comment 1

9 square meters

Before bed last night, I was was reading about a Tokyo-based real estate company called Spilytus. They have an apartment brand called Ququri (pronounced ku-ku-ri) that specializes in tiny apartments, which I suppose isn’t all that novel for Japan.

Since the brand was launched in 2014, they have developed over 70 buildings and now manage about 1,200 micro apartments across the central wards of Tokyo (~17 units per project if you do the math). We are talking about apartments in the range of 9 square meters (plus sleeping loft) for somewhere around ¥75,000 per month.

Not surprisingly, their projects seem to lease up right away. And supposedly there’s a long wait list for future projects. People are clearly looking for affordable housing in the neighborhoods in which they want to live. It’s about lifestyle and location, and living a large portion of your life within the public domain.

This housing typology isn’t for everyone. But it’s great for some people. And I have no doubt that demand for it will only continue to grow in big global cities. However, for what we are all going through right now, I can imagine that it would be nice to have a bit more than 9 square meters to roam around in.

Image: Spilytus

comment 1

What they don't teach you in architecture school

When you go to architecture school, you are indoctrinated to appreciate certain projects, buildings, and houses. One of those pieces of architecture, at least for my generation, is the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, by Mies van der Rohe.

Completed in 1951 for Dr. Edith Farnsworth (a nephrologist), the house is one of the most celebrated midcentury modern houses in the United States. Today, the former weekend retreat is a museum owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. (Information on how to visit can be found, here.)

But what they don’t teach you in architecture school is that the house never really worked all that well as, you know, an actual house. And that the client and architect ended up embroiled in legal battles toward the end of construction.

This is part of the story that is told in Alex Beam’s new book, Broken Glass, which was recently reviewed by Witold Rybczynski in the Wall Street Journal. Now, Witold isn’t a fan of modern architecture to begin with and so the Farnsworth House never stood a chance:

Despite the purposeful appearance of his architecture, Mies was not particularly interested in practical matters. The travertine on the terrace weathered badly, and a poorly designed heating system left sooty stains on the windows. The glass walls resulted in spectacular heating bills in the winter and hothouse temperatures in the summer—there were only two small openable windows. Then there was the problem of condensation on the glass in cold weather. “You feel as though you are in a car in the rain with a windshield wiper that doesn’t work,” Farnsworth complained. A film about the genesis of her house, starring Elizabeth Debicki and Ralph Fiennes, is currently in the works. It will be interesting to see if it will show the doctor squeegeeing her foggy windows.

On his blog, Witold calls Mies an aesthete. Appearance was everything. My personal view is that it’s generally good practice to design houses so that they function properly. But icons are icons and the Farnsworth House is certainly an icon. Maybe we should just call it a prototype.

Image: Farnsworth House (National Trust for Historic Preservation)

comment 1

The latest coronavirus figures

The Financial Times has some of the best charts/graphics that I have seen on the coronavirus and its impact. They’re also free and regularly updated. Below is the cumulative number of deaths, by number of days since the 10th death (last updated March 23 at 21:00 GMT). I prefer this to the number of cases because it is more precise, though impacted by things like demographics. The number of cases is impacted by how good you are at testing. Some countries have been far better than others. And what we are continuing to learn is that lots of people were and are completely asymptomatic.

Seeing China (and Iran?) continue to flatten out is encouraging. (Note the logarithmic scale.)

Here has been the impact to the Chinese economy. It’s slowing coming back.

And here are traffic volumes around the world. This chart was published on Sunday, March 22. At that time, Tokyo looked to be largely business as usual.

comment 1

Leveraging mobile phone data during a pandemic

Smartphone user data is hugely valuable at a time like this. Which is why governments all over the world from Israel to South Korea are using aggregated telecom data to try and track how their citizens are moving during this pandemic.

Some are calling this a violation of digital rights. I don’t know enough to comment on that specifically, but I do know that the value to society as a whole is clear. It strikes me that if we knew (1) who was infected (you know this by doing widespread testing), (2) where people have been, and (3) where people are today, we would be in a much better position to contain the spread.

To that end, Singapore’s Ministry of Health has been publicizing a surprising amount of information regarding its cases. And that data has been in turn made into interactive maps. You can see who is infected, where they live and work, which hospital they were admitted to, and so on. Is this an overshare? Or is this price of collective health and security?

The New York Times has similarly gone and visualized the movement of people and the virus using data from major telecoms, Baidu, and other sources; though in this case it is more of a retrospective view of what went wrong as opposed to a proactive management tool. The argument they make is that Wuhan’s lockdown was too little, too late.

According to the NY Times, 175,000 people left Wuhan on January 1st alone. Throughout the month of January, outbound travel from Wuhan accelerated as many started to fear a lockdown. About 7 million people left in January. Where they travelled to can be found here. Would it be too draconian to use this kind of mobile phone data to see who is obeying a lockdown and who is not?

Images: New York Times

comment 0

Studio Gang: Architecture

Phaidon — publisher of books on art, design, architecture, food, and fashion — has a new publication coming out this summer called, Studio Gang: Architecture. They are describing it as: “An in-depth exploration of one of the most important, innovative, and creative architecture practices working today.” As most of you know, we are working with Studio Gang on an important project in midtown Toronto. And so we are of course thrilled to see the firm’s work being celebrated. To pre-order a copy of the book, click here. They are supposed to start shipping around mid-May.

comments 4

Nurx announces home testing kit

I have been debating whether I should continue writing about what is already on all of our minds, or if I should focus my attention on positivity and humor. The latter is hugely important at a time like this, which is why I have been trying to intersperse my thoughts, both here and on Twitter, with things like funny videos, dance music, and architecture.

But the reality is that none of us know how this is all going to play out. As I mentioned yesterday, very few of us have a mental model for this kind of macro event. So it’s important for all of us to continue learning. Is our country taking the right approach? Are we doing enough? How long are we going to have to live like this and what does that mean for the global economy?

The Financial Times published an invaluable story earlier this week about a small town outside of Venice called, Vò. With only 3,300 people, the town was supposedly able to test and retest all of its residents while the rest of northern Italy was growing as an epicenter for the Wuhan virus.

In late February, they completed their first round of testing and found that about 3% of the town had been infected. But it’s important to note that about 50% of those that were infected were completely asymptomatic! However, because everyone was tested, the asymptomatic people got immediately quarantined.

The town did a second round of testing about 10 days later and that point the infection rate had dropped to about 0.3%. Of course, if all those asymptomatic people had been out and about in the town of Vò, this would not have been the case. There now appears to be no new cases in Vò.

It is for this reason that the WHO is urging diligent and repeated testing. But that obviously needs to be done in a sensible way. Having people line up — together — for hours upon hours is an obvious problem. Most people are not getting tested.

Earlier this morning, San Francisco-based Nurx announced a home testing kit for the Wuhan virus. Supposedly it is the first of its kind in the US. (It’s not yet available in Canada — I asked). I don’t know how available it is to Americans or how accurate it is, yet, but I do know that something like this needs to become widespread.

comment 0

Shutdown and restart

Very few of us have a mental model for the macro conditions that we are living through right now. We have been through economic downturns, but most of us haven’t lived through a pandemic. I am an optimist and I know that we will get through this and normalcy will return. But one of the questions that we’re all asking ourselves right now is: What will “normalcy” look like on the backend?

Here is an interesting piece of evidence for the current shutdown:

When I see pictures of our cities, like these from Italy, I can’t help but think of the life that normally plays out in the streets. The conversations. The chance encounters. And even the smells. Some of that activity has moved to every single balcony in Italy and that is a beautiful thing. But it’s no substitute for true street life. Thankfully, we know that public life will both return and prevail.

Along the way there will be changes. There are going to be winners and losers. Some companies are going to go bankrupt. And there will be adjustments that we have made that will invariably stick. Are we all going to video conference more? (The obvious one.) Will we all travel less? Will this macro event accelerate our transition to a knowledge-based digital economy? I’m sure it will. Also consider all of the new companies that are being started right at this very moment.

But as I said on Twitter today, we are social beings. That is one of the reasons why we choose to live in cities. And I am certain that isn’t going away.

Photo by Kristijan Arsov on Unsplash

comments 2

Brick vault house

This house was designed by the Spanish firm, Space Popular. It was completed last year in Santa Barbara, Spain. Two things, in particular, make it unique: (1) Its exposed steel structure (12×12 grid) and (2) its brick vaults. But both of these things really serve one idea. They express the building’s structure. And that’s about all you need for good architecture — one clear idea. All photography by Mariela Apollonio.

comment 0

Urbanization and its discontents

Harvard economist Edward Glaeser has a new paper out talking about “urbanization and its discontents.” In it, he argues that while cities today are working remarkably well for highly skilled people, they don’t seem to be delivering the same upward mobility to lower skilled people. The “urban wage premium” for this segment of the population has seemingly disappeared.

The posited causes of this discontent will likely resonate with many of you:

Urban resurgence represents private sector success, and the public sector typically only catches up to urban change with a considerable lag. Moreover, as urban machines have been replaced by governments that are more accountable to empowered residents, urban governments do more to protect insiders and less to enable growth. The power of insiders can be seen in the regulatory limits on new construction and new businesses, the slow pace of school reform and the unwillingness to embrace congestion pricing.

Unfortunately, this paper isn’t available for free online. If you’re interested, you’ll need to purchase a copy, here.

comments 4

How temperature impacts the transmission of COVID-19

The Financial Times published the following chart last night. It shows the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases around the world, across the number of days since the 100th case in that particular country. The message here is that most western countries appear to be on a similar trajectory. (The grey dotted line represents a 33% daily increase.) Whereas in Asia, and in particular Hong Kong and Singapore, they have seemingly managed to slow the spread.

Now, there are a number of possible explanations for the outliers; everything from stricter quarantine rules to more rigorous testing. There’s also an argument that Hong Kong and Singapore were better prepared as a result of the SARS outbreak in 2002. (More on these explanations, here.) But the other factor at play seems to be climate.

A recent study (by Jingyuan Wang, Ke Tang, Kai Feng, and Weifeng Lv) has concluded that, like the flu, the transmission of COVID-19 appears to be significantly impacted by both air temperature and relative humidity. In their research, they looked at the reproductive number (R), or the severity of infectiousness, for all Chinese cities with more than 40 cases between January 21 to 23, 2020. (Large-scale government interventions began on January 24, 2020 and would have therefore skewed the numbers.)

What they found was that for every one degree Celsius increase in temperature and every one degree Celsius increase in relative humidity, the reproductive numbers drop by 0.0383 and 0.0224, respectively. Air temperature, in other words, has more of a positive impact on containing spread than relative humidity — which feels right. That is also apparent when you look at the above charts. Take note of Korea, Iran, and Italy near the top left corner of the temperature chart.

If you’d like to download a full copy of the research paper, click here.