Architecture for Humanity

My heroes.

[Thanks to IIAD for creating this video that gives so much insight on their 2010 Pioneers in Design Award winner, Architecture for Humanity.]


Moving Windmills: The William Kamkwamba Story

If you are ever stuck thinking that you don’t have the tools or resources to be innovative, think again!   At the age of 14, Malawian William Kamkwamba Malawan created a functioning wind turbine after merely seeing an image of one!  Inspired by the dream of providing his family with electricity and a water pump, William’s story is incredible, inspiring, and has almost brought me to tears this evening.  Enjoy the video, and when you realize you must know more of this fascinating story, buy the book here.

Fun Can Change the World

My heart swells a little each time I watch the above videos from the Fun Theory.  Simple, yet well produced, each of the Fun Theory projects realizes great success.  Their theory has been proven: “that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behavior for the better. Be it for yourself, for the environment, or for something entirely different, the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better.”

Think you’ve got the next fun idea?  Now is your time to get paid for it.  The Fun Theory is hosting an open competition for the next installation.  The winner will be rewarded the hearty sum of €2,500 and get to have a little fun making the world a little better.  Deadline is December 15, so get to work! And be sure to also let us know what you come up with!

Masdar, City of the Future

What two things come to mind when you hear the name United Arab Emirates?  Oil and Money. It’s well known that the UAE, a country smaller than the state of Virginia, have both of these commodities in spades.  The UAE is also one of the biggest producers of green house gas emissions in the world, so its rather surprising that they may soon become the world’s leader in clean, green living on a massive scale.


“Welcome to Masdar City – the world’s first carbon-neutral, zero-waste city.”  It’s a helluva tagline for one of the most ambitious projects (right up there with Branson’s Virgin Galactic) that I’ve ever heard of.  The planned metropolis, which is currently in phase 1 construction and headed by the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, will cover 2.3 square miles within the capital city of Abu Dhabi, include a state-of-the-art university (Masdar Institute of Science and Technology), and house around 40,000 individuals.

Major highlights of the city are:  100% utilization of renewable energy, i.e. wind and solar power, recycled water (a must in this desert region), dew-catchers and rainwater harvesting, designated green spaces, zero-waste (all trash will be either composted or recycled in some fashion) and some very cool mass transit.  No cars will be allowed.  Instead, there will be “personal rapid transit”–electric “pods” that take individuals to and fro– and a Maglev train connected to the city of Abu Dhabi.

No cars, no waste, zero carbon emissions… Essentially every component of the city is aimed at being entirely green, renewable and sustainable.




If you’re intrigued, check out this video via Planet Green:

Sources:  Wikipedia, The Economist, Planet Green podcast and Masdar City website

Toilets: Composting vs. Conventional

healthy handful of manure.    *image via

healthy handful of manure. *image via

Who thinks twice about using cow dung as natural fertilizer?  It IS poop, you know.  So what about using human feces as manure?  Sound a bit gross and unhygenic?  Consider the following…

Every time someone flushes a conventional toilet, the waste matter is sent down into sewage pipes, where it’s then led to a local wastewater treatment plant.  There, the harmless fecal matter gets mixed with run-off from streets, and sewage from hospitals, hotels, and hundreds of private homes.  This mixture is then treated with a cocktail of chemicals, in numerous stages, to essentially make the sewage “clean” so that it can be re-assimilated back into nature.  And it’s not cheap.  *The 2008 Wastewater Final Budget for a 450 square mile area surrounding and including San Diego in California was over $368 million.  That’s for ONE year of treatment, in a tiny corner of the US.

Point Loma Sewage Treatment Plant, operated by the city of San Diego

Point Loma Sewage Treatment Plant, operated by the city of San Diego

The above treatment plant is massive, covering **40 acres of California coastline.  Compare to the composting toilet system, which can be as small as ♣about 33 square inches.  Although this apparatus is for a single toilet, not a whole city’s worth, the benefits of the composting toilet are numerous. Maintenance is extremely low, cost is negligible compared to massive sewage treatment plants, and they utilize a foamy, biodegradable soap to flush, making water usage almost non-existant (consider the USA uses somewhere around ♦450 Billion gallons of fresh water PER DAY, 40% of which goes down with flushing toilets.)  Composting toilets also contribute to the environment by their very nature:  They are creating human manure, which can be used as organic fertilizer the same way as cow dung!

The process of turning that stinky poopoo into smell-good manure is absolutely fascinating, for great details check out Composting Toilet World and Clivus Multrum.  There are many different toilet designs, from a basic bucket with mulch added to it, to complex systems that do the work for you.  In the more complex setup, essentially what happens is the poo goes down into a composting bin, either a small one directly attached to the toilet or a larger version located below the ground floor.  It is aerated, liquid (pee) is removed, and organisms, typically worms, get to work on converting the bad germs into good ones.  After several months, or sometimes several years (depending on the exact composting process used), the waste will have metamorphosed into gloriously rich and vital fertilizer fit for the best of organic vegetable gardens!

Clivus Multrum Composting Toilet System

Clivus Multrum Composting Toilet System

So who’s actually using composting toilets?  In addition to eco-conscious individuals using them in their homes,  two examples of high-traffic public places which have them in their restrooms are  The Bronx Zoo in New York (not shown on the Bronx Zoo website, but featured on the show EcoTech, linked below under References) and the C.K. Choi Building at the University of British Columbia, which saves more than 1,000 liters of water per day.

Case in point?  Help save the world by composting your poo.



*San Diego’s Metropolitan Wastewater Final Budget ’08

** Point Loma Sewage Treatment Plant

♣ SanCor Industries

♦ according to EcoTech:  Zero Waste,  and sourced from

Craftsmanship with a Cause

Take a tragic situation, add one strong woman, many compassionate friends and several years of struggle… what do you get?  The Blessing Basket Project.

Founder, Theresa Wilson

Founder, Theresa Wilson

Her story is inspiring and emotional, and that strong woman, Theresa Wilson, found a way to pull herself out of a dark place and give the gift of a better life to thousands of individuals.

The Blessing Basket Project allows women in developing countries such as Bangladesh, Uganda, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea to earn up to 4 times above fair trade wages on hand-woven artisan items such as baskets, bowls and handbags.  A unique financial model, which includes paying Prosperity Wages® and cutting out middlemen, creates “a cycle of entrepreneur driven growth resulting in permanent financial independence for the artisan.”


This means women and young girls who were once forced into prostitution and withheld an education are now off the streets, getting an education and prospering in ways they never dreamed possible.  And none of this is a hand-out… these women earn their living and are proud of it. Many of these women have started their own business off the profits earned from their baskets and bowls, such as Memuna, the first woman to open a general store in her village in Northern Ghana.

Memuna and her store

Memuna and her store

This past Mother’s Day, I bought my mom one of these Blessing Baskets, in a handbag type style, from Whole Foods (one of the stores that carries them).  She’s been using hers since May, carrying everything from loads of library books, groceries, kid’s toys and who knows what in it, and it’s still in excellent shape.  Holds up like a champ.

Not only are these items beautiful, bright and colorful, strong and well-made, but with each one purchased, they give new life to hard-working people.  I can’t think of a better reason to buy something than that.






House Party for Hope



Kids With Cameras, the non-profit inspired by the Academy award-winning documentary ‘Born into Brothels’ has BIG plans!  For the past year Kids With Cameras has been persistently raising money to support their ‘Hope House’ (Asha Niwas).  This beautiful and sustainably designed facility is every bit as life-changing and inspirational as the name implies.  The Hope House will allow Kids With Cameras to go beyond the provision of a creative, encouraging education, to provide the children of Calcutta’s Red Light with a year-round safe haven.  The entire property is designed for the success of these children: innovative, inspiring, and FUN- (check out the rendering with the huge projection of Nemo!)



With plans to break ground in late 2009/early 2010, KWC is close to their $700K goal that will allow them to begin the first of three construction phases on the Hope House. For the final push towards this goal, KWC is encouraging fans to be a part of the first ever world-wide screening of Born Into Brothels and host a ‘House Party for Hope’ on October 2nd!  All they need is your commitment to bringing people together for a fun night that can change the world.




If the party simply doesn’t fit into your fabulously busy schedule (or your abundance of friends don’t quite fit into your NYC apartment), there are several other ways to help.  You can send any size donation directly to Kids With Cameras and specify whether you want the funds to go to the overall organization or directly to the Hope House.  Another option that I went for this past Christmas is the purchase of some great postcards from their online shop.  At a very reasonable price you will get 6 of Avijit’s best pieces, printed on high-quality postcards so you can choose to share the love or frame and admire the images daily.