The Bear Trap, a pleasant DC comedie

Environmental Architecture, Plans

So today I helped out with a performance in Hyattsville, Maryland.

Now, Maryland is a curious state.  Of all the states, it has arguably the best credentials, as every city and town is a licensed MD.


Annapolis, circa 1980

After doctoring up a post like that that, I must say that Maryland is, in fact, a very merry land: decent roads, decent theaters, decent food, flipping awesome houses.  Which is something.

The problem that I have with this magical, merry land of mirth and medical mastery is that lies smack dab on the opposite side of the bear trap.

I found myself realizing this tonight on my way to and from that magical land.  As I said, I was working on a show in Hyattsville, Maryland (which, being a show, none of us were really being paid and were doing because, truly, there is no thing in life greater than the stage), and I found myself wandering like Odysseus.

The trouble began when I picked up one of my actors at 5:15 from his work in Tysons’.  We intended to arrive in Hyattsville by 6, (or 15 after six), which didn’t seem like a bad approximation.

Until the bear trap sprung.

“The bear trap?”  you ask, “I’ve never heard of the bear trap.  Is it like the Mouse Trap for Americans?”

Sadly, I shake my head, “no.  It is not a thriller.  It is not even a mystery.”  It is fact, plain and obvious.

“The bear trap, ” I explain, ” Is the thing that encircles the DC metro area, and it is composed of the following parts, which will be interrupted by a picture before this post gets too text heavy.”


 A Bear Trap

Now, above you is a bear trap.  This device, according to wikipedia (the professor you can always trust to be at his office hours), is

“made up of two jaws, one or two springs, and a trigger in the middle … When the animal steps on the trigger the trap closes around the foot, preventing the animal from escaping.”

 Now, as seen in the upsconded image above, a bear trap has a central section that runs from the trigger to the jaws.

The Bear Trap is composed of the following parts:  495, 395, and 66.  Those who know it might well agree, the shape is similar, the purpose proportionate, and just as dark.   The outer loop and inner loop are the dual jaws of the trap, and 66 is the spring container leading to the trigger.

The trigger itself is a deadly combination of construction and rush hour, so that no matter what time of day, the trap is active.

Wikipedia states that

Usually some kind of lure is used to position the animal, or the trap is set on an animal trail.  Traditionally, these traps had tightly closing jaws to make sure the animal stayed in place.

Thanks, Professor.

As we can see, the beltways and the 66 have the exact same intention: to make sure the animal stays in place.  They are all placed on vital trails with a very tempting lure – the honey-sweet city of washington DC.

In my case, it keeps being the lure of theatre in Maryland.

Whatever the lure, the trap is ready to spring, and spring it did.  The climax of my melville-esque whale-of-a-dictionary-containing-tale is this:

3 Hours

Spent in traffic.  Sitting.  Planning on removing my license plates, registration info, keys, and just leaving the darned car and walking.

see, the Bear Trap isn’t about killing the beast (or car).  No, it’s just about immobilizing it.  When you see the poor beast stuck as it is, you’ll probably do the rest.

Never forget the Bear Trap.

Transport Business Idea

Environmental Architecture, Plans

Having  just watched Chris Blaine’s “Who Killed the Electric Car?” on,  I’ve got a fun idea.

Based on the theories put forth in the documentary, the socio-political-economic situation of America is too wrapped up in profit to make a commercially viable vehicle built by a major domestic company.  As the film lays out, either through poorly conducted marketing or public near-sightedness, electric cars are not viable as profitable products.   By viewing the influence of Big Oil, we see that financial push from the large incumbent of energy is too strong to defeat in a market scenario.  Then, when looking at the nature of the car company itself, a lack of constantly replaced parts reduces the financial incentive to produce such a vehicle.  When looking at the nature of both the local and national government, the desire of the people, both rich and poor, allows the first three issues to show that government influence on a profitable company will not help create a more efficient car, especially with a four to eight year turnover in government policy creating inconsistencies.  As a profit driven endeavor, the electric car won’t work for an American market.

The solution, then, for an American made electric car, is to create a not-for-profit company.  This company, through donations, links to educational institutions, constant exposure, and creative problem solving, would generate a commercially competitive electric vehicle that is made without regard to the company’s profit.  Thus, the company would be driven on the power of an idea rather than on the promise of increased profits over time.

The issue with only making a car leaves the question of fueling stations.  This initiative needs to be taken in cities where the environment is a priority.  Using these as starting cities, the company could make contracts with local businesses -not necessarily gas stations, but parking garages, lots, and restaurants – to expand the range of recharging facilities.  Working with various industries increases the odds of support that cannot easily be bought – or rather, stretches thin the influence of large companies opposing such business.  As certain cities expand in their influence with a short distance car, more cities can be brought in, longer distance battery models sold, and the idea of the electric car industry expanded.

The benefit, even to detractors of the electric car, would be a city by city case study where the efficiency both of the product and the business of the electric car could be critically studied.

This company would be most effected by state and federal policy as a not-for-profit, so lobbying from large corporations would threaten it the most.

However, if a desirable conversion for a business model was needed, one needs look no further than the computer industry.  These products operate on an electric system and have constant profit and advancement.  The industry makes large profits continuously and continues to grow and expand.  Why should an electric car industry be any different from the computer industry?

Tying into an earlier post, the potential of wireless charging makes the electric car that much more viable.  If the ability to charge the car becomes wireless as well, we’d have a car that charges as it travels, removing the fear of loss of fuel in suburban towns and cities.

Anyway, that’s my response to the documentary “Who Killed The Electric Car?”  I think the more important question is: how can it brought back to stay?

Making Electric Car Society

Environmental Architecture, Theatre Business

Recipe for a working electric car society:

  • a little wireless charging, as seen here:

  • a little hybrid car/ electric-only car, as seen here:

mix with the current  american road system and bam!  A very efficient electric car society.

The idea behind this system is that around stoplights, parking garages, tunnels – anywhere where cars are surrounded either by four walls or where they are stopped (or both), wireless chargers are inserted into the roadsystem.  What this allows is continuous recharging of the electric car.  Combine that with solar or geothermal powered wireless chargers and you get a low-oil/ natural gas system that keeps the American tradition of individualistic driving.

Fine: How do you pay for it?

Advertising.  Sell ad space in garages, on highways, so on and so forth.  Google has made the free-to-consumer approach work wonders through simple use of advertiser space.  If this method of marketing keeps the ever popular internet super-highway cheap, why can’t the real highway system use a similar method?

Why does this matter for theatre?

Most theatre patrons belong to demographics that concern themselves with driving, luxury, and environmental action – on either end of the polarity.  They can afford to take part in the energy/ road system conversation.  That being said, the theatre industry itself is one of constant transport – be it between the suppliers and the space wherein the set is built or simply on the touring bus in which the company travels, roads are part of theatre.  Travel – either by the public or by the troupe – is vital to the survival of the theatre company.  As such, a greener system can also be a cheaper system, which is always good news for an industry that needs every penny it can get.

In addition, the idea of the wireless charging system could also help with rigging.  Over time, if a system of wireless power is established which can handle the high-energy connections necessary, then lighting for a theatre could eventually remove (or back up) cable systems.  This would make for a safer, lighter rigging set up – or simply one that can back itself up in case of emergency.  However, this level of innovation might only take place if funding were available, and if the much broader category of transportation takes on the wireless issue, then the funding boom could expand to other industries, such as home, office, and eventually, theatrical lighting.

Furthermore, a wireless system might also help the international plug issue.  By having a universal power type – simple coil to coil transfer – then various plug types would no longer be an issue (though perhaps various brands of coil might be incompatible for the benefit of each wireless power source company)  Once again, this effects most levels of a traveling society, one part of which are the theatre companies that work internationally.

All in all, I see wireless charging as being a huge boost for transport beyond all else.  In most other areas, it simply acts as an alternate aesthetic – appealing as that is, I like the real improvement made by connection with transport.

Back to Base-ics

Environmental Architecture

NASA’s recent Sustainability Base project is an interesting step forward in the United States government’s involvement with the Green movement.

Their videolink for the project can be seen here.

What I find interesting is that the rhetoric for the project includes global ideas of climate change, which is a political hot-button.  Whereas I’m not opposed to efforts to stem climate change, I know several people who don’t believe in the theory (in addition to the various groups which oppose the idea).  There are arguments for and against this idea, but I think, personally, when an item gets too hot, its best not to touch it.  I prefer to look at the economic impact of the movement, and especially of NASA’s new Sustainability Building.

In an earlier article, I looked at the Solar Decathlon in DC, which has similar results to NASA’s new building.  What I liked about the two different projects was the use of renewable resources and the construction of buildings which would produce net zero energy (although I don’t see why NASA’s building shouldn’t attempt to mimic Team Germany’s structure and simply create an energy profit).  The reason I like these initiatives is the financial incentive.

In Conte and Langley’s Theatre Management Handbook, one of the operating expenses of any theatre house is building upkeep and maintenance.  These line items cost a good deal over time, and reduction in their cost allows for more expense for entertainment and, more importantly, education.  By creating and updating structures to help them reduce their upkeep costs and maybe even pay for themselves, managers can either generate more profit (always nice) or help assign income to other expenses and budgets.  Using more renewable resources allows for buildings to made and landscapes to expanded with a less destructive nature.

To clarify:

Matter can neither be created nor destroyed, so how is any building of a site destructive?  I think the proper definition for ‘destructive’ in this context should be ‘to be made inaccessible.’  In that case, creation simply means then, ‘to be made accessible.’  Which then means that finding alternative sources of energy and renewable resources are both creative acts, which by the same credit, refining current methods of energy production also achieves.


However, the danger in all these movements is balance.  It is hard to raise the funds necessary for a given project when diversity exists, and yet it is important, especially now, to have a diverse energy market which uses diverse sources and resources – otherwise, we exchange immediate surplus for an eventually drought.  Right now, it seems that we are facing a drought in the current supply of carbon fuels, and even with the various solutions available, the increased access to as-yet untapped resources proves to be another hot-button issue.  Therefore, I believe the more harmonious path is through diversity of energy resources as well as the development and refinement of more renewable energy.


Additive Architecture

Environmental Architecture

Considering the fields of Theatre, Economics, Environmental Sustainment, and Architecture, I’m beginning to feel that a more conservative approach to the Green movement is necessary.  There are plenty of locations where mega-mansions are being built, huge, new, Green houses that take a lot of money and time and labor, but will eventually pay for their own costs.  What I’d like to see more of is tweaking: taking existing spaces and making them more green without demolishing them.  In other words, using the resources that are in place and making them more efficient.  One could say I’m advocating ‘baby steps’ in Architectural Sustainability, but there are more factors to consider in the Green movement than ‘houses that pay for themselves.’

What I’ve seen so far that I’ve liked includes the Gable House, a structure built using ‘lamboo’ – laminated bamboo – and resources from condemned farms, to build a house.  What’s excellent about these two materials is that the first is rapidly renewable – bamboo is a grass and if improperly contained, becomes an invasive weed; and that the second is a reused resource – in essence, it’s good waste management.

Detractors say that liberal approaches to Green Architecture lead to a higher carbon footprint in that resources must be transported to a site to build, whereas more conservative approaches lead to less transport and building.  They also argue for conservation of culture – especially those interested in historical landmarks.  I don’t entirely disagree with them.  However, living in Colonial Williamburg, I will say that over- conservation eventually leads to marketed celebration and a biased viewpoint of history.  In other words, nostalgia, like all things, should be taken in moderation.

Now that I’ve poo-poo’d CW, I will laud it: several years ago, the Foundation switched over to less authentic electric candles.  Preservation is important, but only to a certain extent.  If the Colonies had had electricity, I’m sure they would have used it.  After all, history shows that eventually, they did.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that one need not build an entirely new building in order to produce a grand eco-site.  Especially those in theatre, who someitmes used condemned buildigns as playign spaces.  Theatre should act both as a conservative function of culture and a progressive one.  By using the old ways and the tried and true aspects of a culture, it can also act to fix problems within a given society.

Looking at that role, one can extrapolate the ideology to architecture.  Rather than destroying condemned sites to build new green spaces, one can modify a dilapidated space into a more useful and efficient site.  This allows for both progressive movements in architecture and culture as well as a preservation of history and a conservation and reuse of resources. Especially in the Theatre, this approach would allow organizations to make a sustainable home while still paying homage to their roots (or at least their patron houses).

An Invisible Building

Environmental Architecture

Having gotten through season 1 of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, I have been inspired by the concept of an ‘invisible building.’  In other words, I love the idea of a closed system underground structure.  Granted, such systems also exist in such games as Fallout 3, but Dollhouse coined the phrase ‘invisible building’ and made it seem more like a paradise than a containment facility (okay, so it showed both sides of the coin…)

This inspiration led to my recent wiki-pedition about closed systems and renewable energy, i.e. solar, geothermal, wind, biomass, biofuels, nuclear power, and others.  What I find fascinating about these various systems is the concept of a 0- energy space (or a space that gains rather than spends energy, as exhibited by Team Germany in the Solar Decathlon).  I think that, by combining these energy resources with an underground structure and clever architectural planning (building or converting abandoned spaces) one could make some amazing ‘invisible’ buildings that pay for their own energy, and perhaps, in time, for their own construction costs.

What this led to think about more, however, was the idea of a vehicle as a closed system.  What if cars, motorbikes, planes, trains, what have you- could use some of the above systems for their own energy refueling?  I mean, ideas of biofuel and solar power being used in cars are not new, but what about wind and hydro electric power?  I suppose my query is one of scale: that is, what if the systems currently used to harness wind and hydroelectric power were scaled down to be used in a moving closed system instead of a stationary one?  What if a car’s movement helped fuel a car?

Fish, for example, move about, generating oxygen by passing water through their gills.  Why can’t cars do the same thing with fuel (or at least electricity)?  Why not have a moving system that feeds not only on solar energy and biomass but also on micro-windfarms and micro-dams?  I mean, granted the systems in question would provide very little energy, but the constant motion of a vehicle would reduce the variability of water intake/wind intake that often plagues the stationary systems.  On that kind of note, could not the very act of falling be used to provide some sort of energy?

What got me to wondering about vehicles on an energy saving level was the idea of transport.  Right now, building in spaces with resources that one orders still requires a lot of energy, a lot of carbon.  It also deals those darned shipping costs.  But what if travelling did not cost so much?  Wouldn’t that reduce the price of construction?  Would that also reduce the price of fuel, and of the vehicle itself (over time)?

To answer my last question, water intake systems come with a cost.  The passage of material through a ‘pipe’ system leaves residue, and overtime, even the energy saving systems of a vehicle would lose their functionality.

Still, having a world (or even a place in the world) where building and travelling actually paid for themselves, would be incredible – and could help direct money into more leisurely areas.