The Future of Housing: Casa Futebol Concept

casa_futebol_brazilIt’s no secret that Brazil’s decision to host the 2014 World Cup was the source of controversy. With roughly $4 billion spent on renovating and constructing the stadiums needed to host the international event, many wondered why that money could not have been spent addressing other infrastructure concerns – such as providing housing and utilities for its many impoverished citizens.

However, drawing inspiration from the social issues plaguing much of the publicity around the event, a pair of French architects have developed a proposal to re-invent the structures as complexes for low-cost housing. While most of the stadiums constructed for the World Cup will continue to host football matches, Brazil’s local teams stand to draw a fraction of the crowds that attended the event, doing little to assuage concerns of wasted resources.

casa_futebol_brazil-1Other buildings, such as the Arena da Amazonia, face a less certain future. Located in the jungle city of Manaus, the 44,500 seat stadium is perhaps the most contentious of Brazil’s World Cup creations. A local judge proposed converting it into a center for temporary detainees to tackle the city’s overflowing prisons, though this was met with fervent opposition from government officials.

The proposal by Axel de Stampa and Sylvain Macaux is perhaps the most ambitious. Dubbed Casa Futebol, it involves transforming each of the 12 World Cup Stadiums into affordable housing for Brazil’s poor and displaced. As Stampa explained in an interview with Gizmag:

The project covers 12 Brazilian stadiums. There are actually six stadiums where we can colonize the exterior facade. Five of these have an exterior structure composed of concrete and metal columns separated by seven or eight meters (23 to 26 ft). We just have to insert pre-fabricated housing using the existing structures.

casa_futebol_brazil-2The remaining stadiums would see housing modules that are 105 m2 (1,130 ft2) fitted to the interior at the expense of rows of seating, the only difference between these and those receiving exterior additions being the installation process. Conscious of Brazil’s adoration for the world game, the proposal would see the stadiums altered slightly, but continue to host matches with profits going towards ongoing maintenance and construction of the housing.

The project is based on modular pre-fabricated houses. So the only thing that changes is the implantation of the houses… We think that the concept is achievable in all 12 stadiums. You just have to take up some seating and reduce their capacity a little bit.

The team guesses that if converted, the stadiums could each house between 1,500 and 2,000 people per building, and a total of approximately 20,000 across the entire project. This bold proposal for Brazil’s stadiums forms part of a year-long architecture project called 1 week 1 project, where the pair endeavor to produce spontaneous architecture projects every week for one year.

casa_futebol_brazil-4While they don’t have current plans to take the Casa Futebol beyond the concept stage, it is hoped that the project can inspire more socially-conscious approaches to problems of this kind. Combined with 3-D printed housing and other prefab housing projects, this kind of re-purposing of existing infrastructure is a way of addressing the problem of slums, something which goes far beyond the developing world.



The Future of Currency: Bitcoin Hitting the Streets

bitcoinFor those familiar with digital currencies, the name Bitcoin ought to ring a bell. Developed back in 2009, this “cryptocurrency” – i.e. it uses cryptography to control the creation and transfer of money – was created as a form of online payment for products and services. Since that time, it has become the subject of scrutiny, legislative bans, volatile pricing, and a hailed as a hardinger of the coming age of “distributed currency”.

Unlike precious metals or more traditional forms of currency, which hold value because they are backed by a country or are used to manufacture goods, Bitcoin is only buoyed by market demand. There are only 12.3 million virtual Bitcoins in circulation and those “coins” are traded through a Peer-to-Peer computer network, much as people used to share music files.

bitcoin1What’s especially interesting is the fact that the creator of this new form of currency remains unknown. It is assumed that it originated with a programer from Japan, due to the fact that its first mention came in a 2008 paper published under the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto”. It became operational roughly a year later with the release of the first open source Bitcoin client and the issuance of the first physical bitcoin.

And in an interesting and personally-relevant development, it now seems that a Bitcoin ATM is coming to my old hometown of Ottawa. In this respect, the nation’s capitol is joining other major cities around the globe as municipalities that dispense the crypto currency, in spite of the fact that it is still not recognized by any national banking institutions, or financial regulating bodies.

future_money_bitcoinWhat’s more, the publicly-traded cryptocurrency has seen its stock go through repeated highs and lows over the past few years, being subject to both bubbles and price drops as countries like India and China prohibited its use. But with these machines hitting the streets, a trend which began back in November with the distribution of Robocoin ATMs, there is speculation that the digital currency might just be here to stay.

Part of the appeal of cryptocurrencies is that they allow for anonymity, hence why bitcoin has been linked to a number of illegal activities, such as on the shuttered drug marketplace Silk Road. And because its value is strictly tied to speculators, and not backed by any tangible measure or authority, speculators are able to ratchet up demand and push the stock value higher.

future_money2But Bitcoin is also starting to be accepted as a mainstream form of payment for U.S.-centric sites like OkCupid and WordPress. And back in October of 2013, China’s web giant Baidu accounced that it would start accepting Bitcoin payments for a firewall security service it sells. And though the Chinese government put the brakes on Bitcoin exchanges by December, the number of mainstream institutions opening up its coffers to it is growing.

These include Richard Branson’s private space tourism company Virgin Galactic, the Sacramento Kings, the e-commerce giant Paypal, and, a major online retailer. And popular use is also growing, as evidenced by the visualization below which shows downloads of bitcoin client software since 2008, broken down by different operating systems.

bitcoin_globalWhat the graphic shows is quite indicative. All over the world, particularly in developed countries and areas of economic growth – the Eastern US, Europe, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, Sub-Saharan Africa, India, China, Australia and Southeast Asia – the Bitcoin software is being downloaded and used to oversee online exchanges in good and services.

And ultimately, those who believe in the service and choose to invest in it are doing so based on the promise that it will someday streamline monetary transactions and free the world from the financial manipulation of big government and big banks, breakdown the financial walls between nations, and remake the worldwide economy. In short, it will breakdown centralized economies and allow a “distributed economy” to takes its place.

bitcoin_popmapAdmittedly, the service is still flawed in a number of respects. For example, people who chose to collect bitcoins in the past were dissuaded from spending them since their value kept going up. The problem is, if economic incentives encourage people to hoard their bitcoins rather than spend them, the currency will never fulfill its role as the future of money.

Another problem is the one arising from the currency’s “deflationary nature”. Because the system was designed to allow the creation of only a finite number of bitcoins, there will come a point where, as demand rises, the value of the currency will only go up (making the price of goods and services fall, hence the term deflation). And that could lead to hoarding on an even larger scale.

bitcoin-atm-flagshipBut according to many economists who have closely followed the progress of the digital money, Bitcoin’s recent ups and downs are to be expected from a currency so young, and one that is just now attracting major attention from the mainstream population. The bottom could fall out of the market, but the currency could just as easily stabilize and reach a point where its value is consistent enough that people no longer hoard the stuff.

So at this point, its difficult to say what the future will hold for the new miracle money known as Bitcoin. But when it comes to cryptocurrencies in general, time seems to be on their side. Ever since the Internet Revolution took off, the possibilities for creating a new, de-centralized world order – research, development, politics and business are open and inclusive in ways like never before – has been emerging.


The Future is Bright: Positive Trends to Look For in 2014

Colourful 2014 in fiery sparklersWith all of the world’s current problems, poverty, underdevelopment, terrorism, civil war, and environmental degradation, it’s easy to overlook how things are getting better around the world. Not only do we no longer live in a world where superpowers are no longer aiming nuclear missiles at each other and two-thirds of the human race live beneath totalitarian regimes; in terms of health, mortality, and income, life is getting better too.

So, in honor of the New Year and all our hopes for a better world, here’s a gander at how life is improving and is likely to continue…

1. Poverty is decreasing:
The population currently whose income or consumption is below the poverty line – subsisting on less than $1.25 a day –  is steadily dropping. In fact, the overall economic growth of the past 50 years has been proportionately greater than that experienced in the previous 500. Much of this is due not only to the growth taking place in China and India, but also Brazil, Russia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, while developing nations complain about debt crises and ongoing recession, the world’s poorest areas continue to grow.

gdp-growth-20132. Health is improving:
The overall caloric consumption of people around the world is increasing, meaning that world hunger is on the wane. Infant mortality, a major issue arising from poverty, and underdevelopment, and closely related to overpopulation, is also dropping. And while rates of cancer continue to rise, the rate of cancer mortality continue to decrease. And perhaps biggest of all, the world will be entering into 2014 with several working vaccines and even cures for HIV (of which I’ve made many posts).

3. Education is on the rise:
More children worldwide (especially girls) have educational opportunities, with enrollment increasing in both primary and secondary schools. Literacy is also on the rise, with the global rate reaching as high as 84% by 2012. At its current rate of growth, global rates of literacy have more than doubled since 1970, and the connections between literacy, economic development, and life expectancy are all well established.

literacy_worldwide4. The Internet and computing are getting faster:
Ever since the internet revolution began, connection speeds and bandwidth have been increasing significantly year after year. In fact, the global average connection speed for the first quarter of 2012 hit 2.6 Mbps, which is a 25 percent year-over-year gain, and a 14 percent gain over the fourth quarter of 2011. And by the second quarter of 2013, the overall global average peak connection speed reached 18.9 Mbps, which represented a 17 percent gan over 2012.

And while computing appears to be reaching a bottleneck, the overall increase in speed has increased by a factor of 260,000 in the past forty years, and storage capacity by a factor of 10,000 in the last twenty. And in terms of breaking the current limitations imposed by chip size and materials, developments in graphene, carbon nanotubes, and biochips are promising solutions.

^5. Unintended pregnancies are down:
While it still remains high in the developing regions of the world, the global rate of unintended pregnancies has fallen dramatically in recent years. In fact, between 1995 and 2008, of 208 billion pregnancies surveyed in a total of 80 nations, 41 percent of the pregnancies were unintended. However, this represents a drop of 29 percent in the developed regions surveyed and a 20 percent drop in developing regions.

The consequences of unintended pregnancies for women and their families is well established, and any drop presents opportunities for greater health, safety, and freedom for women. What’s more, a drop in the rate of unwanted pregnancies is surefire sign of socioeconomic development and increasing opportunities for women and girls worldwide.

gfcdimage_06. Population growth is slowing:
On this blog of mine, I’m always ranting about how overpopulation is bad and going to get to get worse in the near future. But in truth, that is only part of the story. The upside is while the numbers keep going up, the rate of increase is going down. While global population is expected to rise to 9.3 billion by 2050 and 10.1 billion by 2100, this represents a serious slowing of growth.

If one were to compare these growth projections to what happened in the 20th century, where population rose from 1 billion to just over 6, they would see that the rate of growth has halved. What’s more, rates of population growth are expecting to begin falling in Asia by 2060 (one of the biggest contributors to world population in the 20th century), in Europe by 2055, and the Caribbean by 2065.

Population_curve.svgIn fact, the only region where exponential population growth is expected to happen is Africa, where the population of over 1 billion is expected to reach 4 billion by the end of the 21st century. And given the current rate of economic growth, this could represent a positive development for the continent, which could see itself becoming the next powerhouse economy by the 2050s.

7. Clean energy is getting cheaper:
While the price of fossil fuels are going up around the world, forcing companies to turn to dirty means of oil and natural gas extraction, the price of solar energy has been dropping exponentially. In fact, the per capita cost of this renewable source of energy ($ per watt) has dropped from a high of $80 in 1977 to 0.74 this past year. This represents a 108 fold decrease in the space of 36 years.

solar_array1And while solar currently comprises only a quarter of a percent of the planet’s electricity supply, its total share grew by 86% last year. In addition, wind farms already provide 2% of the world’s electricity, and their capacity is doubling every three years. At this rate of increase, solar, wind and other renewables are likely to completely offset coal, oil and gas in the near future.

In short, things are looking up, even if they do have a long way to go. And a lot of what is expected to make the world a better place is likely to happen this year. Who knows which diseases we will find cures for? Who knows what inspirational leaders will come forward? And who knows what new and exciting inventions will be created, ones which offer creative and innovative solutions to our current problems?

Who knows? All I can say is that I am eager to find out!

Additional Reading:,,

Brazil to Clone Endangered Animals

Countless species of wildlife are on the endangered list today, as a result of ongoing urbanization, deforestation, and pollution. Compared to these combined destructive forces, all attempts at wildlife enhancement and preservation – especially in the developing and underdeveloped parts of the world – seem ill-suited or limited in scope. However, scientists in Brazil have announced a new and startling plan which might just be the difference because success and failure.

The groundbreaking initiative is being carried out as a partnership between the Brasilia Zoological Garden and the Brazilian government’s agricultural research agency, aka. EMBRAPA. Thus far, their efforts include such species as the jaguar, the maned wolf, and the black lion, as well as numerous others that are on the Red List of Threatened Species, as compiled by the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Currently, the initiative is in phase two of development. Phase one involved the collection of samples of genetic material, or germplasm, in the form of blood, sperm, somatic cells and umbilical cord cells, which were gathered over the course of two years. The researchers harvested the genetic material primarily from dead specimens of animals native to the Cerrado, the vast tropical savannah biome that stretches across central Brazil. The next phase will be the training of researchers at the zoo.

According to Carlos Frederico Martins, an EMBRAPA researcher, their organization has already been responsible for the cloning of cows. This began in 2001 with birth of a calf named Vitória, and has since gone on to include over 100 specimens made up largely of cows and horses. They hope to transfer the knowledge gained from these experiments to the staff over at Brasilia Zoological Gardens so the techniques can be adapted to wildlife. Currently, the plan is reserved to increasing the number of captive specimens of endangered animals, but that they are prepared to release these cloned animals into the wild if need be.

Countries like the US and South Korea are also working on similar plans to rehabilitate endangered species of wild animals. In there cases, as well as Brazil’s, the lack of prior knowledge is cited as an potential obstacle to success. As such it may be many years yet before animals such as wild tigers, jaguars, the Gray Brocket Deer, Bison and even simians are successfully cloned in captivity. In the meantime, here’s hoping other conservation efforts fare better than they have in the past! As well all know, humans aren’t the only ones in danger of suffering from Climate Change!

Source: Inter Press Service News Agency