vast grasslands of the world through the teaching and practice of Holistic Management and Holistic Decision Making. The Institute’s Consulting and Training activities are turning deserts into thriving grasslands, restoring biodiversity, bringing streams, rivers and water sources back to life, combating poverty and hunger, and increasing sustainable food production, all while putting an end to global climate change.”  He was recently awarded the 2010 Buckminster Fuller Prize

For a ful explanation watch this informative lecture about his process!

“Allan Savory-Keeping Cattle: cause of cure for climate crisis?” (Trinity College, Dublin Ireland: Vimeo, December 2009),http://vimeo.com/8239427.


National Coalition for The Homeless

“ The National Coalition for the Homeless is a national network of people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness, activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to a single mission. That mission, our common bond, is to end homelessness. We are committed to creating the systemic and attitudinal changes necessary to prevent and end homelessness. At the same time, we work to meet the immediate needs of people who are currently experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of doing so. We take as our first principle of practice that people who are currently experiencing homelessness or have formerly experienced homelessness must be actively involved in all of our work. Toward this end, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) engages in public education, policy advocacy, and grassroots organizing. We focus our work in the following 4 areas: housing justice, economic justice, health care justice, and civil rights.”

This site provides links to programs, statistics and articles about homelessness in the US.  They would be a valuable contributor to a dialogue on homeless coping methods as well as providing experience and first-hand knowledge.  They may also be a powerful method of disseminating a proposal for a Global Nomad Network.

OxFam

“Oxfam is an international confederation of 14 organizations working together in 99 countries and with partners and allies around the world to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice.We work directly with communities and we seek to influence the powerful to ensure that poor people can improve their lives and livelihoods and have a say in decisions that affect them.

Oxfam direct relationships with the citizens experiencing hardships could provide valuable insight into the needs and wants and knowledge of these populations.

UNHCR:

What We Do

“The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country.”

THe UNHCR’s extensive knowledge on the needs of displaced citizens would provide valuable insight and exchange with many of these other organizations.

Pastoralist Communication Initiative

Watering the camels


“The Pastoralist Communication Initiative is the collective name for a series of projects working with pastoralists in the Horn of Africa and implemented and managed by Pastoralists Consultants International. The projects involve pastoralists in the Horn of Africa and beyond and focus on new knowledge and innovation. We connect pastoralists in the Horn with pastoralists all over the world and we promote productive conversation between pastoralists, governments and others. We promote an appreciation of the potential of pastoral economies and societies with official institutions, the media and the public.”

This site provides a fantastic model of a network site.  There is also information available to the public and other pastoral/nomadic communities regarding resettlement, agriculture,  and cultural issues.  Members of this site could contribute greatly to the discussion and dissemination of knowledge to and from the groups it works with.

Dr. John Todd : Inventor of the Eco-Machine and Winner of the 2008 Buckminster Fuller Challenge

John Todd Ecological Design

“In 1989 Dr. John Todd, an internationally recognized inventor and a pioneer in the design and construction of ecological wastewater treatment systems, decided it was time to offer a cost-effective, renewable or what is now commonly referred to as “green” solution to the growing global wastewater crisis.”

By utilizing algae, plankton, fish and plants at specific stages in the treatment of wastewater, Dr. John Todd has developed a system to clean water without the use of toxic chemicals.  The result is a beautiful and bountiful system that can exist in a variety of settings and climates.

Dr. John Todd’s contributions on the topic of resource management and in relation to unregulated populations would be invaluable.  A combination of these methods with Allen Savory’s techniques dispersed through a bare-foot design model could be a possible approach in lifting these populations out of squalor.

Dignity Village , Portland Oregon

On December 16th of the year 2000, a group of eight homeless men and women pitched five tents on public land and Camp Dignity, later to become Dignity Village, was born. We came out of the doorways of Portland’s streets, out from under the bridges, from under the bushes of public parks, we came openly with nothing and no longer a need to hide as Portland’s inhumane and Draconian camping ban had just been overturned on two constitutional grounds. We came armed with a vision of a better future for ourselves and for all of Portland, a vision of a green, sustainable urban village where we can live in peace and improve not only the condition of our own lives but the quality of life in Portland in general.

Dignity village is an example of a self-governing informal community that has become more formal over time but has maintained freedom from building codes and other formal strictures.  Dignity village may provide valuable inspiration and contributions about small scale organization tactics. They  may provide advice to peripheral communities around the globe as well as benefiting from information from a wider global network.

Most Livable Slum | A blog to promote dialog on development in South Asia

This blog is maintained by the South Asia Region of the World Bank Group. Its goal is to exchange ideas on how to end poverty in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

This Blog, developed by the World Bank, exhibits an interesting perspective on slum living and the suggestion that improvement by the communities will lead to greater inclusion to the societies they exist around.  The network that might provide education for these communities does not yet exist.  The problem of providing access to this info via the web is a massive issue.  An analog paper zine may provide a temporary answer until these communities can develop there own internet Hubs.  The input of the World Bank on this research and in the dissemination of information would be invaluable.

Joshua Hirshberg:  Half Nomad Blog

Jerko's maiden voyage

“A photo blog telling poetic stories of non-hierarchal praxis and the social relations that are formed in the process.  Some content is less obviously about horizontal practices, and more about creatively navigating life in the midst of late capitalism while keeping these ideas in mind.  The blog is a space to test out content for a future book/zine project.”

This blog project is a good model of disparate ideas finding a mode of connection and communication.  Joshua Hirschberg may provide insight into producing content on this topic as well as being a possible contributor.

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Jingdezhen – Porcelain Capital

December 13th, 2010 — 8:06pm by Jason Lee Starin

Jingdezhen – Porcelain Capital

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GUESS WHAT, DUTCH DESIGNERS ARE AT IT AGAIN! “MADE IN FES” BRAND

November 10th, 2010 — 5:39am by Alison Gradischer

Just in case anyone is interested in looking at the “Made in Fes” brand a little closer, I recommend looking at the site. This site explains the relationship between Morocco and the Netherlands (not sure I understand this connection, but not surprised that the Dutch are involved). This site doesn’t give much insight into the opinions of the tannery workers (or any of the artisans for that matter) but it explains how the Made in Fes brand just came out with a “haute couture” collection. For some reason this just seems odd.

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A MORE IN-DEPTH LOOK AT THE TANNERIES OF MOROCCO – PRESENTATION

November 8th, 2010 — 5:53am by Alison Gradischer

Tanneries

PRESENTATION NOTES:

SLIDE 1. (TITLE)

SLIDE 2. Within Morocco’s economy, Industry makes up approximately 20% of the labor force, which are about 11 million people. Leather is the largest major export to partners like Spain, France and India and exports up to 100 million shoes annually.

SLIDE 3. The city of Fez was founded in the 9th century and is now home to over one million people. It has 58 established tanneries scattered throughout the city and within the inner workings exists the world’s oldest labyrinth city known as the Old Medina. In 1981 the Old Medina was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Old Medina is specifically home to three ancient leather tanneries, the largest being the Chouara Tannery, which has been washing, treating, smoothing, and coloring animal skins into soft, leather goods for over a thousand years.

SLIDE 4. The start of the tanning process begins with the collection and sorting raw animal skins. The types of animal skins include: sheep skin, goat skin, camel skin, and cow skin with the best quality leather coming from goat and camel skins. These skins are soaked for two to three days in large specialty vats that contain a mixture of cow urine, quicklime, water, and salt. This mixture will loosen excess fat, flesh, and hair that remain on the skins. Once the soaking duration is done, tanners then scrap away excess hair fibers and fat in order to prepare the skins for dyeing.

SLIDE 5. Once the skins have been cleaned, they are laid out to dry on the surrounding rooftop terraces. Once dried, the skins are taken to a different set of vats where they are washed and soaked in a mixture of water and pigeon poop in order to make the skins supple and soft. Pigeon poop contains ammonia that acts as softening agents that allows for the skins to become so malleable. The tanner then uses his bare feet to knead the skins for up to three hours to achieve the desired softness.

SLIDE 6. At this point, once the leather has reached its desired softness, the skins are moved to a select set of vats for the tanning (or dyeing) process. Within the Old Medina, the tanneries continue to use natural vegetable dyes, such as poppy flower (red), indigo (blue), henna (orange), cedar wood (brown), mint (green), and saffron (yellow). Other materials used for dyeing include pomegranate powder, which is rubbed on the skins to turn them yellow, and olive oil, which will make them shiny.

SLIDE 7. Typically the skins are left in the dyeing vats for approximately one week in order for the skins to fully absorb the color. Each week the dyes are changed out for different colors.

SLIDE 8. Once the skins have fully absorbed the selected dyes they are taken to a different location within the tannery to be stretched across wooden frames to dry for about another week. In total, the tanning process takes approximately 20 days from start to finish.

SLIDE 9. When fully dried, the edges of the finished skins are cut and used as fillers for other products. The leather is then sold to other craftsmen who make the famous Moroccan slippers, known as babouches, as well as wallets, handbags, furniture and other leather accessories. Many of these products are making their way into the European markets are suddenly becoming a sought after commodity.

SLIDE 10. Judging from most of the pictures above, you can see that the art of tanning is run and carried out by men. Many of the families and workers live around the tanneries and their skills are passed down from generation to generation through the male lineage.

SLIDE 11. The life of a tanner is not an easy one. Not only is it considered to be one of the hardest and dirtiest professions within the Fez, it is also incredible labor intensive. On average, the workers put in 10-hour days, six days a week and get paid by the number of pieces they produce. This means that the monetary reward for beginning tanners is on average $2 a day and master craftsmen bring in approximately $5 a day.

SLIDE 12. Although the ancient tanneries in the Old Medina in Fez still use traditional organic materials, there are still 55 other tanneries that have adopted modern technology and chemical processes to product the same product. Instead of using vegetable agents like those used in the Old Medina tanneries, these newer facilities use chemicals such as sulpher, sulphate, formic acid, and chrome.

SLIDE 13. As you can probably imagine, the amount of waste that is generated by the tanneries is certainly substantial. All the chemicals, bacteria, and animal bi-product gets dumped into the same place, the Sebou River and the Fez River which also collects the rest of the city’s untreated water and industrial waste. It is estimated that over 100 tons of chrome is dumped into the Sebou River every year.

SLIDE 14. Out of the 58 tanneries that are located in Fez, only 17 of them are linked up to Fez’s first chrome removal plant, which opened in 2003. The plant processes around two and a half tons of recycled chrome that it then sold back to the tanneries to be used again. However the plant can only remove around 40% of the chrome that continues to pollute the rivers of Fez.

SLIDE 15. In recognizing this obvious problem, trained architect and native Moroccan Aziza Chaouni was the recipient of a 2008 Gold Holcim Award for Africa Middle East for her river remediation and urban development plan for the Old Medina in Fez. Chaouni received her M. Arch from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and is currently the co-founder of Bureau E.A.S.T.

SLIDE 16. Aziza Chaouni and LA-based urban planner Takako Tajima, are proposing to move the tanneries that exist in the Old Medina closer to the newer ones in the industrial parts of Fez. Since the tanneries are one of the main perpetrators contributing to river pollution, Aziza has proposed to shift the leather tanning stages to more remote facilities this way the workers are less exposed to toxins.

SLIDE 17. Aziza and her collaborators have conceived of the “Made in Fez” brand that aims to both benefit the tannery workers as well as the leather craftsmen. The “Made in Fez” brand was created to focus on niche markets that value sustainability (both environmental and social), quality, and innovation. It is the hopes that the “Made in Fez” brand can create a new craft culture within the Medina walls.

SLIDE 18. The goal of rehabilitated the tanning facilities are to create a green space within the Medina. Chaouni proposes that the vats be transformed into botanical gardens, workshops and studios, community center, education center, and other communal facilities shared by leather workers and visitors to the leather district.

SLIDE 19. However there is quite a bit of backlash in regards to removing the tanneries to a different location and installing a botanical garden. Many feel as though that is Western “beautification” concept would be imposed on Fez and wouldn’t speak true to the organic nature of the Medina. Many are concerned with the replacement of an economic infrastructure with one that may not be as economically viable.

SLIDE 20. And what about the tannery workers? Many wonder how the displaced Old Medina workers will cope with trying to function and find work within the newer facilities scattered around the outskirts of town. It looks as though only time will tell.

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Erosion Control and Soil Remediation

November 3rd, 2010 — 8:31pm by Anne Crumpacker

“Bamboos, growing thick, standing single–put all your roots together and all is well in the mountains and rivers.” Sengai, 19th century Japanese Zen Master.

Bamboo provides excellent erosion control because of its extensive interlocking rhizomes or root systems, which bind together 85% of the soil approximately one foot below the surface where it is planted.

Bamboo grows well in flood plains, on river banks, and on steep hillsides. It can control landslides and prevent washouts, and thick culms keep flooded rivers within their natural courses and slow the speed of flowing rivers. It survives in places prone to earthquakes and serves as a windbreak as well.

The canopy of the grove breaks the rainfall. The mulch, created by up to four inches of uniquely shaped, fallen leaves, makes a dense litter on the floor of groves, greatly reducing rain run off, preventing soil erosion, and retaining twice the amount of water in the watershed. The mulch makes it easier for the earth to absorb and hold water. Harvesting of bamboo does not in any way disturb the topsoil. It is common knowledge in Asia to take refuge in a bamboo grove in an emergency such as an earthquake or typhoon.

Phytoremediation is a combination of the Greek word “phyton” (plant) and the Latin word “remediatre” (to remedy. It describes a process of using plants in concert with soil organism to transform contaminants into harmless and/or valuable forms. For twenty years, the potential for using bamboo for phytoremediation (phyto is plant in Latin) has been tested in Portugal, as reported at the VII World Bamboo Congress in New Delhi, India in March 2004; India; China; France; as well as in Oregon. To be effective, the pollution or contaminates must be within the plant’s root zone and must be bio-available. The research has been validated by Anvar in France, showing the removal of all visual, bacterial and smell pollution using bamboo. It takes in pollution and heavy metals all year round. Bamboo charcoal has been used in water treatment plants.

Rich Roseberg, an OSU soil scientist, has worked with bamboo collaborating with officials at the City of Medford sewage treatment plant. The bamboo can take up lots of sludge. He says, “Sewage effluent could be a valuable irrigation water resource, not just a disposal problem.” While waiting for bamboo to be harvested for building products, it can perform soil remediation.

Scientists and those researching benefits of bamboo; country, state, and city officials throughout the world; individuals living on river banks, steep hills, or on damaged or polluted land; are the stakeholders continuing to explore how bamboo can help control soil erosion and transforming contaminants into valuable forms.

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Alpaca: The Green Fiber Phenomenon

October 28th, 2010 — 4:21am by Crafty Designer

Alpaca Fiber

Captions for slides:

1. Alpaca farming has gained popularity in recent decades. Alpaca fiber is being touted as the greenest fiber due to the ease of its production, and the many positive qualities that the fiber naturally provides.
2. Alpacas originate from the Altiplano region of the Andes- in parts of Peru, Chile, and Bolivia. They live at altitudes of more than 8,000 feet about sea level. The average height of 12,300 ft. is just slightly less than that of Tibet.
3. The dates vary, but alpacas have been domesticated since 4000-6000 B.C. They were highly valued by the Incas. Incan textiles were highly prized. They used the fibers of alpacas, llamas, and vicunas. Vicuna fiber could only be worn by royalty. Today the vicuna, a relative of the alpaca, is protected and mostly wild. Weavings from 500 B.C. have survived, indicating the durability of camelid fibers.
4. There are alpaca hide products on the market as well. Alpaca meat is also eaten, though it is now illegal to slaughter an alpaca for meat in Peru. This is more common in the Andes where it is the only source of protein, but there is illegal trade to other countries. Australia is apparently considering raising alpacas for meat. I hear it tastes like lamb.
5. There are two varieties of alpacas- huacaya and suri. The huacaya is most popular. Its fiber grows straight out from its body, and is shorter, denser, and crimpier, more like sheep fiber. The suri has long lustrous locks that can touch the ground.
6. There are many qualities that make alpaca fiber desirable. One is that it can provide superior warmth with little bulk. The reason is because alpaca fibers have a medulated (or hollow)core. The animal has developed this efficient heating system because of the extreme conditions it lives in. Also, this fiber provides protection against solar radiation.
7. Unlike sheep’s wool, alpaca fiber does not contain lanolin, a natural oil produced by the skin. Therefore, it does not cause allergies or create an itchy feeling. Because of this characteristic, less processing is required. Because no lanolin has to be removed, the cleaning process is less intensive.
8. Alpacas are sheared once a year, in the spring. One animal provides 5-10 pounds of fiber. Fibers are kept separate depending on what part of the body they come from. The best fiber comes from the back of the animal. Seconds may contain some coarser hairs, as they come from the neck and belly. Thirds are least desirable.
9. Alpaca fiber, among other animal fibers is a great oil absorbent. To clean up oil in the Gulf of Mexico, alpaca fiber was sent to the ecological organization, Matter of Trust, which as gathering fiber to stuff into nylons, which would then be placed in the ocean to soak up oil. This creation was unfortunately not utilized in this clean-up, as the tubes would not float very well, but the application has other uses, such as gutter booms to catch oil runoff after storms.
10. There are 22 recognized naturally occurring colors of alpaca fleece. They range from white to black, with grays and browns in between. With this many natural colors, many products are made without using harmful dyes. However, if dying is desired, the white fiber takes it well. Breeding of white alpacas has been more popular for this reason.
11. Alpacas are camelids, like camels and llamas. They thrive in extreme environments, and consume very little food compared to other grazers. Alpacas are courteous residents. They have padded feet, not hooves, so they do little damage to the landscape. When they graze, they do not tear up plants by the roots, and they eat a variety of plants. They use a communal dung pile, which makes for a cleaner environment, and easy removal of the waste for fertilizer.
12. Alpacas are often confused with llamas. However, these two creatures are very different. Alpacas are much smaller and more timid than llamas. They have a softer coat, whereas llamas have coarser hair and the K’ara or “light wool” type is used more as a beast of burden. The Ch’aku “heavy wool” llama provides the fleece for the manufacture of heavy duty products such as carpets, ropes, hats, and bags.
13. Alpaca ranches are found all over the world. They are found throughout the United States, with the highest numbers in Ohio, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and California. Other countries that raise alpacas are Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Switzerland.
14. With the popularity of alpaca, I was wondering if there are more common and varied applications, like for wool. Normally what you see of alpaca goods are mostly traditional Incan motifs, generally in the natural colors.
15. I found AYNI by Anardo and Skyum. This is a high fashion line which exclusively uses alpaca for international designs. The company works with artisans in Peru to provide opportunities for locals.
16. As I researched further into this, it seems there are several companies, mainly South American ones, that produce contemporary everyday products out of alpaca, not just as a luxury as many of the U.S. goods I have found. It’s just a way of life there. Products that we would have made of sheep’s wool are made of alpaca there.
17. Up until 1993, Peru was protecting its alpaca population as part of national heritage and as a prominent resource. Once the numbers were at an optimal level, they allowed exports authorized herds to the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and Ecuador in order to revitalize this country’s diminishing Alpaca population. In 1996, the exports were limited to 1700 a year, as Peru worried that these exports would affect the species’ gene pool and adversely affect the fiber industry of Peru. However, studies show that the numbers were actually much more, indicating a black market.
18. Because there are only a certain number of the highly sought after young breeding males, other breeders have bred alpacas with llamas instead. The resulting animal is called a huarizo. This incorporates genes for coarse hair into the alpaca gene pool, thus breeding animals without desirable fiber, jeopardizing the species’ genetic integrity.
19. A criticism of worldwide alpaca farming is that many do so more for the profits of breeding, rather than for producing fleece itself. Non-breeding alpacas go for several hundred dollars, whereas breeding ones go for $10,000 or more. Breeding alpacas from South America bring in $10-30,000 each for the exporter, but the actual breeder/rancher gets only $500.
20. It’s the local family-owned businesses- weavers, spinners, etc. who really depend on the alpacas. They are the ones who would be really hurt by changes to the alpacas, and a subsequent lack of desire for the products. Also, more competition in the marketplace could affect their lifestyle.
21. Despite these challenges, the pros seem to outweigh the cons with alpaca fiber. There’s a lot to love about alpacas!

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School revolution

October 27th, 2010 — 8:49pm by Evan Holt

When thinking of the current state of woodworking we see a cultural rise in its popularity among baby boomers and retirees but a disinterest, or even fear of craftsmanship, among the younger generation.  I am constantly amazed that a typical response to my craft goes along this line, “ Oh, you make things, how interesting. I don’t even know how to use a hammer… but I just got a new ipod app.” What I see is a profound distance between materials and culture.  So many people accept modern life without exploring how the materials are created or even show an interest in living interesting lives. We are constantly telling our kids with our votes and money allocation that the arts in schools are the bottom of the priority list.  On the surface this makes sense because the reality is that the life of the artist is one of struggle.  Those who focus on math or business run less risk of losing a job to outsourcing and more chance of leading a financially stable life. And so what I’m actually hearing is not “How Interesting” but rather, “That takes balls.  And you have a family to support?”  So what is to be done to revitalize the craft trades?

I would design a new system for the arts in schools.  Although it has been proven that the arts lead to better self-confidence and problem solving skills, for most the arts still remain a class period between biology and history.  We need an art class that links with biology and history. We need teachers advocating (as I do in woodworking) that by studying a craft and honing a particular skill we inevitably learn about cultural history, and can learn about why the biology of dye pigments or the chemistry of ceramic glazes can lead to a better application of BOTH craft and science, etc. What I want is a conversation like this, “I remember taking shop class even though I became a lawyer. I remember having to do exacting scale drawings of the table before we built it so I could see every detail and the whole together. We had a homework assignment on systems theory.  Not only did the table come out great, but I use those skills now when planning a case for trial.”

To start the design solution I would list the most common high school classes and then ask 1000 craftsmen to list skills they use in their lives as makers that they learned from those other classes.  From there we need to stop teaching art classes as art and more as design thinking with cross class integration using the best writings of the 1000 artists as the springboard for the integration.  I remember myself saying in high school geometry, “When will I use this? My math will be about balancing my checkbook.” It turns out geometry is integral to woodworking, but no one ever related the practical application.  It is time for art to reassert itself in the classroom.

High School subjects I use in woodworking but was never told I would:

  • Geometry: Basic form. Rules for structural load.
  • Chemistry: Molecular differences between aniline dyes and pigment stains. Finish treatments like bleaching, ammonia fuming, and wood burning.
  • Physics: Structural loads, joint qualities, sharpening angles for tools and why they are that angle.
  • Biology: Cellular makeup of wood and how to separate the strands. i.e. proper ways to cut wood both rip cut and crosscut. How different rake angles on saw blades remove wood fibers. How wood fibers absorb moisture.
  • Economics: Too easy. How to live on Happy Hour food as an artist.
  • American History: Influences of industrialization on the craft societies of early America.
  • English: Translating thoughts about a piece unto words that a viewer can understand.

3 comments » | Design Strategies

Nation Building/Building Home

October 26th, 2010 — 10:23pm by Christina Conant

The city of Kabul Afgahnastan has been at the crux of a thousand cultures in its 3500 year history. After the Russian invasion Kabul was rebuilt and planned for a population of 1 million. There were an estimated 2.8 million people living within the city limits of Kabul as of 2008. There are three types of housing patterns in of Afgahnistan. One is the traditional housing structure Qala that tends to house several generations or extentions of a family. These compounds are usually built around a central courtyard and added on to as the families needs change.

There are also apartment buildings constructed by the government which do not take into consideration the traditional family and vernacular building structure.

Finally, there are informal settlements on the outskirts of the city. From this Azad Architecture firms research site. “Over 90% of Afghanistan population live in villages and towns that were planned 5 to 10 centuries before. The Old City of Kabul has a long history that dates back to pre-Islamic era. Until 1990 there over 100,000 people lived in the Old City. Houses were compact and attached to each other with 4 to 3 story high with narrow alleyways.”

For the most part these traditional and informal settlements are built from an adobe like substance of mud and clay, The larger buildings are made with concrete.


This makes the housing within the cities prone to collapse in the earthquake prone region.

There is also a massive population of internally displaced refugees. According to the UN refugee agency over 4 million now live in informal settlements.  There are 1 billion additional refugees in Kabul alone.

Many NGO’s are trying to address the needs of these populations, but with such difficult and uncertain conditions the bare necessities of food, water and medicine are barely being met.

The stability of this nation will depend on the ability of the communities to build safe and permanent housing for its citizens.  If the structure that contains community is not materialized neither will a stable local and national government.  The structure of any society must be built one dwelling at a time.  If support is not provided for this foundation the tower of government will fail.

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