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  • How We Operate: Thankful for Great Food at Moss:::

    thansgiving table


    Thanksgiving, that foodiest of all holidays, is a personal favorite of everyone at moss.  In the spirit of the holiday we wanted to give thanks for our favorite food traditions.  With no further ado, here’s what everyone at moss will be digging into on Turkey Day along with recipes and links so you can try them at home!


    Matt and Laura will be hosting a Thanksgiving feast in the heart of Moss HQ on our dining/conference table.  It should be almost literally groaning with good eats and here are a few of them.  Matt suggests a kick ass Turkey and some great sides



    I’m getting a fresh, never-frozen turkey this year from Mint Creek Farm (picking up from Dill Pickle Monday. Woot!) which is going right into a brine when I get home. This is the recipe I use (F basting!) and the Virtual Bullet blog is my go to for all things smoked meats. Make sure and get yourself a good, digital remote read thermometer like this. It’s supposed to be cold this Thursday so better to check the thigh meat temperature from the couch while you watch the Jay Culter throw 4 picks. Best of all, this only takes 4 hours to cook and frees up oven space for roasting vegetables.


    Your Pumpkin Pie is a fake, but Thanksgiving will be OK

    squash vs pumpkin

    Have you heard the old joke: “When is a pumpkin not a pumpkin?  When it’s a pie.”  It’s true!  Most pumpkin pie, or more accurately, the pumpkin pie filling and canned pumpkin used by most Americans, contains not pumpkin but Butternut, Dickenson, or other winter squash.



    If you’ve been picturing a field of halloween jack-o-lantern stock being rolled right over into Thanksgiving table stock … you’ve got another think coming.  The orange paste that comes in cans is certainly not made from what we think of as pumpkin but from other varieties of winter squash.


    Libby’s, owned by Nestle, is one of the most pervasive brands on the market.  They’ve created a special canning variety of squash that “the company developed themselves,” which certainly doesn’t make me feel better (looming specter of GMOs) and then officially named it the Dickenson “pumpkin” for a nice pumpkin-y feeling.  The FDA labeling enforcement department doesn’t care about this orange washing of canned winter squash.   Under the heading of “Pumpkin,” they allow for a broad definition of the word which includes squash “sometimes mixed intentionally to obtain the consistency most acceptable to users.”  I love being called a user in the context of baked deserts.



    Building Materials: The 2x4s All Around Us


    This ubiquitous building material lurks behind nearly every residential wall but is hardly ever seen.   We may not see it, but it is busy holding the roof up over our heads.  Today we meditate a little on this most common of building materials: the humble 2×4.


    First, an old joke:


    “Fellow comes into a lumberyard.”


    Says to the guy, “I need some four-by-twos.”


    “You mean two-by-fours?”


    “Just a minute.  I’ll find out”  He walks out to the parking lot, where his buddies are waiting in the car.  They roll down the car window.  He confers with them a while and comes back across the parking lot and says to the lumberyard guy, “Yes.  I mean two-by-fours.


    Lumberyard guy says, “How long do you want them?”


    “Just a minute,” fellow says, “I’ll find out.”  He goes across the parking lot and confers with the people in the car and comes back across the parking lot to the lumberyard and says to the guy, “A long time.  We’re building a house.”


    Annie Dillard, An American Childhood


    Design for Darkness: How Outdoor Lights Affect the Sky

    dark sky

    Seeking starlight from a city may seem futile, especially here in Chicago, home of the orange glow.  We are, after all, the literal poster city for light pollution,  since the 2008 National Geographic cover story “The End of Night” outed us as the worst offender.  Still, we can either be part of the problem or the solution.  



    Our designs for the Wild Blossom Meadery / Brewery, are nearing completion.  As we specify details like light fixtures for various areas of the project we take all the program uses into consideration.  In this case, one of those purposes is using the side yard for a little glimpse of the night sky.


    We try not to overlight the outsides of our buildings in any case – a city dwelling usually has a lot of ambient light to take advantage of.  Once directed downlights are placed near all the doors (to prevent key fumbling) we think twice before adding any more exterior light.


    Coming Soon: SAAGE Culinary Studio, Home Base for Artisan Food Businesses

    front kitchen area


    We’re so pleased to introduce you to our latest project under construction: the SAAGE Culinary Studio, a shared-use kitchen and educational space for culinary artisans in Naperville, IL.


    SAAGE Culinary Studio is the brilliant idea of food entrepreneur Gayatri Borthakur.  As a producer of spices, teas and gourmet gift packages for her specialty spice blend business, Curry’s Kitchen, she knows just how challenging it can be to find available space to support small food producers.  After years spent trying to find the perfect place to host her business, she’s decided to create it … and share it with other small food entrepreneurs.   Her concept is to create a home base for those businesses with shared kitchen space, storage and everything a start-up food business might need.  The SAAGE Marketplace at the entry will display wares to customers.



    Buildings and Climate Change: Good Design Can Help

    We don’t want to belabor the often-depressing facts on climate change any more than necessary … but it does seem necessary to acknowledge the most recent report from the International Panel on Climate Change.   Whether or not you’ve read anything about their findings you should be able to pass this pop quiz. 


    climate change is


    Look, we know no one actually likes this topic.  Dry, a little boring and really scary doesn’t get a lot of traction in battle for hearts and minds, as Al Gore found out, but we just can’t avoid the fact that allowing Climate Change to continue unchecked is too important to ignore.  The good news is that the findings of Earth’s “most rigorous and important scientific report”  say that we CAN still turn this car at least partway around.  The power of good design, applied to everything we do, can make a significant dent in the impact of Climate Change on our planet.



    Resilient Responses to Storm Damage: What Chicago Can Learn From New York’s Big U Project

    shattered LFP

    This weekend’s damage to the Lakefront Trail only underlines the need for a more environmentally resilient plan to deal with our waterfront. New York is handling this better with their “Big U” coastal infrastructure project.  What can we learn from their designs?  And why aren’t we on top of this already?


    In case the nippy weather, obsessive election news watching and the daylight savings shift have kept you away from Chicago’s Lakefront Trail during the last week, here’s your heads up: it is a wreck.  Strong wind and waves last friday swept up over the trail and into south bound Lake Shore Drive and when the waters receded, the sand from the beaches had washed over long stretches of trail and other sections had concrete and asphalt surfacing shattered and swept away.


    Don’t Forget To Vote TODAY: Polls Are Open Until 7PM

    three flags


    Why do a bunch of designers care about casting ballots?  How we vote is crucial to the built environment and the people who create and live in it.  Our national, state and local representatives make countless decisions that affect the potential for sustainability and for good, equitable design.  For example, on today’s ballot, we choose three members of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Board – the folks who care for the Chicago River, trying to keep it clean and sewage free!  Our elected officials have a lot of power to make good or bad decisions affecting the design of our homes, communities and country.  We love participating in the process of choosing them – we hope you do too!


    If you took advantage of early voting or dropped by your polling place on the way to work … good for you!  If you haven’t then IT’S NOT TOO LATE.  Don’t forget to vote TODAY and do your bit for our community and environment.  Polls are open until 7pm.


    Look yourself up at the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners website to find out your poling place information.  



    Spooky Architecture: Cemeteries to Welcome the Living




    Cemeteries have a compelling history, transforming from unsanitary resting places to picturesque parks, before settling into plain, landscaped lawns, losing not a few bones along the way in the move. Knowing this, we may never look at those subterranean skeleton decorations in quite in the same way again.  


    Our Tuesday post “Spooky Architecture: Cities of the Living, Parks of the Dead” explored the intertwining history of cemeteries and public parks. Today we propose a better way to approach cemeteries here in Chicago. Happy Halloween!




    As quintessential as the American cemetery has become to Halloween, it actually may not be the most elegant solution for dealing with our dearly departed ones, especially in its current common form.  Cemeteries take up a lot of single-purposed space—typically behind a guardhouse and 10’ walls—and are smothered in irrigated turf lawns.  The cemetery of uniformly sized-headstones on flat ground represents a recent paradigm shift, bowing to the mechanization of cemetery care rather than any aesthetic or human consideration.


    Spooky Architecture: Cities of the Living, Parks of the Dead

    spooky_squareimage credit: Emily Torem


    This Friday on October 31st, young and old alike will take part in a holiday as American as apple pie—oh wait, we mean as Irish as Shepherd’s pie and as Roman as a Fraternity.


    Halloween, a holiday that from its inception has been tied to the spiritual, supernatural and undead, is as inseparable from spooky cemeteries as a child from a pillowcase full of candy corn. Both have a rich history, well woven into architecture and urban planning, before becoming the American institutions we know today.




    The Cemetery: spooky, somber and certainly no place anyone would want to gather for a picnic, right? Actually, the cemetery was once barely distinguishable from the public park of today, replete with screaming toddlers and neighborhood barbeques (or whatever Puritans did for fun—like blaming food poisoning on witchcraft). The American cemetery has had an interesting trajectory: from recreational milieu to something grim, ghastly, and almost synonymous with October 31st. As a matter of fact, we’d be hard pressed to find a Halloween movie that doesn’t have some poor soul dodging around a house sited on an “old indian burial ground” or tiptoeing through a cemetery, doubtlessly about to have her brain feasted on by zombie/vampire/werewolf/#trendychildoftheunderworld.


    Today we’ll explore the cemeteries past and present in a global context, by looking at some of the world’s approaches to dealing with the dead, from France to Cahokia and back to Chicago, as well as what modern design practices take cues from this past.


    A Softer Alternative to Chicago’s Concrete Shoreline

    soft vs hard copy


    Chicago has just proposed a new 6 acre extension to the shoreline park at Fullerton Avenue  complete with new concrete revetment.  Having recently combed the sand dunes of Indiana’s Lake Michigan shore, we wonder about softer shore styles they might have considered.  Surely concrete barricades aren’t the only strategy for interfacing  between land and water at the city’s edge … maybe we should be looking into a new go-to plan for how to deal with Chicago’s shoreline. 



    The majority of Chicago’s shoreline is far from natural.  During our city’s development, the shore line has been pushed back (out into the lake) again and again with new edges constructed and interior areas filled in with land more stable and buildable than the marshy area which was here when the area was settled.



    Cycling Sonoma and Designing Sustainable Wineries


    postcard map


    With news that Sonoma County intends to become the first 100% sustainable wine region in the world, it seems only fitting that we explore it by bike. moss visited the region to explore some of the current sustainable practices and taste some of the wine, of course. This sparked some thoughts about how design and layout of winery buildings (something curiously left off the Sonoma County plan) can further the mission.





    I first had to get our loaner bike for the day. Spoke Folk Cyclery is housed in a sweet Quanset hut just south of downtown Healdsburg, they set me up with a familiar Specialized road bike. Off to Dry Creek.



    What does it mean to be “From Chicago”?

    regional map copy


    Here at moss, we proudly label our creations as made in Chicago.  We support our city (and neighborhood) businesses, artists, events and activities. But are we “from Chicago”?  That’s a complicated question.



    The Ineluctable Pull of the City


    Young Matt, aged 12, lived in the West Suburbs of Chicagoland but dreamed of urban living.  He wrote away for a plan book of the downtown rental apartment stock.  He laid out his future existence in the center of the city, living in a “Convertible” – a studio apartment –  and attending IIT but his Chicago orientation was temporarily derailed by a scholarship offer from the New School in San Diego.   However, After five years of study and three years of pracitce (and a license) in architecture, he returned to the midwest and to the city he’d always planned to live in.  Here’s how he identifies:


    “As far as Chicagoness goes, I guess about three quarters.”


    Our office mascot, Bosco, is a transplant from So Cal.  But he’s here to stay.  He’s a Chicago cat now. And he still won’t take any of your shit.




    The Railroader Console: Out of the Workshop




    We’re tickled to share with you, our newest creation.


    Meet … (drumroll please) … the Railroader Console.  This latest fruit of the moss Furniture Division is an eclectic tribute to some of Chicago’s history.  Made (and inspired) right here in our home city, this piece could be right at home with you.  Click here to make it yours!



    wells-street-bridge_courtesy Postcard Roundup



    Less is More: the Joy (and difficulty) of Minimalist Living

    storage stuff

    The problem of “stuff” is an American universal and no one is really in position to criticize.  I’ve always had a lot of stuff; certainly I’ve had a lot more stuff than I need.


    I’ve dabbled in extreme minimalism while traveling over extended periods.  Most recently, in 2012 I shook up my life by quitting my job and putting all my belongings into a storage unit while I set off on an odyssey that bounced me from one US coast to the other, and then around the rim of the Mediterranean from from the Moroccan Rif and Spanish Andalusia to the Ionian coast of Turkey.


    Everything I needed fit in a backpack and shoulder bag.   I had minimal clothing – who cared if I wore the same three things all the time? A digital camera and a moleskin sketchbook and pair of micron pens recorded the world around me.  My smart phone  (permanently on airplane mode) was an instant library, travel guide and unending map.  My biggest space splurge was a half size pillow (turn any train seat into a bed).


    Did I want or need more “stuff” than this to make me happy?  Certainly not. 


    And yet my stuff wasn’t really gone.  It was waiting for me 11 months later, stacked neatly along one wall of a small storage unit in Barneveld, Wisconsin.  And when I got back to the state and re-settled in Chicago, it all came with me, filling a 10′ U-Haul truck to maximum Tetris-loaded capacity.