The appeal of off-grid homes has grown in part because utilities have become less reliable. As natural disasters linked to climate change have increased, there have been more extended blackouts in California, Texas, Louisiana and other states.
A Critical Year for Electric Vehicles
The popularity of battery-powered cars is soaring worldwide, even as the overall auto market stagnates.
Californians are also upset that electricity rates keep rising and state policymakers have proposed reducing incentives for installing solar panels on homes connected to the grid. Installing off-grid solar and battery systems is expensive, but once the systems are up and running, they typically require modest maintenance and homeowners no longer have an electric bill.
RMI, a research organization formerly known as the Rocky Mountain Institute, has projected that by 2031 most California homeowners will save money by going off the grid as solar and battery costs fall and utility rates increase. That phenomenon will increasingly play out in less sunny regions like the Northeast over the following decades, the group forecasts.
David Hochschild, chairman of the California Energy Commission, a regulatory agency, said the state’s residents tend to be early adopters, noting that even a former governor, Jerry Brown, lives in an off-grid home. But Mr. Hochschild added that he was not convinced that such an approach made sense for most people. “We build 100,000 new homes a year in California, and I would guess 99.99 percent of them are connected to the grid,” he said.
Some energy experts worry that people who are going off the grid could unwittingly hurt efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That is because the excess electricity that rooftop solar panels produce will no longer reach the grid, where it can replace power from coal or natural gas plants. “We don’t need everybody to cut the cord and go it alone,” said Mark Dyson, senior principal with the carbon-free electricity unit of RMI.
Solar Panels and a View
Pepe Cancino moved from Santa Monica to Nevada County in 2020 after he and his wife, Diane, lost their jobs during the pandemic. They bought five acres with spectacular views of snow-capped mountains. Mr. Cancino, 42, a former home health care worker, picked up a chain saw and an ax and began learning how to build a house and generate his own power.
When they finish their two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom home this fall, the family, including their 15-year-old daughter, will generate electricity and use a well for water.
The challenges of the past year gave designers every reason to recede into the shadows, but creativity won’t be denied.
If anything, they are finding inspiration in global upheaval. From hundreds of possibilities, here are just a few examples we selected of projects begun or realized despite closed borders, disrupted supply chains and economic collapse.
Designers are recycling the rubble from Mexico City’s streets, for example, creating play spaces so Beirut’s children can find comfort in a city ripped apart by an explosion and proposing textiles as a building material to replace environmentally cruel concrete. More than just surmounting challenges, many are looking ahead to a greener, healthier and more equitable world.
Dadaï, a Thai, Vietnamese and dim sum restaurant that opened in August in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, takes its inspiration from the avant-garde Dada art movement — or at least a 21st-century Japanese interpretation of it.
A chevron, or zigzag, pattern covers the walls, floor and ceiling. Arched bays are filled with classical-style nude statues that look as if they’ve been ensnared in webs of washi tape. And at the center of the dining room, angled vertiginously over the bar, is a giant photographic portrait of a woman interrupted by collaged smears of color.
Located in the new, fashion-centric Miyashita Park retail development, the restaurant’s design, by Yasumichi Morita of the aptly named Tokyo studio Glamorous, makes no obvious concessions to a post-pandemic world. (Japan’s self-described “state of emergency” ended on March 21.)
Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia in Barcelona designs a self-sufficient structure aimed at reducing the effects of climate change. But the class of 2019-2020 chose to take on another global crisis by imagining an architectural response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had two crises at the same time,” said Vicente Guallart, a director of the master’s program in advanced ecological buildings and biocities. “And the question was what we can learn about that.”
Over five months and under strict quarantine conditions, Mr. Guallart and his co-director Daniel Ibáñez led the group of 17 students in constructing an ecological wood cabin, known as the Voxel, a structure designed with everything one might need to quarantine for 14 days. The design was executed with just 40 pine trees, all harvested less than a mile from the construction site in Barcelona’s Collserola Natural Park. It also includes solar panels, independent battery storage and a rainwater collection and gray-water recycling system.
The roughly 130-square-foot cabin, which rises almost 14 feet, now stands nearly camouflaged among the same pines used to construct it. valldaura.net
17th-century home near Montpellier in southern France with a newly frescoed ceiling in his 250-square-foot bedroom.
The fresco’s single-named artist, Rochegaussen, had worked with Mr. Yovanovitch previously on a restaurant interior in London (he painted cutlery and cookware on a field of cobalt over the chef’s table). Given carte blanche for the bedroom, Rochegaussen arranged woodland animals in his signature energetic line — a motif Mr. Yovanovitch described as “a joyful Mediterranean dance.” The creatures were inspired by fauna from a Provençal forest and include boar, snakes and owls. The designer said that a refreshed environment helped him stay inspired, especially in a period of isolation. And, he added, “there’s something so special about looking up from bed and seeing a painting.” pierreyovanovitch.com, rochegaussen.com
branch institution in Tianjin welcomed its inaugural class of graduate students to a campus designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Located about an hour outside of Beijing, the new 350,000-square-foot complex began construction in 2017 and features performance halls, rehearsal rooms and teaching studios, connected by a ground-level lobby that is open to the public. Expansive windows offer visitors a view into the educational and creative processes.
In China, “there’s still a sense of fascination and curiosity with Western music,” said Charles Renfro, the partner in charge of the project, noting that the building was designed to be a teaching aid for both students and the community.
As the building neared completion in early 2020, Mr. Renfro said he spent many evenings viewing video walk-throughs, trusting that the firm’s partners in China were meeting the precise specifications.
HMC Architects, and his colleagues recently completed a speculative design for a mixed-used project on the Lekki peninsula near Lagos, Nigeria. This relatively sparsely populated area in a region of more than 21 million people is being readied to accommodate millions more in the coming years.
Approached by an environmentally minded local developer who is seeking to acquire 400 acres on the peninsula, the architects envisioned a “forest city” with abundant greenery cleansing the air and a narrow street grid that allows breezes to slip past and passively cool buildings. Rain in the monsoon season would fill basins in parks and gardens. Shaded houses would have communal courtyards and reclaim the climate-responsive earthen materials and decorative patterns of precolonial people like the Yoruba.
an estimated 6,000 buildings, including more than 150 schools. This left Etienne Bastormagi, Sandra Richani and Nada Borgi, local architects and urban planners, wondering how they could help their city as children prepare to return to class.
Their Let’s Play initiative, will rebuild playgrounds at six schools affected by the explosion, with help from other architects and volunteers. Construction on the first, at École Secondaire des Filles de la Charité school in the Achrafieh district, just began.
The public-private initiative also reconsiders what a playground can be, incorporating materials, large-scale objects and landscapes that can be experienced or manipulated in more than one way. Rather than jungle gyms, swing sets or slides, the spaces will have colorful platforms, canopies and pathways that encourage directionless play. Such ambiguities are meant to promote experimentation and social interaction outside of the classroom.
The team also hopes that these new ways to play will help children confront the traumas of 2020, blast and coronavirus pandemic alike, by allowing them to feel safe again in their city. “The therapy effect is not just for the kids,” Mr. Bastormagi added. “I think it starts with us.” instagram.com/lets_play_initiative
Safdie Architects, the hospital opened in January with its more than half a million square feet (and more to come) oriented toward courtyards, gardens and a bucolic lake.
According to Sean Scensor, the project’s lead architect, greenery even determines how visitors move through the building: The main pedestrian corridor parallels a bamboo garden, and five wings stretch perpendicularly from this spine to carve out lush courtyards that open onto a lake. A “healing garden” accessible from the oncology department offers sanctuary in a grove of Indian lilac, red and white frangipani trees and scarlet-blossomed royal poinciana.
Visitors also can steal away to a glass-walled chapel tucked into a bamboo enclosure. The goal, Mr. Scensor said, was to avoid “institutional anonymity” in favor of a “new kind of hospital: highly efficient but inherently humane.” chsm.com
Yinka Ilori, a British-Nigerian artist, has spent the last year designing and installing affirmation-laced murals throughout the city — like one in which bubblegum-pink letters announce “Love always wins” against a backdrop suggestive of ice cream cones.
Mr. Ilori recently extended this “theme of positivity,” as he has called it, to table linens, pillows, rugs and socks sold through his website and a few retailers. The latest designs include bone china mugs and plates emblazoned with his chirpy slogans. This venture compensates for “a loss of projects during the pandemic,” he said. And then some. The line has proved so successful that he has hired additional staff members to manage it into a post-Covid future. Mug 45 pounds, or about $62; plate £70, or about $97. yinkailori.com
Shark Tank”) with his first commercial product: a lamp called Lumio that opens like a book. In October, Mr. Gunawan introduced on Kickstarter a second object that similarly trades in the thrill of the unexpected. Teno is a bowl-shaped sculpture, five inches in diameter, with a jagged golden scar — a reference to the Japanese art of repair called kintsugi. Crack open the bowl, and light pours out (it can be increased or dimmed with a tap). Open the sculpture fully, and it becomes a portable Bluetooth speaker.
MT Objects is a ceramics studio that turns out singular pieces referencing local craft traditions and the architectural splendor and battered infrastructure of its home base, Mexico City, and beyond. Thanks to a masked and socially distant pair of artisans employed by the studio, operations have continued throughout the pandemic, said Tony Moxham, a co-founder with Mauricio Paniagua.
In one recent series, slip-cast vessels were drizzled with black glaze in imitation of the tar used by the Totonac people who occupied what is now the state of Veracruz to represent “the moisture, fertility and darkness of the underworld,” Mr. Moxham said. Another collection, described as “brutalist,” is cast from sidewalk rubble and streaked with traditional colonial lead-based glazes from the western state of Michoacán.
“We wanted to create something that was very different from what everyone else was doing,” Mr. Moxham said. “And in Mexico City, almost any sidewalk you walk down has bits of broken concrete.” Prices range from $1,000 to $5,000 per piece. ceramicalamejor.mx/mt-objects
Aïssa Dione’s 2020 collection of textiles carries the vibrant colors and traditional designs of Senegalese handweaving, though reimagined in various sizes and with fibers like raffia, cotton and viscose. The fabrics are produced in Ms. Dione’s workshop in Rufisque, a town outside of Dakar, where she employs nearly 100 Senegalese weavers who work on looms. They are then sold to luxury interior design companies to cover sofas, armchairs and windows in homes around the world.
Ms. Dione’s 2020 collection also continues the textile designer’s nearly 30-year commitment to revitalize the craft and her continued focus on cultivating raw materials from Senegal, rather than importing them. Working locally and small helped her during a year when the pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in the global supply chain.
It also gave Ms. Dione a chance to develop a client database, organize photos of past work and shoot a film that captures her weavers’ process. “We had time to sit down and develop things we had no time to do,” she said. aissadionetissus.com
DeMuro Das, an interior design studio near New Delhi, unusual materials are a calling card. It has topped a coffee table in unakite, a speckled, metamorphic rock, and lined a cabinet in koto, a West African hardwood. More recently, the founders, Brian DeMuro and Puru Das, tried wrapping a low cabinet with the parchmentlike substance Carta, lending the piece a pretty, mottled surface, like asphalt after a rainstorm.
Pirjo Haikola, a designer in Melbourne, has 3-D-printed coral reefs that are on view at the art and design triennial at the National Gallery of Victoria.
Anna Aagaard Jensen, a Danish artist, and a wig-like lamp by Laurids Gallée, an Austrian-born designer. The lamp is part of a lighting collection, curated by the Brussels dealer Victor Hunt, titled, appropriately enough, “The Lights at the End of the Tunnel.” May 28 to 30. collectible.design
Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm and the curator of a show about the banquet that revels in bespoke table settings, secret menus, eye-popping floral arrangements and glossy evening wear. Timed to open with the — ultimately canceled — 2020 event, it is fully installed and ready for visitors whenever entry is deemed safe.
The show reveals the banquet as a stage for perfectionism — a chance to source the ultimate raspberry for a dessert or prepare the most challenging potato dish.
But it also highlights modest gestures, like the time in 2018 when Victoria, the Crown Princess of Sweden, recycled the Nina Ricci gown her mother, Queen Silvia, wore to the event in 1995.
“She looked fantastic in it,” Ms. Ahlvik said, though the princess is taller than her mother. “We were all wondering how she did it.” nobelprize.org
Want to live like a Bridgerton, the upper crust British family featured in the hit Netflix series? Promenading with handsome dukes and gossiping with a queen over macarons?
Well, you probably can’t live like a 19th-century aristocrat. But you can clean like a scullery maid.
English Heritage, an organization in Swindon, England, that cares for centuries-old palaces, houses, castles and abbeys, released spring cleaning tips on Friday that would have felt familiar in the Regency and Victorian Eras.
For dusty mirrors, skip the glass cleaner and wipe them down with chamois leather.
To get your stone floors to gleam, scrub them with skim milk.
“Mind Your Manors: Tried-and-True British Household Cleaning Tips.”
People are increasingly worried that their cleaning habits may harm the environment, and they are looking for ways to avoid using plastic bottles or chemical-based products that can exacerbate asthma or cause other health problems, she said.
And, Ms. Lethbridge added, the old methods work.
During the pandemic, she said, her kitchen pipe has repeatedly become clogged. She has relied on a simple solution of baking soda, hot water and vinegar or lemon juice that she pours into the sink until “there is a great, fantastic glug.”
an author in Wales who has been researching the work and lives of servants for 30 years.
Ms. Goodman said the idea of using bread to clean wallpaper probably came about in the 1600s, when England went from using wood to coal for heating homes and businesses.
The soot made homes filthy, especially the walls. Bread would have worked as an effective sponge without damaging the paper the way water can, she said.
That kind of realization had to come from the women cleaning the house, whose creativity and resourcefulness is often overlooked by history, Ms. Goodman said.
“We’ve been somewhat bedazzled by the great men of history,” she said. Cleaning is “not widely talked about. It’s not widely researched, and yet it is the basis of survival and the basis of women’s lives and working women’s lives.”
Andrew Neborak, the owner of Luxury Cleaning NY in New York City, said he was not surprised to hear that skim milk could be used to clean stone floors. He said he had recently used a milk-based cleaning product to wash an unfinished floor in a SoHo furniture showroom. He regularly uses vinegar and lemon to wipe down countertops.
“It’s actually even better than any cleaner,” Mr. Neborak said of the mixture.
Ms. Lethbridge said that even as some spurn modern-day, chemical-based products, we should remember how natural cleaning agents would have made us smell 200 years ago.
Urine, for example, was a popular ingredient for washing clothes in the early 1800s, Ms. Lethbridge said.
“In the early 19th century,” she mused, “maybe the smell of clean was the smell of urine.”
LYON — Grégory Doucet, the mild-mannered Green party mayor of Lyon, hardly seems a revolutionary. But he has upended France by announcing last month that elementary school lunch menus for 29,000 Lyonnais children would no longer include meat.
An outrage! An ecological diktat that could signal the end of French gastronomy, even French culture! Ministers in President Emmanuel Macron’s government clashed. If Lyon, the city of beef snouts and pigs’ ears, of saucisson and kidneys, could do such a thing, the apocalypse was surely imminent.
“The reaction has been quite astonishing,” Mr. Doucet, 47, said.
He is a slight man whose mischievous mien and goatee gives him the air of one of Dumas’s three musketeers. A political neophyte elected last year, he clearly finds it a little ludicrous that he, an apostle of less, should end up with more, sitting beneath a 25-foot ceiling in a cavernous mayor’s office adorned with brocade and busts of his forbears. That tweaking a local school menu has split the nation leaves him incredulous.
“My decision was purely pragmatic,” he insisted, eyes twinkling — a means to speed up lunches in socially distanced times by offering a single menu rather than the traditional choice of two dishes.
Not so, thundered Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister. He tweeted that dropping meat was an “unacceptable insult to French farmers and butchers” that betrays “an elitist and moralist” attitude. Julien Denormandie, the agriculture minister, called the mayor’s embrace of the meatless lunch “shameful from a social point of view” and “aberrational from a nutritional point of view.”
All of which prompted Barbara Pompili, the minister of ecological transition, to speak of the “prehistoric” views, full of “hackneyed clichés,” of these men, in effect calling two of her cabinet colleagues Neanderthals.
This heated exchange over little illustrated several things. Mr. Macron’s government and party, La République en Marche, remain an uneasy marriage of right and left. The rising popularity of the Greens, who run not only Lyon but also Bordeaux and Grenoble, has sharpened a cultural clash between urban environmental crusaders and the defenders of French tradition in the countryside.
Not least, nothing gets the French quite as dyspeptic as disagreement over food.
The mayor, it must be said, made his move in a city with an intense gastronomic tradition. At the Boucherie François on the banks of the Rhône, a centennial establishment, Lyon’s culture of meat is on ample display. The veal liver and kidneys glistened; cuts of roast beef wrapped in pork fat abounded; the heads of yellow and white chickens lolled on a counter; the saucissons, some with pistachio, took every cylindrical form; the pastry-wrapped pâté showed off a core of foie gras; and pigs’ trotters and ears betrayed this city’s carnivorous inclinations.
“The mayor made a mistake,” said François Teixeira, a butcher who has worked at François for 19 years. “This is not good for Lyon’s image.”
Certainly, the mayor’s decision came at a sensitive moment. The right in France has expressed indignation that the country is being force-marched, through politically correct environmental dogmatism, toward a future of bicycles, electric cars, veganism, locavores, negative planet-saving growth and general joylessness — something at a very far cry from stuffing goose livers for personal delectation.
Last year, Pierre Hurmic, the Green party mayor of Bordeaux, touched a nerve when he rejected the city’s traditional Christmas tree because it’s “a dead tree.” Mr. Doucet’s culinary move was part of “an ideological agenda,” the right-wing weekly Valeurs Actuelles proclaimed in a cover story. “The canteens of Lyon were just a pretext.”
Mr. Doucet, who describes himself as a “flexitarian,” or someone who favors vegetables but also eats a little meat, argues that the Education Ministry forced his hand. By doubling social distancing at schools to two meters, or more than six feet, it obliged the mayor to accelerate lunch by offering just one dish.
“There’s a mathematical equation,” he said. “You have the same number of tables, but you have to put fewer children at them, and you can’t start the lunch break at 10 a.m.”
But why nix meat? The mayor, who has a 7-year-old in elementary school, rolled his eyes. “We have not gone to a vegetarian menu! Every day, the children can eat fish or eggs.” Because a significant number of students already did not eat meat, he said, “we just took the lowest common denominator.”
It was not, Mr. Doucet said, an ideological decision, even if he aims over his six-year term to adjust school menus toward “a greater share of vegetable proteins.”
The mayor continued: “Most of the time these days there’s not much choice. You don’t have the choice to go to a museum, or to the theater, or to the cinema. It’s indecent for the right-wing opposition to say that I am trampling on our liberties in the context of a state of emergency.”
Mr. Macron has adopted a balancing act between his embrace of a Green future and, as he put it last year, his rejection of “the Amish model” for France. The president tries to differentiate rational from punitive or extreme environmentalism.
The president, casting his net wide as usual ahead of regional elections in June, wants to appeal to conservative farmers while attracting some of the Green vote. During a recent visit to a farm, he attacked attempts to forge a new agriculture based on “invective, bans and demagoguery.” In an apparent allusion to the Lyon fiasco, he has said “good sense” should prevail in balanced children’s diets and noted that, “We lose a lot of time in idiotic divisions.”
His government has proposed a Constitutional amendment, the first since 2008, that, if approved in a referendum, would add a sentence to the effect that France “guarantees the preservation of the environment and biological diversity and fights against climate change.”
The right has expressed opposition to the change. It still has to be reviewed by the right-leaning Senate. Another bill sets out possible reforms for a greener future that include banning advertisements for fossil fuels and eliminating some short-haul domestic flights.
Mr. Doucet is unimpressed. “Macron is not an ecologist. He is a modern conservative. He knows there’s a problem, so he is ready to make some changes, but he does not measure the size of the problem. Can you tell me one strong step he has taken?”
For now, the meatless Lyon school lunches are still being served. Children seem just fine. On Friday, a Lyon administrative court rejected an attempt by some parents, agricultural unions and local conservative politicians to overturn the mayor’s decision, ruling that the “temporary simplification” of school menus did not pose a health risk to children.
Mr. Doucet says that when the health crisis eases, but not before, he will be able to offer a choice of school menus again, including meat. Meanwhile, Mr. Denormandie, the agriculture minister, has asked the prefect in the Lyon area to look into the legality of dropping meat.
“Mr. Denormandie’s accusation that we are antisocial is a lie,” Mr. Doucet told me. “He said we were denying meat to the poorest people with the most precarious existences, which is false. He should have been fired at once.”
Boris Charetiers, a member of a parents’ association, said the mayor was being closely watched. “We are vigilant,” he said. “We don’t want this to be a definitive decision. Our children cannot be hostages to ecological political conviction.”
As for Mr. Teixeira, the butcher, he cast his eye appreciatively over the vast selection of meat. “We have canine teeth for a reason,” he said.