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I’m off.

It’s an odd feeling leaving for a big trip when you’re already on a big trip. There’s no chance to walk through the house ‘one last time’ to savor all the sights and smells, no big hug with the canine, no run upstairs to make sure you packed your underwear, etc. I just crushed some tomatoes from Adolfo and Catarina’s big bowl of cherry tomatoes and made sure I had my passport.

A lot of the excitement and anticipation I was feeling back home before leaving for the Netherlands is back, baby! I got pretty drained the past few weeks hopping south through Europe but I feel invigorated and ready to go.

Venice via Berlin

There is a myth about Bruces and spiders. No male Bruce is ever allowed to kill a spider.

To keep the story short, one special spider pumped Robert the Bruce (King of Scotland) up so much that he fought all the British out of the highlands and won Scottish Independence. As I’ve been told, it’s terrible luck to kill a spider. I’ve never intentionally killed one. Although I heard a rumor that you eat at least a spider a year in your sleep. 

There are no rules working the other way though. The spiders of Venice ate me alive. And I probably ate a half dozen of them considering I definitely had some crawling on and biting my face. 

Buckle up. It’s going to be a long one. It has been a while and I have a lot to catch you lot up on. Even my older brother Benjamin, who is as easily entertained as a 6 month old kitten, has been asking me why I’ve been so lazy.  More recently the question turned to, ‘are you even alive?’ The answer is almost. I’m a tattered carcass eaten up by the creepy crawlies in Venice. 

Here I am. In Rome. I clawed my way out of the Venetian lagoon alive with four spider bites on my face, (one right under my eye which looks awesome). My hands, arms, and shoulders are lumpy, an incredible gnawed up topography that’s making the alps look down jealously.

Yesterday was my birthday. Happy birthday to me. I did something I hadn’t done before so I ate squid. I didn’t like it that much. It wasn’t fried-up and delicious like calamari. It was a whole squid. I would have had more fun eating a series of erasers. Add some butter and lemon and it would have tasted the same. But whatever. I ate squid.

Venice should not exist. It’s beautiful, but at the same time it’s hideous. It is a theme park for tourists with too much money and too little creativity to think of a more original place to spend their vacations. Venetians, besides the trattoria owner where I ordered squid, are rude and mean to tourists even though the whole city is propped up by tourism.

And that’s about all the city is propped up on. The city’s foundations are built into mud and most of the buildings lean one way or the other. Some lean a lot, like the a church tower near the Piazza San Marco.

I don’t like tourists. Even though I am one. But I’m different. #2chainz

Either way. Venice is beautiful. I won’t argue there. The uploader is being fussy. I’ll update this post later with more pictures.

It’s a great city to look at thinking about how cities can function on the water. There are no roads in Venice. Every daily necessity, post and packages, construction materials, beer, wine, vegetables all need to come in on boat through the canals. The only roads are waterways and it was really interesting to see how the city got by with services brought in via agua. It’s funny to think that Venice isn’t doing something special, rather it’s just sticking to a historical method. For centuries, waterways were the lifeblood of cities. The horse-less carriage took over and developed into lorries and 18wheelers, but in Venice, the traditional way remained. There is just no other possible way to do it. 

There is water everywhere. creeping up against the stone banks of the canals. Storefronts have special fittings to slide boards in and keep water out if the tide breaches the streets and there are temporary elevated walkways that can be installed when the streets get flooded. Otherwise, you just get wet. Here are some great pictures showing Venetians making the most of the tides and rising seas: here.

Besides small scale adaptation, Venice is completing the MOSE project, a large scale flood barrier designed to isolate the Venetian and the surrounding islands in the lagoon from the Adriatic Sea and keep the water level surrounding Venice lower than elsewhere.


Bonkers. It’s all underwater so there wasn’t anything for me to go see. This youtube provides a sound explanation, though.

Where there is a will, there is a way. Venetians have a will to keep that place around. As Lonely Planet puts it, “You may have heard that Venice is an engineering marvel, with marble cathedrals built atop ancient posts driven deep into the barene–but the truth is that this city is built on sheer nerve. Reasonable people might blanch at water approaching their doorsteps and flee at the first sign of acqua alta (high tide). But reason can’t compare to Venetian resolve.”

Before Venice I was in Berlin, probably my favorite city I’ve seen so far. Here’s what I wrote on the plane about the trip:

I’m typing this out 25,000 ft above Germany. The cabin is turbulent, rumbling around in the evening wind and rain. Sitting in the very back row in the window aisle, I’m looking anxiously around at the joints of the EasyJet doors and hoping that the budget airlines use non-budget materials.

Below me is Berlin, an absolute ogre of a city. I mean ogre in the sense of donkey-loving green-knight rather than rip your eyes out and pop them in a martini ogre. It is a city of layers.

Berlin is a city that is condensed with history. The history has left it’s mark on the architecture and has visibly scarred the built environment. From bullet holes to cold, boring soviet architecture to Prussian Palaces, you can see signs of Berlin’s history everywhere.

You see the city’s attempt to move on from its more recent horrific historical episodes in many ways—through amazing memorials and museums—but mostly through the vibrant culture that has emerged out of the dust and rubble. The city is not rich—it’s struggling to find the funds to rebuild the central palace and the project has been delayed for almost a decade. But the city is culturally rich. It is stocked with young people, artists, photographers, filmmakers, musicians, or graffiti artists. Here are some examples from the Mauer Park Flea market. It’s such a vibrant place. Scenes like this were easy to stumble across. 

I was lucky to get to know a Berliner, Mustafah who moved from Brooklyn to mesh into this artistic haven. Mustafah uses the city as an access point to reach all corners of the earth and shoot photographs for his project highlighting the misuse of water—the world’s most precious resource.

Mustafah Abdulaziz has spent the past couple years creating a portfolio of photographs that show human interactions with water all over the world. Ranging from shooting cholera outbreaks in Sierra Leon to documenting religious customs on the Ganges, Mustafah is attempting to create a comprehensive overview of water related issues all over the world.


Sounds similar.

I first heard about Mustafah after seeing some of his pictures in an article in the New York Times when I was doing some research on Varanasi, India.

I really liked the work, incredible stuff, so I went to his website and learned more. See his work here. I got in touch, just tossing out an email and hoped for a response. He got back to me quickly, saying he was off shooting in Pakistan and would write me in full when he got back to some spectrum of normalcy.

We met in a café in Berlin and shared our stories. He’s only a few years older than me, maybe 26 at this point. I am a guy who is just jumping into the real world, and diving into my first project solo without guidance of professors, teachers, or formal structure of school. I was most impressed seeing how laser-focused and driven Mustafah was about his artistic pursuits. As someone who is just knocking on the door of the art world and peering in, it was great to see the impact that dedication and passion can bring to what you’re doing.

See his work here:

I’m sure Mustafah and I will connect and talk further as we both get down with our projects.

Some other highlights of Berlin:

-Daniel Libeskind’s addition to the Jewish Museum. I’ve never had an emotional response to architecture before. The garden of exile is on a sloped ground, but huge rectangular pillars rise off the ground, creating odd angles. We are used to 90 degree dimensions walking around space. In this garden, the angles are skewed. Just walking around for 3 minutes made me feel so nautious I had to go inside. At the end of the hall of the holocaust, you enter a giant chamber that is traingular and four stories high. It is the same temperature as the air outside and has one slit at the top to let in natural light. But, it’s not the cold air in the chamber that makes the experience chilling.

-Walking tour. A British guy gave me and some other people in my hostel a free walking tour (you pay by tipping). He rattled off amazing facts about Berlin as we walked around the historical sites. Amazing stuff. Got me curious. I definitely want to start reading more about the history of Berlin.

-East Side Gallery. The largest remaining section of the Berlin wall no longer separates Berliners, but brings them, alongside flocks of tourists to see the largest outdoor gallery in the world. Graffiti. But you don’t need to go just here for cool stuff to look at. There is graffiti all over the city.


Believe it or not, I’m 3 months into the year. So I had to write my first ‘long letter home’ to the Fellowship HQ:


Having some trouble uploading stuff. Will post more, with recent drawings and watercolors later!

Half a million people have their bikes stolen every year in the Netherlands

I am one of those people.

I walked out the door and noticed something was off. I went back inside and shut the door hoping that everything would ‘reset,’ then went back outside a second time…Gone.

Every time I locked my bike up, I thought about the possibility that my bike would be stolen. I was often warned by various people about the thieves and punks that vandalize or steal bikes. Everyday my bike wasn’t stolen, I felt more confident that it would stick around. For the first month I had it, I carried it up the 60 degree steep steep dutch staircases and sleep with it beside me.

Last night, I got back to the house at about 4:30 am. Some French girls I met before I left for Rotterdam invited me out to a club that happened to be underneath the pillar of the Willemsbrug, the big red bridge that I crossed 200 or more times in August  never knowing a club existed. It was one of those stereotypical european basement warehouse parties–pretty cool.

So between 4:30 and daylight, someone got to work on stealing my bike.

Those pedals, wheels, and chain were probably the most important tools I had in the Netherlands. Terrible news to have it taken. But, as my wonderful mother told me back home before I left, ‘you’re going to have a lot of ‘inconveniences’ this year just try to look past then and remember the power of positive thinking.’

Here are the positives:

1. I don’t have to find anybody to sell the bike to before I leave.

2. Found something to add to list  for pent-up aggression for the Rugby game this weekend.

3. The guy who stole my bike most likely drifted off the road and into a canal where he got eaten by a giant squid. Sucker.

Picked up a box of oreos. Going to eat the pain away.

Enjoy your new life, mr. bike. Thanks for the service.

Here’s a poem I wrote about him:


Goodbye rockin’ Dutch bike.

I rode you across many a dike.

You and I traveled at great speeds.

You surely were a mighty steed.

But last night some jerk stole you.


Rotterdam’s Floating Pavilion

This morning I biked across the Erasmus bridge to Rotterdam-Zuid (South Rotterdam) to investigate the Floating Pavilion, designed by DeltaSync architects. The floating pavilion is situated in an old, unused harbor that the city is trying to revitalize. The pavilion is used as a public gathering space and is home to the National Water Centre. It also serves as a message board for the Rotterdam Climate Initiative. Rotterdam is trying to present itself on the international scene as a forerunner in innovative water and energy solutions, sustainability, and delta-environment construction. In some ways, the pavilion is the keystone symbol of that mission. 

FP is an example of a structure that could be just one building block of a bigger floating community.

The building floats on its foundation, which is constructed from a combination of concrete and expanded polystyrene–I can’t tell you much since I barely scraped by in Chemistry 109 four years ago–but I know that it’s a type of foam that makes the platform unsinkable. It consists of 98% air, the rest is a closed cell structure. I assume it’s similar to the way water consolidates into a hexagonal crystal structure and can float. Correct me if I’m wildly wrong. The facade of the building is sort of a hideous bubble. It absolutely looks like the underwater city Jar-Jar Binks was exiled from in Star Wars. The plastic cover of the building makes it light, but also heats the building to reduce the pavilion’s footprint.

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Of course, floating structures aren’t suitable for all marine environments. This building is located in a sheltered harbor about 10 miles inland of the ravenous North Sea. The Netherlands doesn’t get hit by hurricanes and tropical storms. So obviously floating communities aren’t practical for many parts of the world. But in the Netherlands, living on the water can be a way of life. From the house boats on the Amsterdam canals, to the floating IJburg community, there is a market for people who want to zen out with the agua.

The Rotterdam Climate Initiative has posters and information posts in the floating pavilion. The whole building is sort of the flagship of the city’s initiatives towards climate adaptation. The city has a goal of reducing its CO2 emission to 50% of its 1990 levels in the next 12 years. In the more foreseeable future, Rotterdam wants to be a sustainable, attractive, and 100% climate-proof city while maintaining its economic integrity. Rotterdam is aiming to set examples for other delta cities.

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Image 6


David Waggonner

Back in January, I gave David Waggonner, an architect out of New Orleans a call. David is highly involved with water management and climate-proofing the city. He works closely with Han Meyer, the professor at TU Delft I met a few weeks ago. I went back to our conversation and typed up the useful and insightful things he said:

SDB: So my plan is really to investigate everything using a visual approach, so trying to draw objects, or people, or different settings that would require me to learn about the different things that are going on surrounding this issue. I’m a visual art minor at Bowdoin, I really want to take advantage of my passion for drawing by using a pen, pencil, or paintbrush to take a look at this issue which really excites me academically.

David Waggonner: I like your proposal to make this visible. Photographs make a record but that’s all most people do. It’s a good idea. There are a lot of people who want to do this now. They just want to go and figure out what it looks like. The only difference is you want to describe it graphically, but you need some insight into what you’re seeing. You also need a practical approach.

SDB: So what’s the future of these cities, what is the future of New Orleans? Is good building, innovation, and design going to do it or does there have to be something else? Is New Orleans still going to be around in 150 years?

DW: That’s a legitimate question. It’s all…it’s all unknown. Nobody knows the rate of deterioration. New Orleans has a levy system…well I don’t know if you know about the stuff we do but…we’re trying to deal with subsidence and water management in the Dutch way. If we manage it with a slowly rising sea then we could sit here for quite a long time, but if the sea level rises 4 or 5 feet…You know Florida is gone.

Is there anything we can do to stem that…? I don’t know. We have to try. I know there are a lot of positive things we can do in terms of climate temperature and we should be doing that. So all you can do is understand is there’s a problem and do everything you can to change that…to offset that.

The Dutch have huge investments; they’re below sea level. They really have a better coastal structure, they have the dunes, and they don’t have storms coming at them that push water over.

But in your life you may see…you know, we don’t even know…what the dislocations might be.

You need to understand that this is going to be your lifetime’s work. You know, a lot of these cities are quite worth saving. Amsterdam is a world treasure. So is New Orleans, maybe not at that level, but it’s a treasure. It’s a wonderful place to live.

Klaus Jacob, a geologist at Columbia is saying that the sea is coming to take back where we are now living. Adaptation strategies are required to lengthen the investments that we have made but we can’t get any change in the political structures like the core of engineers that allow us to do anything about it. It’s tough when your hands are tied. You need to be able to use the possibilities that are there. That’s the difficulty of working in the US rather than the Netherlands…they have some brilliant projects there. For example, the room for the river projects…you need to study those. The Dutch are moving people to allow the river to discharge differently, to let it flood. Those are the strategies that are needed.

It’s not like you can build a gate and hold a whole ocean off of the continents, you know. You can’t really wall off all of New York. That’s not going to work. You can’t wall off Florida. It’s going to be a challenge…so you do everything you can.

I was in Washington on Monday for a presentation at the Dutch Embassy, there was a congressman from Virginia who said that the Climate denial stuff still goes on in Washington. The one part of the government that is not in anyway questioning this, no kind of denial and adapting as quickly as possible, is the Department of Defense. First, their job is national security, which this is absolutely affecting. Secondly, they have many, many assets at sea level and so they are very worried about whatever happens at the naval bases. What the hell are they going to do if the sea rises four feet? They can’t be caught unprepared. Everyday the quantity of petroleum they consume is huge…so they’re trying to reduce that all the time. They are fully engaged in climate adaptation, the American military, even though the government does seem very quick about it at all.

So I don’t know what the future holds.

I know that its not responsible to do less than everything you can.

You can be trying to fight a fire, and you know that you can’t fight the fire but you still have to fight the fire to protect what you can.

It’s not the future its now.

It’s your generation’s work. If you have children it’ll be their work. But it’s my generation’s work as well. We’re trying to do something about it before it’s too late. Design and drawing play a role in this. Because if we cant visualize it then we can’t do anything about it. You know we have to be able to see, right.

You have to make these things visible. There can’t just be policies that people write on paper. You do have to have rules, you do have to have regulations and you do have to have policies. But you can’t motivate people with ‘thou shall and thou shall not.’ You have to let them touch it, think it, let them connect sensibly with it. You want your proposal to, at the end of the day to be useful to other people. You want them to be able to see what you see.

This is a knowledge transfer business.


SDB: If you don’t mind: what do you think about being an Architect. I did the Harvard  GSD career discovery program two summers ago and I worked for a urban planning firm in Chicago last summer and it’s something I’m thinking about. Do you have any advice for me? Or any thoughts?

Architecture is a really good way to think. You get to work with people you like. People in the office are your friends…in the right office. In the bigger offices it’s all systemized with behaviors and hierarchies. Architects by nature tend to be problem solvers, but they also tend to want broader definitions of those problems. I’m enthusiastic about the profession and what it can contribute and how it must contribute I’m less certain that we have an economic basis…you’ve heard that before. I feel blessed to have found my way into Architecture.

Architecture is probably as good an education as a person can get. It teaches you to think broadly, it teaches you to be critical, it teaches that you have to put forward your ideas—and if they’re not any good people are going to have other ones. One problem might have 10 different solutions…those are good things to learn.

Teaches you how to problem solve. There’s future thinking that architects are trained to do, this bettering of places, this almost blind idealism that we have to have to make this project to make it better.

Starchitecture is a hindrance. Hero…doesn’t matter. Need collaboration. Not about 1 architect it’s about many making good buildings together, not signature projects. How many signatures do you need in a city?

These are all interesting questions and ideas and layers of understanding. I would commend the life to you as long as you don’t feel the urge to make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

At the time we spoke, I was in the middle of the application process. We take a lot of about my itinerary. Here are some things he said about certain cites:

In Amsterdam and Rotterdam there are lots of people, especially in Rotterdam, which is really the center of all this thinking in the delta cities, the low-lying cities. This is the group that knows the most and is most active in organizing these climate-proofing efforts.

If you go to Hamburg, not far from Rotterdam, you can cover more with less running around and jumping around. They have a whole section of the city that they allow to flood. A very interesting adaptation strategy.

Singapore, of course is an island state with real resources and is doing a lot to try to adapt to climate change. The guy I know is the head of the water institute, the national institute of water.

Jakarta has a huge problem. The issues you they have to talk about are subsidence. When areas are subsiding you have a huge climate change problem on your hands very quickly. On top of that there’s a whole waste issue. That may or not be your area of interest, but it’s certainly a climate question.

Kolkata and Jakarta: you’ll be able to see how poverty comes into play. These cities are a whole different case from Rotterdam and Hamburg. When the toilets are on top of the waterways no wonder nobody wants to be near the water. It’s the garbage. So different from Europe, where there’s one ethnic group and specialized people tackling these problems. When you start to look at overcrowding and poverty on top of it the climate problem, everything becomes so much more complicated.
I would say Rotterdam is the one essential place. Amsterdam is a good contrast. You’ll find out that Rotterdam is a de-watered polder situation where Amsterdam they brought in sand to build it up. Two different approaches to ways you stabilize a city in bad land.

Amsterdam and Rotterdam are the tutorial. But in many ways you’re getting over the best part first.

SDB: Maybe there’s some argument for going there and then coming back at the end.

DW: That would be smart. Then you can consolidate and say that’s why it looks like this. That’s why there are these political implications.

Recently I’ve been having trouble finding some more people to meet and interview, listening to this today left me a little more reassured and self-confident in the work I’ve done so far and happy about the people I’ve been able to meet. He was talking about connections he has in different cities around the world…

DW: It took me years to develop these networks, and of course it does take years to develop networks. These people wont spend weeks with you, but they may let you in to talk to them for a few hours.



This church is built on the Prinsengracht canal. Located along one of the nicest, and historically wealthiest parts of town, this church was built for Protestants by Protestants. It was built between 1621 and 1630 and the steeple is the tallest point in central Amsterdam. The city ordinance doesn’t allow any building to pass the point.

Inside are numerous bells. The main event weights over 7000 kilos. The bells rest on wooden ‘chairs’ complicated wooden stands/foundations that absorb the vibrations of the ding dongs. If the wood was not their to absorb the noise, the bricks would crack!

Image 1This is in pencil.