Save the date, save the world

Wedding invitations have traditionally gone beyond telling friends and family about the whens and wheres of a couple’s big day. Through use of color, typefaces and embellishments, they made a statement about a couple’s personality and tastes.

As the environment and economy play roles in changing tradition, today’s couples are compelled to think beyond the surface of their invitations, as well as R.S.V.P. cards, thank-you notes and programs.

Stationery purveyors, many thriving online, are not only up on “surface detail” trends, but also environmentally sound alternatives to traditional wedding stationery. Savvy couples are realizing — in increasing numbers — that when they send out invites, they are also sending out a message about their own sustainability practices. Some are turning away from paper and ink altogether and looking to cyberspace for their wedding communication needs, from the invites to thank-you notes, as well as albums and scrapbooks.

Stacy Broff, a Los Angeles event publicist/planner and bride-to-be, is well versed on current trends professionally and personally. Her wedding is planned as “a simple but classy event,” and she stresses the importance of striking a balance between creating the “fairy tale,” staying within budget and doing her part for the environment.

Broff researched a company selling eco-friendly invitations. While she acknowledges the ultimate way to invite green is to use e-mail, she and the client felt paper invites were necessary for the audience they wanted to reach. Westside green Realtor/broker Pence Hathorn Silver served as her invite inspiration.

“Some brides seek out luxury because, after all, this is their big day,” Broff said. “However, Pence Hathorn Silver gave me thank-you notes that can be planted in the garden instead of tossed in the trash — what a perfect way to say thank you and do something good for the Earth. Meanwhile, I combed through dozens of wedding sites and wedding magazines, and found many companies offering eco-friendly goods and services. I advise brides to take the time to pick and choose what solutions are most important to them. You can’t do everything — but you can do a lot.”

” target=”_blank”>, which offers invitations made with wildflower seeds. He also notices that Web site addresses are showing up more often on invites, which offers couples a paper-free way to create elaborate wedding sites that incorporate details of the wedding and all events (bachelor/bachelorette parties, rehearsal dinner, bridal shower), along with ceremony site, restaurants and accommodations.

Jonathan Abrams, who founded social networking Web site Friendster, has capitalized on the paperless movement with ” target=”_blank”>, which launched in April and exclusively offers green stationery from Oblation and Wiley.

She recommended that brides visit ” target=”_blank”> offers insight into how eco-friendly invites help the planet:

  • Use post-consumer waste or recycled paper products, or “paper” made from grasses, cotton, flax, hemp, straw, silk and silk blends.
  • When you use these products, know that you are reducing chlorine pollution!
  • Do something unique like using pretty postcards as your invitation.
  • If postcards are not your thing, try to reduce the amount of paper used overall. Reconsider the use of paper and tissue inserts.
  • Think about your ink! If you print your invites at home, refill your ink cartridges. When you get rid of cartridges, donate them to a cause or drop in a recycling box. Also, seek online companies that print with earth friendly inks, and others sell similar inks for home use.

Is the Dead Sea dying?

It sits at the lowest spot on earth, is fed by one of the world’s most significant waterways, and served witness to humanity’s passage out of Africa. And it’s dying.

The Dead Sea, among the most remarkable natural phenomena on the earth’s face, has lost a third of its surface area over 50 years, and continues to shrink three or more feet annually — entirely because of human behavior.

For decades, visitors to Israel have flocked to the sea’s shores, whether to tour the historic sites along its western edge, enjoy its health-giving properties, or simply bob like a cork in its mineral-rich waters.

Most have no idea, though, that each time they visit, the shore has moved. That the Dead Sea’s single source, the Jordan River, has been reduced to little more than a sewage canal, with less than 10 percent of the flow it had 60 years ago — about half of which is raw human waste. And that, furthermore, between the reduced flow and the work of the Israeli and Jordanian mineral industries, the Dead Sea is now actually two distinct bodies of water — the northern basin and southern basin, separated by a land bridge.

“We are watching the sea vanishing,” Kibbutz Ein Gedi member Merav Ayalon told the BBC. “I feel like the sea is a dying man calling out for help.”

Moreover, the past 10 years have seen an alarming new development: sinkholes, spots where the land, once covered by water, collapses in on itself. A decade ago, there were 10; today there more than 1,600, some of which are dozens of yards deep.

The mud flats around what is left of the sea are now pock-marked; Mira Edelstein, resource developer for the Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian NGO Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), reports that new holes open and yawn wider from week to week. The first sinkhole ever recorded, on Kibbutz Ein Gedi, opened under a woman as she walked through the kibbutz campgrounds.

Thus, local resorts regularly move their beach chairs in pursuit of the ever-receding shore, even as they block access to areas in which sinkholes have gobbled up their land. The single road leading along the sea to Israel’s south has seen only one sinkhole crack through so far, but many lie just yards from the pavement — and for long stretches, the only thing on the other side is a sheer rock wall.

Munqeth Mehyar, FoEME’s Jordanian director, says that the sinkholes point to an especially banal problem: “We don’t want to keep saying the Dead Sea is an historical site, a religious site…. Let’s talk about its economic value.”

“The lower the level of the sea, the more dramatic the problem of the sinkholes…. Tourists will stop coming if they think they’re going to sink in a hole.”

In purely financial terms, Mehyar says, “it’s a risk that nobody can afford.”

The Dead Sea’s dire situation is the result of a dizzying array of factors: Israel’s over-pumping of the Sea of Galilee; Syria and Jordan’s over-damming of the Yarmouk River, the Jordan’s major tributary; industrial pollution, sewage dumping, and mineral extraction on all sides, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which leaves most of the lower Jordan River Valley a closed military zone.

Rather than address these issues, however, or reconsider water allocation habits (Israeli agriculture gets 30 percent of the country’s fresh water, for instance, but creates less than 3 percent of the gross domestic product; 70 percent of Jordan’s fresh water goes toward agriculture, for some 6 percent of the GDP), the governments of Israel and Jordan, with the backing of the World Bank, are currently considering a drastic solution: a 125-mile conduit from the Red Sea.

Known as the Red-Dead Canal, the idea is to pipe water from the Red Sea to the Dead, producing hydroelectric power, providing water for desalinization, and dumping the salt-heavy remains in the Dead Sea, raising its level. The cost would be astronomical — anywhere from $1.5 billion to $5 billion — and in spite of the fact that environmentalists, scientists and residents of the area have raised crucial questions that remain unanswered, it’s currently the only solution being considered.

For one thing, FoEME’s Edelstein said recently, standing at the Dead Sea and pointing north toward the river, “we already have a canal.”

FoEME is spearheading efforts to convince the World Bank to study reviving the river as an alternative to the conduit, citing concerns for the well-being of the seas on both ends, as well as hidden costs and ecological concerns such as the expense and carbon output involved in transporting desalinated water to Jordan, uphill, in trucks.

“You can’t make a decision that changes the face of the earth,” says FoEME’s Israeli director Gidon Bromberg, “without looking at an alternative.”

Israeli geologist Eli Raz is among the scientists who question the project. In a 2007 report for the Dead Sea Institute, he warned of damage to the “limnology, microbiology and the chemical industry … by mixing the water of the two seas,” and stated that the Sea of Galilee, Jordan River and Dead Sea “should be regarded as one system; stabilizing the Dead Sea level by the recovery of the Jordan River is the closest to the original situation and hence the most proper one.”

In a phone interview, Raz reports that Egypt also opposes the canal’s construction, for fear that water extraction will do lasting damage to the Red Sea, which the country shares with Jordan and Israel; he also references a petition that has been widely circulated among Israelis living in the Arava, the area through which the conduit would pass.

“It’s one of the most dangerous points [on earth] in terms of seismic activity,” he says bluntly, citing decades of geological research. “The residents are completely unwilling to take the chance.”

If the world is interested in saving the Dead Sea, Raz says, “the worst possible option is the one from the Red Sea.”

The Skirball’s new Noah’s Ark exhibit encourages kids to explore universal values through the timele

“Mommy! We need more food!”

From way up in the rafters of Noah’s Ark, I hear my son calling. He has climbed a net ladder to reach the second level, where he is eye-to-eye with boa constrictors fashioned out of air-conditioning conduits and a wise old yak made of dozens of rag mops. I grab a handful of wooden grapes and eggs from a ground-level bin and set them into a cloth basket hooked up to a hand-operated pulley.

To 8-year-old Ezra, the pre-opening event at the new Noah’s Ark at the Skirball Cultural Center is a novel and memorable play experience, with all the sorts of things kids love — noisy cranks and pulleys to operate, to play with and to discover.

While fun is high on the list of goals for the fanciful and compelling world of Noah’s Ark, opening to the public on June 26, curators believe a couple hours aboard the ark can also help kids and the grownups they bring learn about the importance of collaboration and the effect your actions can have on your world — all with the underlying epic theme of how to weather a storm and find safe harbor.

Of course, little of that is what Ezra is thinking about when he digs the food out of the ascending basket and tosses some to his 10-year-old brother. The boys skirt around several kids tying strips of fabric onto a giant rope nest and scurry across a wide, netted-in plank that spans the width of the gallery.

Ezra can’t resist a quick tug on a rope that makes the African elephant with a coiled rope trunk and mini disco-ball eyes trumpet loudly. When they reach a platform on the other side, my sons send the food down a tube, and within seconds Ezra has scurried down the net ladder to cook it in a hearth and lay it out on a table, which other kids have set.

Whether they have absorbed the message or not, my kids have just learned something about working as a team, about providing sustenance, about building a home and about getting reactions from their environment — not by pushing buttons, but by using manual power.

Most of the kids who visit this $5 million, 8,000-square-foot new exhibit will already know the Noah story. And some kids, upon leaving, will be able to articulate its message of the need for community and cooperation in good times as well as bad. But even those who can’t explicitly point to those lessons represent success, as far as the Skirball’s curators are concerned.

“If they leave here just feeling that they had a great time and got to do something fun with a family member or made new friends, or had the confidence to climb on something really huge, then they have gotten what this is about,” said Marni Gittleman, exhibit developer and head of Noah’s Ark. “It’s all about going back into the world and having a little something change in yourself, a little spark turning on and being motivated to make the world a better place.”

With the remarkable artistry of the ark’s more than 300 whimsical occupants, all of which are life-sized and handcrafted from reused materials, Noah’s Ark is at the vanguard of the growing field of children’s museums. Working with architects from the firm of Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen in Seattle and New York-based puppeteer Chris Green, the Skirball has taken the best of the well-developed field of experiential learning and overlaid it with a program that respects kids’ sophistication and demonstrates a commitment to intergenerational interactivity and a focus on values.

Five years in the making, Noah’s Ark is a permanent addition to the Skirball Cultural Center installed in previously unused space. Skirball leaders are hoping the exhibit — whose flood story, they point out, can be found in many cultures — will draw in families of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. With its underlying Jewish values, the exhibit is a natural fit to showcase the museum’s interest in promoting diversity and democratic values.

Since well before the center opened 11 years ago, Uri D. Herscher, founding president and CEO of the Skirball, had been thinking about a children’s exhibit. He zeroed in on the Noah’s Ark story seven years ago, after viewing Skirball trustee Lloyd E. Cotsen’s multiethnic ark collection.

“My needs as an adult have not changed a lot since I was a child. I still look forward to family warmth, I still look forward to community, I still look forward to shelter from the elements,” Herscher said. “I think that’s why we’ve found that Noah’s Ark has become a real draw for adults. They bring their inner child needs and they find them expressed in this exhibit.”

Who’s Driving The Ark?

I hand my 5-year-old daughter an upside-down drum with a long metal coil trailing from the bottom.

“Shake it,” I tell Neima. She gives it a tentative wobble. “Harder.”

As the coil begins to vibrate, it echoes loudly — and then gets louder. Her eyes widen as she realizes she is holding thunder in her hands, a noise that so impresses her brothers they are soon clamoring for a turn.

To our right, kids vigorously pump two old-fashioned well handles, causing water to rain into a vertical glass case, where a small ark lifts upon the accumulating waters. A little boy turns a wheel to whir the wind, another cranks a generator in a tube to spark a lightning storm, and a mother and daughter hold a large, flat drum filled with ball bearings to create the sound of rain.

To make the storm truly come alive, at least five or six people need to be working together.

Exhibition offers visions of future intelligent homes

For those who love the experience of shopping for real estate, “Open House: Architecture and Technology for Intelligent Living,” on display in Pasadena at Art Center College of Design’s south campus, is not the usual collection of modish conceits by residential architects.

Organized by Art Center in collaboration with the Vitra Design Museum in Germany, the show offers a provocative variety of visions for the so-called intelligent house of the future, specifically anticipating advances in technology, building materials and shifting demographics over the next 20 years.

And as hoped for in this day and age of inconvenient truths, threaded through the wealth of contrasting offerings by an international cadre of relatively young designers is an acute concern for the failing, fragile environment and the need for sustainable, or “green,” architecture.

The concerns are, of course, not new, certainly not to those who follow the precepts of tikkun olam, the sacred mission of Jews to repair the world. Among those who not too long ago had to elbow their way into the once WASP-dominated design profession, this meant being particularly sensitive to ecological and contextual constraints; that architecture was a social art that could create places of human endeavor in concert with the earth.

That is, if they had the chutzpah to press the precepts, they were usually labeled as suspect environmentalists or, worse, social activists, among the usually conservative firm principals and even more conservative clients.

This rarely happened, however, and some would say that architects who happen to be Jewish too often assimilated all too well.

But as this exhibition illustrates, repairing the world is back in vogue, and whether this attitude is informed by a mystical Jewish tradition or the rising secular sociopolitical economic concerns — or the heretofore faddish Art Center’s need to be au courant — sustainability will likely increasingly drive the world’s design scenarios.

Among the more provocative, if not prophetic, displays in this exhibition is the “Dunehouse,” by su11 architecture + design of New York, a single-family prototype designed to adjust to the extreme temperatures and harsh landscapes of the Nevada deserts, much like a cactus or tumbleweed.

The “Jellyfish” house by Iwamoto/Scott/Proces2 of Berkeley, goes beyond just providing a unique flexible live/workspace and is designed with a sophisticated water reclamation process as part of its structural skin that the architects claim can cleanse their sites. This house was specifically invented to be located on the toxic soil of Treasure Island, a former military base in San Francisco Bay, but its concept also could be applied to other contaminated locations.

In contrast to such scientifically sophisticated conceits, there are some houses here that are just plain silly, offering comic relief to this thought-provoking exhibition. These include the “open the house ” concept, for which the house need not provide a heating or cooling system, because the inhabitants will simply wear special clothing designed to regulate their own microclimate.

Actually, this is an ancient concept, one my mother appropriated when we complained of being cold in our underheated house, telling us to wear an extra sweater and drink some hot tea.

“Towers in the Park,” which deals with anticipated increased density in the South Korean city of Seoul, includes clusters of vine-entwined structures that soar like giant sculptured topiaries and contain a variety of flexible private “cells” and public spaces. The result is environmentally friendly, landscaped vertical neighborhoods.

One would have hoped for more urban designs addressing the heightening challenges of increasing population, dwindling resources and urban density, as noted by co-curator Dana Hutt in a catalog accompanying the exhibit.

As for the show’s installation, designed by Nikolaus Hafermaas of Art Center, one could quibble with the placement of the display boards, the small type not being at eye level, and the lack of more audiovisuals and interactives, especially considering the topic. Too much tell and not enough show.

But to be fair, quite a lot of information is presented, however convoluted and weighted down in pseudoscientific semantics. For this writer, the history section was a trip down memory lane. Certainly no exhibition on the future of houses can be complete without a look back at the fantasies projected in the past, such as in the visionary work of Buckminster Fuller.

There is much to contemplate here, coming just when you thought you were finished refurbishing your home to make it as environmentally friendly and aesthetically modish as possible, be it by installing solar heating, low-flush toilets or hanging your wash out to dry.

Admission is free and open to the public. Now there’s a concept for both the present and future.

“Open House: Architecture and Technology for Intelligent Living,” continues at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena’s south campus, 950 S. Raymond Ave., through July 1. Tuesday through Friday, noon-9 p.m.; Saturday, noon-6 p.m.

” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Seoul Commune”>

Seoul Commune 2026 is a proposal for an alternative sustainable community, viable in an overpopulated metropolis. Courtesy Art Center College of Design