2022-05-09 4 min read


Notes, 2022-05-09.

I’m fascinated by how the pandemic has caused society to rethink how physical space is used. As most people spent more time at home over the past few years, we’ve required more media to keep ourselves entertained. This created pressure on the TV and film industry to return to work long before we considered reopening most offices. And, the typical Hollywood studio doesn’t have the on-site live-work facilities necessary to create a COVID bubble – making production difficult.

So, many TV and film productions took over pandemic-closed hotels to house staff and actors and film all on one protected site, with hotel ballrooms transformed into soundstages. Clever shows used the hotels as central characters, such as the Netflix hit White Lotus or Apple’s Acapulco. With much of the world stuck at home watching TV, there was less demand for travel infrastructure and more need for film production space. Transforming hotels into pop-up movie studios seemed like an easy win.

Now, with parts of the world easing into a new normal, we still have entire building types that remain under-utilized. If office demand does not eventually return to pre-pandemic levels, these buildings will need to find a second useful life. While many older offices were converted to residential long ago, modern office buildings often have floor plates that are too large to easily carve up into apartments. It’ll be a significant challenge, but I’m excited to see how a new generation of architects addresses it.

-Dan Hui

The most clicked link from last week's issue (~8% of opens) was John Glenn's photograph of Earth from orbit. We have three Member meetups coming up:

  • 2022-05-12, in NYC, hosted by Joey
  • 2022-05-14, in LA, hosted by Skyler
  • 2022-05-21, in SF, hosted by Surjan

Join us if you're looking for friendly (and somewhat pedantic) discussion about making everything and anything.

Planning & Strategy.

  • A fascinating wartime profile of Oleksandr Pertsovskyi, the head of Ukrainian Railways (Ukrzaliznytsia), as he seeks to keep the nation’s trains moving - evacuating refugees and transporting supplies. With 375,000 engineers, drivers, and administrators, Ukrzaliznytsia is the nation’s largest employer; over 1% of the country’s population works there. And trains have played an outsized role in the Ukraine war, with Poland rebuilding century-old rail lines to connect with Ukraine and Romania seeking to do the same. A large portion of the foreign military equipment bound for Ukraine has transited via Slovakian rail, which has Soviet-gauge tracks that connect directly with Ukraine. This means that it is not uncommon for everyday motorists to drive past secret trains loaded with anti-aircraft equipment on their commutes.
  • New York’s $11 billion East Side Access project is anticipated to open by the end of the year, allowing Long Island Railroad trains to access Grand Central Terminal for the first time. WNBC has a construction tour of the nearly complete station. This station was first proposed in the 1950s as a way for Long Island commuters bound for Manhattan’s east side to save 30 minutes each way. 70 years in the making, the long-delayed and over budget station is finally arriving – right at a time when commuting patterns are being totally upended.

Making & Manufacturing.

  • As the global chip shortage wreaks havoc on the supply chain for everything from smartphones to automobiles, at least one company may be resorting to harvesting semiconductors from washing machines for use in other products.
  • I recently binged Netflix’s Baking Impossible competition show, which merges mechanical and structural engineering with competitive baking. If you are equally interested in making and baking, this is the show for you; contestants have to complete engineering challenges using mostly edible components, resulting in some wacky inventions, like ramen-reinforced chocolate “concrete.”

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

Distribution & Logistics.

  • When you return something to a retailer, it’s often *not* put back on the shelf. Instead, many returned goods immediately enter the $644 billion liquidations industry. As part of this liquidations supply chain, new bin stores are popping up to resell returned merchandise in a deeply discounted environment, with variable pricing that drops by the day. These bin stores are popping up across the country, including in New York City, where I live. It’s not clear to me what happens to unsold goods that remain after the last price drop.


  • A good history of the seat belt that covers everything from seatbelt webbing specifications, to the nuances of different buckle designs, to the reasons why Volvo never patented a key seatbelt innovation.
  • Celebrating 50 years of polyester, and its journey from cheap 1970s fashions to the technical performance fabric of today. The story of polyester is one of nearly endless experimentation, in which two yarn sizes were eventually combined into a differential denier knit to help move moisture through the fabric and away from the body.


  • Happy 60th anniversary to the Seattle World’s Fair, which presented a vision of a 21st Century enhanced by Space. The Space Needle, the architectural landmark of the fair, remains a timeless and iconic structure. It’s hard to imagine what the Seattle skyline would be without it.

The Surprising, Overlooked Artistry of Fruit Stickers.

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