Blaine Brownell is an architect, author, and former Fulbright scholar with a research focus on emergent materials. He is a principal at Transstudio and codirector of the masters program in Sustainable Design at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture. His books include the Transmaterial series, Matter in the Floating World, and Material Strategies (Princeton Architectural Press). Reach him at [email protected].

Fujifilm X10

When it comes to selecting a digital camera, size is often directly proportional to quality, with heavy, cumbersome DSLR cameras offering the best images. Fujifilm’s X10 is an attempt to lighten the photographer’s load and is a versatile and compact travel camera that outperforms most point-and-shoots.

Trek 7.3 FX

I made a commitment to lowering my carbon footprint by commuting year-round by bicycle here in Minnesota and needed a bike that could perform in all seasons. I selected a model from Trek’s FX series and got disc brakes without breaking the bank. So far, my Trek 7.3 FX has been a joy to ride in even the crummiest weather conditions.


I learned about Keegotech’s MudWatt from architects Sheila Kennedy and Frano Violich in the context of “Third Nature,” a studio we co-taught at the University of Minnesota College of Design. MudWatt is a microbial fuel cell that harnesses power from the microbes populating common topsoil. The kit comes with customizable components like hacker boards, which allow you to determine how to channel the microbial-generated electricity.

Project Japan: Metabolism Talks, by Rem Koolhaas and Hans Ulrich Obrist

Japanese architecture never ceases to fascinate, and a resurgence of interest in the Japan-born Metabolist movement has inspired several new books and a major exhibition. Koolhaas’s and Obrist’s exhaustive and highly accessible study of what they claim to be the first non-Western avant-garde movement in architecture sheds new light on today’s visions of technology-imbued eco-utopias.


Concrete Planet: The Strange and Fascinating Story of the World’s Most Common Man-Made Material, by Robert Courland

In Concrete Planet, Courland takes one of the most physically present substances and reveals just how little we know about its history or physical properties. Surprising revelations include concrete’s importance in the early stages of civilization, as well as the inferiority of modern concrete when compared with its Roman counterpart.