Reference Page: January 2008

More information on people, places, and products covered in this issue of Metropolis.

Ballot Initiative
The 2000 Palm Beach County butterfly ballot is doubtless the saddest case in recent memory of design shaping public policy. (Evidence: the story’s being made into a TV movie.) How did we get here? Doug Jones, an associate professor at the University of Iowa, has compiled a concise and surprisingly interesting history of U.S. elections. We weren’t aware, for instance, that balls were used as early ballots. Balls! Wouldn’t that get the kids out to vote! (See, and click on “A brief illustrated history of voting.”) Fortu­nately, there are initiatives like Design for Democracy,, organized by the AIGA and dedicated to en-sur­ing that aesthetic transgressions never again elect a goofy president. Marcia Lausen’s excellent book, Design for Democracy: Ballot and Election Design (University of Chicago Press, 2007), spells out five basic principles for creating the optimal ballot: use lowercase letters, organize information hierarchically, minimize font variation, eliminate center-align type, and shade judiciously. It’s so easy!

From the Betsy Ross House to Your House
The Philly curse: fleeing residents, empty row houses, vacant lots in
spades, and, uh, the ugliest people in the country? That’s according to Travel & Leisure, (search “Philadelphia” and go to “America’s Favorite Cities 2007”). OK, so maybe today’s Philadelphia story is no Cary Grant movie. But developer Chad Ludeman is intent on prettying up the streets, if not the residents, one sustainable $100,000 house at a time. Visit his spare but informative blog at, which links to a nice array of eco-building sites (,, in case you too want a modern green home for about the cost of two months’ rent in Manhattan.

Good Box Work
It’s a good thing that New York’s New Museum of Contemporary Art—by the emerging architecture stars Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, of SANAA, (also responsible for an acclaimed recent addition to the Toledo Museum of Art, (—has warmed the hearts of the commentariat, because the 2005 ground-breaking was decidedly inauspicious. A Shinto priest? Laurie Anderson sucking on a speaker? At least the Donald wasn’t there. Two years later, everyone from Nicolai Ouroussoff to Gawker’s Josh David Stein is singing the building’s praises (search “New Museum” at and New York magazine,, features interviews with the architects, as well as shopkeepers pleased with all the new foot traffic (ka-ching!): search for “New Museum, Unleashed.” Also worth seeing is footage of the two-year-long construction process condensed into a minute and a half at (click “New 235 Bowery,” then “Time-lapse video”).

Premium Fit
Stratus wines are available at some U.S. stores and restaurants (, but visiting the winery provides a wonderful excuse to travel to Canada’s picturesque Niagara Peninsula. (Americans will want to drink plenty of wine to avoid the headache caused by an unfavorable exchange rate.) While you’re there, be sure to check out the neigh-boring Jackson-Triggs estate,, designed by Toronto’s Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects,, another example of minimalist architecture influenced by a gravity-fed wine-making process. Both wineries will be happy to sell you a bottle of Canada’s chief viticultural claim to fame: ice wine, a syrupy-sweet dessert wine made from grapes frozen on the vine. Of course, Canada’s signature alcoholic beverage is beer, and it was once distinguished by a signature bottle: the stubby. Arguably a better product design than the Amer­ican longneck style, the stubby bottle has a lower center of gravity, is easier to ship, and doesn’t break as readily. Alas, the longneck has taken over: the last Canad­ian stubby shipped in 1984. An archive of the bottles, which also reveals the changing fashions of label graphics, can be found at

Choice Materials
Boy, Eco-Suite sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Relaxing in a luxurious new condo, totally guilt-free, your carbon footprint shrunk to that of an elegant Prada stiletto heel: Sadly, the latest financial outlook suggests that Reference is going to be unable to move out of its rent-controlled fourth-floor walk-up until 2025 or until the housing market finally finishes collapsing, whichever comes first. Those of you in a similar situation can find encouragement and guidance in the Green Apartment project at the University of California, Berkeley, wherein a group of student roommates transforms a dorm room into a model of energy- efficient living on an undergraduate’s budget: If you do your best to reduce your waste and still feel pangs of eco-guilt, take advantage of the growing number of companies that allow consumers to offset their carbon emissions with donations, which go to buying carbon credits or supporting energy efficiency. A list of companies providing the service, and a price comparison, can be found here: (scroll down to “Services,” and click on “Carbon Offsetting—Price Survey!”). After you’ve done your part
and changed your lifestyle (or paid your indulgence), you may be wondering what’s taking the rest of the country so long to catch on. Keep up with the state of the green nation at Yahoo’s, a site that tracks the rate of adoption of compact fluorescent bulbs in every state. Wal-Mart maintains a similar site, the Live Better Index for sustainability,, based on data collected from consumers’ shopping habits at their stores. One day, perhaps, maps like these, showing the divisions of our country in shades of green, will replace the red-versus-blue map as the most important indicator of our national sanity.

Low-Tech Green
Ah, Oaxaca! This wonderfully fun-to-pronounce state in southern Mexico is home not only to the latest in tropical Modernism but also to some of the best food in North America. Americans reared on the salsa-sour-cream-and- shredded-iceberg-lettuce variety of Mexican food available across the Esta­dos Unidos are woefully unprepared for the culinary extrav­aganza that is Oaxacan cuisine: The signature dish, mole sauce—a wonderful alchemy of chilies, spices, tomatoes, chocolate, and ground nuts—deserves a place in the pantheon of great sauces along with curry, pesto, and béarnaise. Equally lively are the traditional Zapotec textiles produced in the region, which feature the beautiful repeating patterns of the Native American rugs more familiar to Amer­icans, but are bursting with vibrant colors. A wealth of information can be found here: If Eduardo Cadaval’s hammock-centered home inspired you to seek new heights of relaxation, get yourself a traditional Mexican hammock at, and prepare to star in your very own Corona ad. Or if you prefer your Mexican hammock to be actually located in Mexico, start planning an escape at, which includes everything from colonial haciendas to the hottest luxury hotels. Inci­dentally, Clara Solà-Morales, Cadaval’s wife and a partner in their eponymous firm,, is a member of a Barcelonan architectural dynasty: her father, Ignasi de Solà-Morales, was a renowned Spanish architect and theorist, and her grandfather worked with Antonio Gaudí.

The Unreal World
Judging by this month’s Productsphere, virtual reality is infinitely more terrifying than real life. Jean Baudrillard suggested as much years ago in his classic Post-Modern treatise Simulacra and Simula­tion (University of Michigan Press, 1981), though he argued that reality and its simulations were becoming essentially indistinguishable. Consider, by way of example, SimCity Societies,, in which one player’s lust for power manifests itself as the People’s Republic of Steve: citizens work 20-hour days, and leisure time in-volves strapping electrodes to your eyes and watching blockbusters at the local “conditioning theatre.” Chairman Mao seems like a mensch by comparison. Then there’s, where you can purchase lumpy little replicas of favorite avatar friends. Dolls for adults? Like Ken and Barbie? Well, yeah. And for people who spend too much time online, there’s On-line Gamers Anonymous, a 12-step recovery program that is, naturally, online:

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