Posts tagged with "Fast Company"

Is your job ‘performative’? Why workers can’t quit the timeless art of looking busy

April 19, 2023

There’s work, and then there’s the performance of work—but how much time do employees spend on the latter? People analytics firm Visier surveyed 1,000 full-time employees to understand how much time people spend on “performative work”—work that isn’t necessary, but is done to appear visible to managers, reports Fast Company.

Here’s what they found:

  • The majority of people believe performative work is important: Fully 75% of respondents said performative work—such as attending unnecessary meetings, staying on chat apps after hours, or scheduling emails for before or after hours—was at least somewhat important for their professional success. Over 33% of respondents said they attended unnecessary meetings and more than 25% said they kept their laptop screen awake while not working.
  • Which means the majority of people do performative work: Indeed, 62% of respondents said they spent more than six hours a week on performative work, and 43% said they spent over ten hours per week on performative work.
  • Because they are worried about how they are perceived: 70% of respondents said they did performative work in hopes that their manager would notice, and 59% said they were somewhat to very concerned about how their work compared to that of their peers. Meanwhile, 44% of employees said their employer used monitoring software to track their productivity, and 61% of employees who were being monitored said they were more likely to prioritize visible tasks.

“Employees with employers who use surveillance tools were also more than twice (and in some cases three times) as likely to commit the most egregious performative behaviors, like keeping a laptop screen awake while not working, asking someone to do a task for them, and exaggerating when giving a status update,” the report’s writers noted.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Those ‘forever chemicals’ on our furniture don’t actually prevent stains

April 7, 2023

When it comes to furniture, so-called forever chemicals have one job to do: repel oil and water to make textiles more stain-resistant. But a new study finds that, on top of the already established adverse health effects these chemicals have been known to cause, they can’t even do that one job properly, reports Fast Company.


The peer-reviewed study, published in th  AATCC Journal of Research, compared how six fabrics (three treated with forever chemicals; three, untreated) performed against two kinds of stains (coffee and oil-based salad dressing).


The result? The treated fabrics worked only marginally better at first, but had limited to no effectiveness after just a couple of years.


Forever chemicals, also known as PFAS (for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), have been around for decades and will be around for decades more. That’s because these particular types of human-made chemicals don’t break down naturally—meaning that they accumulate in water and soil, polluting the environment; and stack up in our bodies, increasing our risk of cancer, decreasing fertility rates, and more.


This year, more than a dozen U.S. states are implementing laws and regulations restricting the use of PFAS in food packaging and various textiles. But, for now, these chemicals can be found in a wide array of products, from your sofa to your nonstick pan to your lipstick.


 The study focused only on PFAS in furniture, but as Jonas LaPier, a PhD candidate in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and coauthor of the study, says: “To have a healthy suspicion of the touted performance benefits of PFAS compounds [more broadly] is a good strategy.”


 To be clear, when LaPier’s team conducted the study—pouring liquids onto fabrics, then using soap and warm water to clean them per standard recommendations—they found that treated fabrics did perform better than untreated ones, but only when the fabrics were brand-new (in other words, when no one had yet sat on them for any length of time, which, unless you bought that couch to simply look at it, means absolutely nothing).


 In a real-life scenario, when people dared to sit on their furniture, and, say, the fabric of their jeans rubbed against the fabric of the couch, the differences between a treated and untreated fabric were found to be negligible.


Indeed, on a 5-point scale, untreated fabrics scored a 4.2 regardless of how old the fabric was or how recently it had been stained. PFAS-treated fabrics, on the other hand, scored a 4.7 if the fabric was new and if the stain was wiped away immediately. But if the fabric was older and the stain already baked in, it scored a 3.9. (It’s hard to quantify how old is too old, but LaPier says the benefits of treating fabrics with PFAS last only half as long as the standard warranty for textiles and upholstery, which are typically covered for five years—so roughly two and a half years.)


The biggest difference in test results, LaPier says, came down to the type of fabric. And while the study wasn’t big enough for the team to confidently recommend one type of fabric over another, LaPier says that of the three types used (all sourced from textile company Maharam), a polyester that mimics the look and feel of wool performed the best, while a monochromatic polyester with a smooth surface performed the worst.


 Ultimately, one thing is clear: Forever chemicals are causing more harm than good on our upholstered items, and furniture companies should stop using them. As LaPier puts it: “It’s a clear case of nonessential use.”


Research contact: @FastCompany

Epic Gardening’s epic quest to win the booming grow-your-own and homesteading movements

March 24, 2023

Kevin Espiritu’s first foray into growing his own food was hardly an auspicious one. This was back in 2013—just after the Epic Gardening founder and CEO had graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Espiritu was kicking around at home in San Diego when his mom suggested that he and his younger brother find a bonding activity for the summer. Although they knew nothing about gardening, they decided to give and go and “hit the nursery together,” Espiritu recalls. And with that casual choice, he found his purpose, reports Fast Company.

“I went full nerd,” he says. “I got like a five-gallon bucket and tried to grow hydroponic cucumbers—so no soil, pro lights, and stuff. They were really, really bad. My brother said he almost threw up when he ate them. But for me, it kind of hooked me because of the science-y angle to it. That’s when I decided, hey, I’ll register the [Epic Gardening] domain and kind of journal about it.” (His brother, he said, watched in delight as his bucketful of basil exploded into a giant bush.)

A decade later, Espiritu is hardly winging it anymore. What started as a hobbyist blog that chronicled Espiritu’s coming-of-age as a green thumb has morphed into a direct-to-consumer gardening empire with original content on YouTube, TikTok, and other social media platforms; podcasts; and a line of products—from root pouch fabric pots to raised garden beds—available to buy online.

Last year Epic Gardening, which has an online audience of about 6 million, acquired the seed packet company, Botanical Interests, opening up a distribution pipeline to 4,500 stores around the country. This boost helped Epic Gardening generate $27 million in revenue last year. (Ironically, the cucumber seeds from that forgettable first experiment were from a Botanical Interests packet.)

Espiritu understands that he’s tapped into the culture’s back to the basics movement that has caused an uptick in home chicken coops and homemade bread, particularly amongst sustainably-minded young people. The trend was already underway before the pandemic, but went into overdrive once people were in lockdown mode.

“COVID was crazy,” Espiritu says. “The lockdown was announced on the 10th of March, and on March 11th I woke up and the main Epic Gardening YouTube channel was at like 220,000 views and we were getting 15,000 new subscribers a day.” He acknowledges that “partly it was because we’re named Epic Gardening, so if someone types in ‘gardening,’ we’re just there.”

But Espiritu’s relatable, I’m-just-a-regular-guy tone—accentuated by his uniform of a hoodie, baseball cap, and thin layer of stubble—has clearly struck a vibe with viewers. In a video about what mistakes to avoid when creating a raised bed garden, he says, “I kind of grew up just like a SoCal skater rat kid,” so “I’ve made just about all the mistakes I’m going to show you. And so I know the pain of them, so that gives me the experience to say, really avoid them.”

Yet his videos are hardly glib, clickbait clips. A recent one about starting a chicken coop (“Raising Chickens: Everything You Need to Know!”) runs more than 20 minutes long; and delves into everything from space requirements to different hen breeds and which are suited for warmer or colder climates. A video about how to grow ginger in a container gets into such nerdy details as what ginger roots are technically called (rhizomes) and how photosynthesis affects faster growth. The video has racked up over 10 million views.

With a $17.5 million investment from the Chernin Group behind it (that deal closed in late 2021), Epic Gardening is attempting to expand as steadily as well-fertilized bougainvillea. In addition to online articles, there are now two podcasts and four YouTube channels—including one devoted to regenerative gardening; and one built around Espiritu’s former assistant Jacques, who delves into farm-to-table cooking and sustainable practices. Espiritu’s started the Epic Homesteading channel two years ago when he bought a new house.

Unsurprisingly, Espiritu has talked to production companies about a TV show but says, “It would have to be really juicy, because we have no creative limits on us now.” Instead, he says, “I think a lot of what’s on the focus at least in the next year or so is looking at the industry and saying, ‘Okay, what awesome products could we develop and distribute through our network?”

Research contact: @FastCompany

Snapchat’s trippy new brand campaign aims to answer the question, what is Snapchat for?

January 27, 2023

When former Wieden+Kennedy executive Colleen DeCourcy joined Snap last year as the company’s chief creative officer, she said it was “the best known, least understood” social platform, reports Fast Company.

A new brand campaign, called “Wait’ll You See This,” is aimed at remedying that problem.

Whether it’s Apple pulling heartstrings or Amazon getting a bit celebrity silly with Alexa for the Super Bowl, we’re now accustomed to seeing tech brand advertising that includes very elaborate product demonstrations. Snap’s new ad is no exception—except that it feels more like a product demo inside a fever dream.

People with horse heads, dogs with three butts, the dead-eyed goofy gaze of fellow commuters on the subway: It’s all in there. For some, it will be the stuff of social media dystopian nightmares—for others, a peek into the funhouse of creative possibility. The brand is aiming for the latter.

DeCourcy says one of the primary goals is to start a conversation between people who use Snapchat and those who don’t. “As a non-broadcast platform, which is the beauty of it, if you’re not there, you don’t know. So, we’re trying to get people there,” DeCourcy says. “We’re trying to punch a little hole in the Snapchat box and let it leak out into the world so that people can see what it does.”

This is not just a one-off campaign, but the start of what DeCourcy says will be an ongoing brand platform. It was created in-house, under Snap Executive Creative Director Eric Baldwin, who joined the company last August, and previously worked with DeCourcy as ECD at Wieden+Kennedy.

New brand work already has started to trickle out, with a New Year’s Eve billboard in Times Square and a float in the Rose Bowl parade. This work will get its national TV debut during the NFL’s AFC Championship game on Sunday, January 29. “It’ll hopefully be this moment, with people watching a game together, where those who know will get excited and show the others in the room what it’s all about,” Baldwin says.

Snap reports that more than 250 million people engage with augmented reality (AR) on Snapchat every day, with more than 6 billion daily AR plays. The platform has 300,000 AR creators and developers who’ve built more than 3 million AR Lenses for the platform.

“There is this Super Bowl-sized audience on the platform every day,” says DeCourcy. “In a very cynical world, though, people have to experience it to get it. I don’t want to make things about the platform; I want to make things with the platform.”

That’s where this new work gets most interesting. Baldwin and DeCourcy’s creative team worked with Snapchat’s Arcadia Creative Studio to make the spot fully integrated with the app’s AR lenses. Every single frame of the spot, whether you view it online, as a screen shot, or during an NFL game, is scannable and will take you to a new suite of lenses, with a few surprises like a limited edition merch drop mixed in.

Arcadia Creative Studio’s Global Director Resh Sidhu, says Snap’s AR technology is world-class, and the spot itself is the perfect platform to show off how it all works. “We wanted AR to be at the heart of this campaign, and this was the perfect way to do that,” Sidhu says. “What excites our AR team is how this creates a platform for us to continue to share our work with the world. It’s all about getting it in the hands of people and allowing them to experience it.”

Research contact: @FastCompany

Harvard researchers have designed a cheaper, more efficient air conditioner

August 29, 2022

In China, a searing heat wave has lasted for more than two months and the power grid is straining as people crank up their air-conditioning. The country is one of the places where AC use has been growing the fastest, with a fivefold jump between 2000 and 2017, reports Fast Company.

But as the planet keeps getting hotter, and more people around the world are able to afford air-conditioning, its use is growing everywhere. By the middle of the century, there are likely to be about 5.6 billion of the appliances, and nearly triple the energy demand of cooling today.

“I think the numbers come out to about 10 new air conditioners every second for the next 30 years,” says Jack Alvarenga, a research scientist at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute, and part of a team working on redesigning how homes can be cooled. “That’s an unbelievable number. Just to fathom the amount of cooling demand that’s about to come online in the next couple of decades is concerning.”

The problem is significant both because of the amount of energy that air conditioners require and the fact that current refrigerants, the chemicals that absorb the heat in your AC, are also potent greenhouse gases. (Thanks to the global Kigali Agreement, the worst refrigerants are being phased out, but that will take time.) The more AC is used, the hotter it will get outside. Then people need to use even more air-conditioning, and the cycle continues.

At Harvard, a multidisciplinary team is working on a design for a new type of air-conditioning that uses a fraction of the energy, and uses water instead of ultra-polluting refrigerants. Called ColdSNAP (SNAP stands for “superhydrophobic nano-architecture process”), it incorporates a unique coating also developed at the university.

“A lot of innovative materials are kind of products that want a problem,” says Jonathan Grinham, an architecture professor at the university’s Graduate School of Design and one of the partners on the project. “We call it a technology push. . . . Okay, I have something that has super-unique behavior. So how does it benefit society? Where do we apply this type of technology?”

In this case, the coating repels liquids, inspired by the way duck feathers stay dry. The team realized that if it selectively applied this coating to certain places on ceramic—a material that naturally absorbs moisture—they could use it in a new type of evaporative cooler. Sometimes called swamp coolers, the devices usually only work in dry climates.

The basic concept is simple: If you put hot air in contact with water, the water absorbs heat as it evaporates. It uses 75% less energy than typical air conditioners. But the process of evaporative cooling also creates humidity, and so doesn’t work well in, say, Florida. In the new device, when water evaporates to cool the air, a heat-exchange component made with the coating traps the humidity, and the air flowing into the room is more comfortable.

This month, the researchers started testing it on humid, hot days in the Boston area, at Harvard’s experimental HouseZero, an old house that’s been retrofitted with technology to make it as efficient as possible.

The team hasn’t crunched all of the data yet—but says the technology shows promise for widespread use. “We’re cooling at a much higher efficiency than a typical AC unit, we’re able to achieve a cool temperature, and we’re able to do all that using less water than standards ask for,” says Grinham.

The technology still needs development beyond the initial prototype, and the team will have to show that it can meet certain performance requirements of the manufacturers that might eventually bring it to market.

Consumers might have to also think differently about how they expect air-conditioning to work since this type of device isn’t a dehumidifier. But because it uses so much less energy and is cheaper to make, it could be ideally suited for areas where electricity is expensive and customers can afford a standard air conditioner.

“We need to find the right market, the right consumer,” Grinham says.

Research contact: @FastCompany

These affordable bungalows hearken back to a charming 1900s real estate trend

March 23, 2022

On a formerly vacant city-owned lot in Tempe, Arizona, not far from the campus of Arizona State University, a rare type of housing development has just been built, reports Fast Company.

Unlike the abundant rental housing geared toward the college crowd—or the sprawling single-family homes filling subdivisions across the region—the new project eschews size and profit to offer something almost impossible to find: small homes oriented on a shared lot, surrounding a common courtyard, offered for sale at permanently affordable prices.

The 13-home project is an example of an old way of building, updated for the modern age. Twelve of the houses are identical 600-square-foot, lofted one-bedroom homes. The other is a single-story home that’s compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

All share a central green space, a 900-square-foot common room, and a communal kitchen. Priced for sale to those making less than 80% of the area’s median income, the homes are a throwback to a time when homes didn’t need to be big and expensive.

“The idea of doing a small group of homes around a central courtyard is really a historic way that America grew. And then we got away from it,” says David Crummey, project manager of Newtown CDC, the Tempe-based nonprofit organization that developed the project.

Bungalow courts, or cottage courts, were found in nearly every major city in the early part of the 20th century, but the market has gradually edged away from that compact form of housing. “With the consolidation of the mortgage market and the increase in the number of large subdivisions, small-scale development has really, really fallen off the chart,” Crummey says.

When it comes to for-sale housing that’s affordable, the bungalow court makes a lot of sense, he says. Without the need for an entire expensive lot, or the parking and street access of the typical car-oriented project, houses like these can be built at much lower cost.

For Crummey, whose organization typically does single-family home rehabs to sell to low-income first-time homebuyers, this so-called micro-estate project seemed like a way to do more with less.

The project began in 2015 as a student design exercise. Undergraduate engineering students at ASU were assigned to come up with ideas for housing on city-owned lots, and one project proposed turning this space into a tiny home village. Officials in the city saw the proposal and liked it enough to issue a request for additional proposals.

Newtown CDC pitched a design that prioritized efficient homes in order to keep prices low. It also made the homes part of a community land trust, a nonprofit entity that actually owns the land and creates a sale-like long-term lease of the home to keep its price far below the market rate. The purchasers get a good deal on the homes and share in the proceeds of any future sale, while the nonprofit

continues to steward the property and maintain the affordable prices.

Newtown CDC won the project, and the city donated the land. Crummey partnered with local architectural design firm coLab Studio, whose principal, Matt Salenger, lives in the neighborhood. He says the concept of creating micro estates immediately brought to mind the Tim Burton film Big Fish, which is set in a fictional small town that seems to be almost magically tucked away in a forest.

“The houses are aligned on a main street, but there’s no paving, just grasses and trees,” Salenger says. “David [Crummey] and I had a real connection about trying to make the landscape the thing that was first and foremost there.”

The project they built is reminiscent of that pavement-free community—with a large central open space lined with planters and trees, and small patio spaces between each home that lack any clear lines of ownership, encouraging more social interaction.

The homes themselves are also innovatively designed, with choices guided by keeping costs down while also providing comfortable living space. “Doors and glazing are one of the most expensive aspects of any building. So we limited it to one exterior door. There are four exterior windows. There’s only one interior door, for the bathroom, which is located under the stairs,” Salenger says. “We thought about every single inch.”

The homes have all been sold, each priced at $170,000, except for the ADA-compliant home, which was $210,000. Crummey says the homes were recently appraised at a value of $260,000.

“At the most expensive, it’s a $50,000 below-market sale,” he says. And as part of the community land trust, the homes will continue to be priced below market, no matter when the current owners decide to sell.

“These are unique houses,” Salenger says. “There’s nothing like it in town.”

Research contact: @FastCompany

Razor’s iconic scooter is back. But this time, it’s for grown-ups—and it’s electric

March 2, 2022

Who remembers the original Razor A Kick folding scooter? It arrived in 2000 and, in many ways—just like the phone of nearly the same name—it epitomized Y2K design, reports Fast Company; which gushes about “its colorful hand grips and shiny aluminum frame glint[ing] in the sunlight, hearkening a joyous, technological future.

Indeed, the Razor A Kick became a massive hit that was named Spring/Summer Toy of the Year by the nonprofit Toy Association and sold 5 million units in the first six months.

Two decades later, the kids who loved the Razor scooter are now adults. And so the company is building the toy for them. Starting at $550 on Kickstarter, the Razor Icon is a full-size modern electric scooter that can hit speeds of 20 mph on the street. But visually, everything from its polished aluminum frame to its candy-colored handlebars and tires is inspired by the original Razor.

It might sound obvious: Turn an old toy into a full product, right in time for its original fans to buy it as adults. But Razor has spent 20 years becoming more than its original scooter. Today it sells electric skateboards, e-bikes, go-karts, and three-wheelers.

And its aesthetics are all over the place. You’ll see bikes that hearken back to the ’70s, scooters topped head-to-toe with rainbow LEDs, and dirt bikes with a classic racing look.

“There’s an interesting story behind that [variety],” says Ian Desberg, VP of design and development at Razor. Desberg is a trained toy designer who used to race BMX bikes, and he says Razor is full of people who used to race cars, skateboard, and practice all sorts of other wheeled sports. “You don’t need to be on the design team to influence the products here,” he says.

The Razor Icon was born from a request by Carlton Calvin, the company’s cofounder and president. Calvin pointed out that the electric scooter industry had grown stale. Every design (ranging from scooter rideshares to Razor’s own E Prime line) seemed to be the same old dull black finish. Calvin wanted something different that would stand out—something that wasn’t at first obvious to a company that developed so many different design motifs.

“I walked around for a few days thinking about that challenge from Carlton. As a design team, we’re always looking at the benchmark products, like the Apple iPhone—why is that so successful and iconic?” Desberg says. “It was one of those light bulb moments where we asked ourselves, ‘What is our benchmark, our iPhone at Razor?’ And it dawned on us, it’s the A Kick scooter. We could turn it into an adult scooter so [that] it looks like the one you had as a kid. That would be a head turner!”

The company immediately started making prototypes, building atop its know-how from having released three E Prime scooters already.

The final product, Desberg hopes, is the perfect mix between a premium electric scooter and playful nostalgia. “We love that visual,” Desberg says. “We want a pink-and-silver scooter to be cruising down the street at a good clip, turning heads.”

The Razor Icon is on Kickstarter starting at $550, discounted for launch. Final MSRP will be somewhere under $1,000.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Is the future of soda blue?

February 14, 2022

The vivid blue color of a new brand of Dutch soda doesn’t come from food coloring: The startup making the product, called Ful, makes the drink with spirulina, a blue-green algae, which gives the soda more of a nutritional punch than the standard carbonated beverage, reports Fast Company.

The company wants to use the product to make algae a more popular dietary ingredient, in order to help shrink the carbon footprint of the food system.

The founders, who met as students at the Singapore campus of the business school INSEAD (a French acronym that translates to European Institute of Business Administration), spent months exploring ways to speed up the global shift to net zero emissions before settling on blue-green microalgae. “What I think particularly caught our imagination was how efficient it is at transforming CO2 into nutrients and oxygen,” says Julia Streuli, one of Ful’s three cofounders.

Per kilogram of protein produced, beef has a carbon footprint of around 500 kilograms; soy has a carbon footprint of around 20 kilograms. But algae quickly takes up CO2 as it grows; and in a lifecycle analysis, the startup calculated that in its own production process—which uses CO2 captured from industry—its spirulina takes in more carbon than the total process emits, giving a carbon footprint of negative 1.5 kilograms.

What’s more, algae also doesn’t need arable land to grow and doesn’t require pesticides, fertilizer, or the huge amounts of fresh water used to produce most food.

Beyond protein, it’s a source of nutrients like iron, vitamin C, magnesium, and antioxidants like chlorophyll—all of which can be found in the soda, which the company hopes will appeal to a wellness-focused clientele. Still, it isn’t yet widely used outside the supplement aisle at health food stores. “Very few people were focusing on the demand-gen side—how you make this product appealing to final consumers,” Streuli says. The flavor and smell can be unappetizing. It also doesn’t look great. “If you try to pasteurize it, which a lot of foods need for longer shelf life, the green color turns to very unappetizing brown,” she says.

Just before graduation, the founders won a business plan competition for their concept of a new spirulina-based brand. “It basically gave us enough money to justify turning down our corporate jobs,” Streuli says, and the team moved to the Netherlands to begin working with food scientists to deal with the challenges that they saw holding the ingredient back.

In doing so, the founders developed a patented new way to process the algae to extract the best-tasting parts. Their new ingredient “has a little bit of a saltiness, but it doesn’t have the fishy off-taste of spirulina,” she says. “It’s quite pleasant, and it pairs very well with other flavors.”

The extraction process also makes it a particularly bright shade of turquoise, which comes from the chlorophyll in the algae. The company decided to embrace the odd color, rather than trying to hide it. “If you’re describing that color to a friend in five years, I want you to say, ‘Oh, that’s Ful colored,’” Streuli says. (The ingredient also can be used in food; it’s not clear yet whether consumers who might be willing to drink a Gatorade-like soda will also want to eat blue-tinged granola bars.)

The first limited runs of the new soda, in flavors like peach and lemon ginger, were made in a Dutch brewery. Because breweries also produce food-grade CO2, the bioreactors growing the algae also could eventually capture that CO2 to feed the algae.

“Then you have this really wonderful closed-loop system that could be highly localized, but also scalable all over the world, using existing infrastructure,” she says.

Right now, most algae is grown with bicarbonate rather than captured CO2, but the company wants to use a process with the lowest emissions possible. The team also is working on details like packaging; the first production runs were sold in the glass bottles used by the brewery, but the company is switching to aluminum cans to lower its footprint further. And a future product, in powdered form, will have even more minimal packaging.

For now, the soda is only available in Europe and the U.K., but the brand hopes to expand to the United States later this year. Other startups also are emerging in the space, lincluding  We Are the New Farmers, a company that makes frozen spirulina cubes for smoothies from algae grown in an indoor farm in Brooklyn.

Research contact: @FastCompany

A new mixed-income housing complex near San Francisco comes with its own farm

September 29, 2021

Have you ever wanted to live on a farm, but without having to do all of the hard work or needing to drive an hour to reach a major city?

In San Francisco, a mixed-income apartment complex has gone up in the neighborhood of Santa Clara that comes with its own 1.5-acre farm, managed by a professional urban farming company, which also welcomes help from residents, Good News Network reports.

The Agrihood building consists of 361 units—181 of which are priced below market rate. Specifically, 10% are reserved for moderate income renters, and 165 for low-income seniors and veterans. The complex also comprises 30 townhomes and features a central 1.5-acre organic farm that can produce 20,000 pounds of food every year.

Each week the produce is brought to an on-site location and sold at a deep discount for residents. The full list of produce is posted on Agrihood’s website, and includes superfoods, comfort foods, orchards, perennial foods, and native foods.

“Our goal throughout this endeavor has been to provide the affordable housing that we urgently need in Santa Clara through a truly creative, community-driven process,” says the brochure.

“Not only are we providing a really unique living experience for the residents that live on the property, but we’re also taking a very deliberate approach to encouraging the health and wellness of our residents by incorporating the farm, hopefully, into their daily and weekly lifestyles,” Vince Cantore, who is vice-president of Core Companies, the firm leading the Agrihood project, told Fast Company recently.

Attempting to address the housing shortage in San Francisco, Agrihood is actually built on the site of what used to be one of the many orchards that covered Santa Clara in decades past.

Urban farming and gardening are growing in popularity, with some cities, parks, or neighborhoods attempting to include community gardens, forest gardens, or urban farms into development plans.

It’s a critical way that urban areas can increase food security, reduce the carbon footprint that food racks up during transportation, and increase access to healthy food for low-income communities in food deserts.

Research contact: @goodnewsnetwork

OpenHome aims to make custom-designed houses for the 99%

September 20, 2021

What could be better than a custom-designed home? It can be planned precisely to fulfill any whim or wish, with an architect standing by to turn customers’ visions into bespoke built form.

But one other thing also comes with custom houses–a huge price tag. That is, until now.

OpenHomea new joint venture between the architecture firms  KieranTimberlake  and  Lake|Flato and the prefabricated-home builder Bensonwood—is dedicated to creating a more accessible custom-home option, reports Fast Company.

By combining prefabricated elements with architect-guided custom design treatments, the system brings true dream-home design into the hands (and budgets) of the less than rich. . The design system can halve the time it would take to build a fully customized home, and can bring down the cost significantly.

Philadelphia-based KieranTimberlake, San Antonio-based Lake|Flato, and Walpole, New Hampshire-based Bensonwood came together in 2018 to develop the concept and began taking on design projects in the spring of 2020.

Working with an architect, homebuyers can define the spatial layout of their house and the types of rooms it will have by combining clusters from the OpenHome library. The pieces can be combined in a variety of shapes from narrow to wide; single- to double-story; in straight lines, perpendicular arrangements, or with interior courtyards.

Sun and seasonal modeling provide a sense for how the light will change in each room throughout the course of the year, and also will help fine-tune the construction needs to ensure the home meets the high insulation requirements of the Passive House standard.

Based on the client’s wishes, windows can be moved or enlarged, walls can be lengthened, and rooflines can be adjusted. Within three months, a design can be finalized.

“It’s a really effective tool for being able to operate at this pace,”  KieranTimberlake’s Matt Krissel, project lead for OpenHome, recently told Fast Company.  “And acknowledging that a lot of people don’t actually understand floorplans or building sections, being able to model and walk people virtually through from early design really enhances our ability to get feedback.”

As the design gets closer to being finalized, the virtual reality tool is also used to help select the finishes for each room, from bathroom tiles to roofing materials.

Once the design is set, Bensonwood takes about two months to fabricate the panels in its factory. It also coordinates the building permit and work with a local contractor to begin laying the foundation and preparing for the on-site installation.

The first home KieranTimberlake designed through the OpenHome process is now under construction in New Hampshire. Krissel says each of the partners in the joint venture has at least one OpenHome project in the works. KieranTimberlake is starting work on a second design and aims to be able to take on three to five per year to start.

“The goal is to be able to do these in less than a year, if [clients] can actually make all the decisions this fast,” Krissel says. “It’s a bit idealized, but the goal is that it’s substantially faster from beginning to end.”

The system brings architect-designed homes within reach of clients without the budget for a fully custom home. It also brings new opportunities to architects. “Now,” Krissel says, “we can say yes to projects that don’t have that luxury of a time frame or budget.”

Research contact: @FastCompany