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Covering the Issues

Reduce, reuse, recycle... In this Science (August 10, 2012) issue on “working with waste,” a special collection of articles addresses where it comes from (construction is a top contributor), where it goes, how it differs by country, and how it might be reduced or redirected. Other pieces discuss new technologies that offer means to reuse waste materials, such as toilets that treat sewage at the source or concrete manufactured with carbon dioxide and seawater. From mapping strategies for household and municipal water reduction to the chemistry of metal recycling, there’s lots of fodder for the curious layperson and the well-versed researcher alike.

In praise of great design... As the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum undergoes a complete renovation, Smithsonian magazine (September 2012) focuses attention on three leading figures in product design, art, and architecture. Steve Jobs, Ai Weiwei, and Rem Koolhaas all question how we use, think about, and navigate our environment. Biographer Walter Isaacson writes that Jobs was inspired by the architect Eichler and the inexpensive, modern tract houses of his youth. Mark Stevens suggests that Ai’s art works and collaborations challenge the design of China itself, and former New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff argues that Koolhaas, known for his provocative commentary on urbanism and preservation (and now the countryside), focuses where others haven’t yet, at once challenging and embracing the status quo. Lest that all get too heady, complementary pieces on pogo sticks, pink flamingos, and biomimicry suggest that there’s still lots of design fun to be had.

The end of the world as we know it?... We’ve been freaking out over end-times scenarios since 1843, and, well, we’re still standing. Things aren’t so bad, either. That’s Matt Ridley’s opening message in “Apocalypse Not,” the cover story for Wired (September 2012). Ridley organizes his crash course in doom predictions into broad categories: chemicals, disease, population, and resources. As he addresses each in turn, Ridley provides a reality check. Neither 1960s DDT scares nor 1970s population doom scenarios panned out, just as air pollution didn’t kill urban dwellers, and acid rain hasn’t destroyed everything else. So should we disregard today’s tough talk on climate change? It’s too simple to ignore the debate, concludes Ridley, but solutions will come from innovation, not fear.

School daze... Newsweek’s cover story (September 17, 2012) questions the familiar four-year college experience: with rising costs, fewer jobs, and bigger loans, what is the value? For strong students, higher education ultimately still pays off. But for the average or almost average, it’s not clear. Are our increasingly luxurious campuses graduating too many unemployable kids? Meanwhile, Boston magazine (September 2012) provides an alternative future: knowledge matters more than a diploma. In “School’s Out, Forever,” Chris Vogel profiles the recent online-education efforts of Harvard and MIT to educate a billion people globally via the Internet, suggesting that higher education is on the cusp of massive change. Many Boston-area architects work in higher education — either as teachers in the numerous design programs or as designers of academic spaces across the world. Maybe it’s time for us all to go back to school.

Art and space... ArtForum (October 2012) offers a thought-provoking discussion on the interaction between art and architecture. Critics Hal Foster and Sylvia Lavin; artists Thomas Demand, Hilary Lloyd, and Dorit Margreiter; architects Steven Holl and Philippe Rahm; and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist all weigh in. This wide-ranging conversation touches on the various ways that museums and galleries support and inspire art, models of collaboration between artists and architects, the exploration of materials, the prospect of spectacle, and the role of public sentiment. Beautiful.