Celebrating the Inglorious at Designs of the Year 2015

inglourious_fruits3To whet my appetite for this year’s London Design Festival, I headed to the Design Museum to see see the Designs of the Year 2015.  This year’s awards focus on designs that deliver change, enable access, reflect current trends, and extend the boundaries of design practice.  Sustainability, and consideration of environmental impacts, is rising up designer’s priority list: it is not just about product form, but also life-cycle function.  Designing for the Sixth Extinction, by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg for the Science Gallery, Dublin, set an apocalyptic tone exploring how synthetic biology could replace natural species or protect against pollution, disease and biodiversity loss.

After the sombre start, Inglorious Fruits could not fail to crack a smile.  To reduce annual food waste of 300 million tonnes (57% of which is due solely to appearance), Intermarché, the 3rd largest supermarket chain in France, decided to sell imperfect fruit and vegetables at a 30% discount.  The ‘Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables’ campaign, designed by Marcel, reached 21 million people in a month creating a new business line for Intermarché, providing the customer with the same quality food for less and paying growers for produce previously wasted.  A welcome nudge that reminds beauty is found within.

One effective way to create positive behaviour change is to capture young hearts and minds.  To that end, some inspiring educational projects are among the nominees.  ext001_aerial_©xia zhiThe Garden School, designed by OPEN Architecture, for the Changyang Government, Fangshan District, Beijing, aims to become the first triple green star rated school in China.  The architects designed multiple levels above and below ground in a branch-like shapes creating undulating landscapes that allow more light into classrooms, and open spaces.  The roof of the upper building is an organic farm, with each of 36 classes having their own plot.

320 million people on the African continent lack access to clean drinking water, and yet the majority live in regions where it rains more than 600mm per annum.  Waterbank Campus at Endana Secondary School in Kenya, designed by PITCHAfrica for the Annenburg Foundation, is a working model for rain-harvesting school for semi-arid regions.    Seven ‘Waterbank’ buildings are designed to harvest, store and filter high volumes of water using low-cost materials to provide drinking water and irrigation.  Four acres, of the ten acre site, are devoted to irrigated conservation farming. At the centre of the campus is a rain-water harvesting football and volleyball stadium, with the aspiration that football will be catalyst for environmental education, and reduced ethnic tension.  The school may even make use of the BRCK, a robust, portable, mobile WiFi device developed by Ushahidi, in Nairobi.  Cloud-managed, the BRCK will automatically search and reset to a stronger signal, and the eight-hour battery life means a steady connection even when there is a power surge or cut.  With an built-in global SIM the BRCK could be deployed in disaster response situations.

With a throw back to the beginnings of Carefully Curated, Marjan van Aubel (a 2013 nominee with James Shaw for the Well-Proven Stool) has again been nominated this year for her Current Table designed with Solaronix.  The elegant table is made of glass-topped, copper-toned dye-sensitised solar cells (DSSC), an efficient form of photo-voltaic cells.  The dye absorbs light, even when diffuse indoors, and creates energy through photosynthesis.  The table has two USB charging points, and a battery to store the energy.  The only snag is whether the people round the table will be able to turn their attention from device to dinner.

Field Experiments Indonesia, a design collective exploring often overlooked aspects of sustainability, those of culture and authenticity.  Souvenirs are often ‘made in China’ and disconnected from the destination. I recently saw ‘Aboriginal’ Australian sculptures, made in China, for sale in a service station on the M6.  Field Experiments provides an antidote of more than 100 objects made by designers and traditional craftspeople sharing knowledge, culture and materials over a three month period in a nomadic studio in a farming community outside Ubud.

The drum-roll is reserved for Ocean Clean-Up, Digital Design of the Year Winner, and at the time of my visit, the runaway winner in the People’s Vote.  There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic trash in the world’s oceans, and each year, 8 million tons of plastic are added to the count, according to a report from the Ocean Conservancy.  This bold project is leveraging the power of digital communications to gather funding and know-how for large scale clean-up projects of our seas. Ocean Clean-Up’s feasibility work suggests using a single 100 km cleanup array, deployed for 10 years, will passively remove 42% of the great pacific garbage patch.  As tabloids predict chaos at the arrival of a 5p charge for single-use plastic bags in England, perhaps this long overdue nudge will prompt people to realise there is no away in ‘throw-away’.

And finally, my personal post script, the Double O bicycle light, designed by Paul Cocksedge, solves a personal pain-point.  The two lights snap together magnetically and the circular hole in their middle means you can slip them on to a D-lock. The LED light is designed not to dazzle other road users too. Simple, and safe.

Related articles:

http://www.plasticpreventionletter.org

http://fortune.com/2015/10/01/ocean-plastic-pollution/?__ots__=1443905713745&__step__=1&__surl__=Ig2jO

https://carefullycurated.co.uk/2013/07/22/grow-your-own/

https://carefullycurated.co.uk/2014/02/12/discover-craft-at-heals/

The ultimate materials boy’s challenge to Clerkenwell Design Week

braungart

“Celebrate life, rather than minimise damage”, a perfect rallying cry to kick off Clerkenwell Design Week from Professor Michael Braungart, speaking at the launch of the SCIN Gallery‘s new Green Room.

Clerkenwell is home to more creative businesses and architects per square mile than anywhere else, and as this design week celebrates ever more brands, more product launches and more visitors, the #Being Human talk reminded us that beneath the superlatives, materials are the basis or everything.  As a chemist, and co-author, with William McDonough, of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (2002), Braungart is perhaps the ultimate materials boy.  Readers of that key sustainability text will know that materials provide the foundation for a “transformation of human industry through ecologically intelligent design.”

Braungart began by debunking a few eco-design fallacies.  He cautioned us not to romanticise nature, “the most toxic chemicals to us are the most natural chemicals”.  Neither should environmental considerations be presented as the ethical option, abandoned under conditions of stress. Timothy Devinney’s thorough description of “The Careless Consumer” in a recent article for the RSA Journal explained the attitude-behaviour gap “if you are attempting to sell an ethical product you cannot expect individuals to sacrifice any aspect of the other things that matter”, such as price and quality.

Conventional design approaches to environmentalism have focused reducing, reusing and recycling. World Business Council for Sustainable Development coined the term eco-efficiency in Changing Course: A Global Business Perspective on Development and the Environment”, “It is going to be next to impossible for a business to be competitive without also being ‘eco-efficient’ – adding more value to a good or service while using fewer resources and releasing less pollution”. Becoming more eco-efficient has bolstered many businesses’ bottom line, and had a beneficial environmental impact.

However, efficiencies only slow down the rate of depletion or destruction. This is what John Mathers, CEO of the Design Council described as “disjointed incrementalism” (in a recent article, “Design Intervention”), and often leads to perverse outcomes. When the EU banned asbestos from brake pads several major car manufacturers advertised their products as “free-from” asbestos.  But, antimony sulphide, a stronger carcinogen, was substituted for asbestos.  Products designed without their end of life in mind are usually ‘down-cycled’ as contaminants lower the quality of recycled materials. Neither do efficiencies always reveal their full impact. Braungart provided many examples of “products plus” where you get the product you bought, plus additives you did not, such as a polyester shirt containing toxic dyes that leach into your skin when you sweat.

“Less bad” is an underwhelming goal, and not an inspirational brand value. Braungart reminded the designers and architects in the audience that efficiencies rarely make hearts sing. Design for eco-effectiveness, rather than eco-efficiency.
In nature, waste equals food, and so too in the Cradle-to-Cradle design paradigm. Safe materials are disassembled and recycled as technical nutrients or composted as biological nutrients in two distinct, closed-loop systems.  The biosphere contains products for consumption, such as food, books, textiles, that are made of renewable materials that can be safely returned to water or soil without synthetic or toxic contaminants.  Braungart and McDonough’s latest book, “Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability – Designing for Abundance” is one of the first to be printed from materials that could be safely composted or burnt, as this video from the printer, Gugler, explains.

prof-dr-michael-braungart-rsm-erasmus-university-november-30th-2011-28-728-1In contrast, in the technosphere, non-renewable materials are fully recycled into high-quality service products for generations.  For example, Orangebox’s Ara ‘task’ (office) chair uses materials and assembly techniques that make it easy to repair and completely recycle. Desso take back their own carpets, and those of competitors. The yarn and backing are separated into two material streams, the yarn is recycled, and the bitumen backing used as raw material for roofs or roads.

glA point of differentiation with the circular economy framework is Braungart’s emphasis on continuous improvement. Circular economy diagrams illustrate technical materials cascading through loops of maintenance, reuse, refurbish to recycle. At the heart of the Cradle-to-Cradle is the intention to design for environmental health and abundance, “a rich human experience with all that entails—fun, beauty, enjoyment, inspiration and poetry.” In the SCIN Gallery’s Green Room, Trash Surface Bureau’s beautiful and playful glass tiles and slabs reflect this design intention. The products are created from the local collection, processing, and transformation of glass in central London’s Soho.

At the micro, or company level the Cradle-to-Cradle principles are: material health; material reutilization; operations powered by renewable energy; and water stewardship. The fifth principle of social fairness, celebrating all people and natural systems, aspires to macro-level transformation. In the Netherlands, a cross-sectoral network of organisations called Nutrient Platform signed an agreement in 2011 to close the nutrient cycle and end the imports of phosphate fertilisers by 2020. Phosphates are recovered from sewage, sludge and municipal organic waste and manure to be processed into products such as fertilizers. There is less waste, less use of fertilizer and less contamination of surface water. Excess phosphate can be exported, and agriculture has a more secure supply chain. Government has a clear role to play, setting transparent, long-term, stable policies that create a framework for abundant growth. We all have a role to play, defining how we want to live, in five or twenty years time. We need to redesign not just products but systems, through dynamic public policy, cross-sectoral collaboration and transparency of environmental and social impacts. Braungart challenged the Clerkenwell Design Week community to become co-creators in abundance.

Related links:

http://www.cradletocradle.com

http://www.mbdc.com

Image credits: SCIN Gallery; Prof Michael Braungart

SCIN deep

marbleI think I have met the ultimate materials girl.  Annabelle Filer, architect, journalist and founder of the SCIN Gallery (pronounced skin) is passionate about materials.  While working as an architect Annabelle developed a fascination, even addiction, for materials, their properties and practical applications.  While she continues regular contributions to FX Design magazine (and formerly Grand Designs Magazine), four years ago SCIN was launched to show and share this passion and encyclopaedic knowledge of materials.

SCIN source and advise on finishes for every surface inside or outside buildings of every scale. Working with materials experts sourcing from around the world, SCIN’s sphere of knowledge reaches to the limits of current research, and if SCIN can’t find what their clients are looking for they can work with them to develop it.  SCIN is committed to introducing more materials with ‘green’ credentials, and “fundamentally believe that environmental or sustainable design heralds a new era in architecture and design”. So after whetting my appetite at the Surface Design Show, I headed to the SCIN Gallery to learn more.

The ground floor is dedicated to new material design.  First to catch my eye were some bowls (pictured right) made out of ‘decafé’ a material created by  Raúl Laurí from used coffee grounds.  Alongside was Coleoptera, a bioplastic made from dead beetles, developed by Aagje Hoekstra.  The shells of the beetles,  a by-product of the animal food industry, contain chitin. After cellulose, chitin is the most common polymer on earth and, with a little chemistry, is transformed into chitosan which bonds better and is already being made into jewellery.  From insect to marine life and exotic leathers made from salmon, perch, wolffish and cod fish skins by Icelandic tannery, Atlantic Leather. solidOther exhibits included Denimite, a cotton fibre bio-composite made from recycled denim suitable for countertops and architectural applications and Soilid (pictured left).  Made from a mixture of soil, fungi and other natural materials left overnight at room temperature to “rise”, the mixture can then be poured into a mould and baked becoming strong enough sand, saw or drill.

ppThe first floor showcases architectural materials, such as Polluted Pattern (pictured right).  A concrete surface printed with a photo-catalytic white i.active cement based on TX Active nanotechnology that self-cleans and breaks down air-pollutants.  Over time, the printed sections stay pristine, while pollutants discolour the unprotected areas revealing the printed lace-like pattern, a metaphor for pollution wrapping our cities.  The material would be suitable for urban surfaces, pavements, facades.

fcThe installation ‘The Forest Commissioned’ displayed some leading wood products including Accoya, a high-performance wood created from softwood using a proprietary non-toxic acetylation process that gives it the dimensional strength and durability make its suitable for windows, cladding and other architectural uses.  Showered with eco-labels including FSC, PEFC,  and Cradle to Cradle™ to name but three, Accoya is made from renewable sources, fully-recyclable, and looks good to boot.  It is distributed in the UK by Lathams.  UPM Grada is a new thermoform able wood made from FSC or PEFC rotary cut birch veneers and non-formaldehyde adhesive.

ghInteriors products occupy the second floor. Marbelous Wood (pictured at the top of the page) and Green Hides (pictured right) were just two of the exhibits currently on display.  Marbelous Wood, from the Danish Snedker Studio, uses an old marbling technique to create an organic and colourful play on the natural grain of the wood.  A decorative reinterpretation of a flooring choice favoured by many.  Green Hides‘ Ecolife Italian leathers are processed with chrome-free, natural vegetable tanning  and solvent-free finishing methods to meet stringent technical specifications that mean they are suitable for home and contract clients.

neptIf the temporary installations are not inspiration enough, the basement is home to a permanent materials library.  The SCIN library is a colourful and tactile treasure trove with thousands of samples catalogued by material and property in bright orange boxes. Solid wool and paper stone I have seen before, but insulation made from seaweed was a surprise. NeptuTherm (pictured left) is an insulation material made from neptune grass seaweed that has become matted together into balls in shallow water.  Often considered a waste product, in fact,  without chemical treatment this material is naturally flame retardant, mould resistant and helps regulate humidity without degrading its thermal insulation capacity.  Seaweeds’ wonderful properties extend far beyond sushi and face creams!

organoidAnd finally a product that is simply joyful, if not immediately robust enough for a home with two small children, but if I could, I would find a place for some decorative Organoids panels (pictured right).  Natural fibres (in this case rose petals and rose buds) are ground up and mixed with a natural binder, then covered with a vacuum film, compressed and hardened to make a biocomposite that is 100% biodegradable.  The decorative panels are a sensual experience, the aroma of the rose buds, texture of the panel and visible rosebuds a reminder of the natural materials.  The process is entirely free of biocides, plasticisers and solvents and powered with 100% green electricity.

So whether wrestling with the refurbishment of a Victorian terrace house or in search of a supernatural material to make a car fit for James Bond, the library is a rich repository of innovative, practical and green materials.  Architects, designers and consumers are all welcome to have a rummage, by appointment.  You too could get addicted!

Picture credits: Raúl Laurí

Monuments to people and place

 

unnamed

As the presenter of Channel 4’s Grand Designs since 1999, Kevin McCloud needs little introduction, as WMF Britain Ambassador, last night he was in conversation with Dr Jonathan Foyle,  CEO of the World Monuments Fund Britain.

As we sat down, my husband struck up a conversation with his neighbour, she asked what his interest was, “I’m a property developer”,was his answer.  She flinched, “Uugh, I don’t like you already, but at least you are here, that counts for something”.  My husband’s response was that we all need somewhere to live.  The exchange is a small reflection of the wider tension between conservation and building.  Architecture and monuments were all developments in their day.

Jonathan Foyle’s first question, was, “What is heritage?” As soon as something is built it becomes heritage, it is of its time, but that moment is immediately passed and past.  So what should be conserved?  And how? Heritage is more than the sum of the bricks and mortar of a building, it is also about the narrative context, of time and location.  The fusion of tangible and intangible cultural heritage.  If McCloud voiced a criticism of our approach to heritage in the UK, it was that the focus on the building sometimes blurs the importance of landscape or location.  For example, later  he was describing the campaign to save a 1920s building in the Georgian city of Bath.  The building itself was not remarkable, but its location in Georgian Bath, and the place the building has in the history of Bath’s architecture has meaning.

And yet, buildings need to accommodate us as we live today.  With reference to the English Heritage’s Conservation Principles and their role in guiding how historic buildings can adapt, Kevin McCloud used Astley Castle, winner of the 2013 RIBA Stirling Prize, as an illustration of a sensitive scheme that created a new house inside a 12th century fortified manor.  McCloud noted that the architects of Astley Castle, Witherford Watson Mann Architects, echoed the 1960s restoration of Castelvecchio Museum in Verona by Carlo Scarpa, an Italian architect, with its juxtaposition of old and new materials, combining rigorous craftsmanship with respect for the history of the building.  The success of both buildings, McCloud noted, was provided by the honesty of showing new and old together and the exceptional craftsmanship.  The new buildings are not pastiches of the old, but stand confidently presenting a clear, and honest narrative of the building’s whole story.

Ben_and_House

Confidence was a keen theme of the evening.  Where does that come from? My understanding of McCloud’s argument was that it comes from making places, not just building houses, “good architecture has intimate connection with place”, people and its locality.  For his own housing development, McCloud took traditional railway cottages in Swindon as a reference point, but updated them technologically and stylistically to our time.  To elevate the development from houses to homes and foster a sense of community the scheme encouraged collective gardening,  shared spaces and transport.

In another locality, different materials and architecture would be appropriate.  Reflecting on a favourite Grand Design, the cruck-framed woodland house made by Ben Law in series 2 of Grand Designs (pictured),  the house was of its environment, all the materials (except the glass) were local, and crafted with great attention to detail.  Craftsmanship brings authenticity.  Using our hands is intrinsically human, it is the ingenuity that sets us apart from other species.  Speaking from personal experience, McCloud emphasised the importance of the making process.  Making by hand gives you an appreciation and understanding of, and respect for, the materials you are working with.  It also adds great value to the materials.  It is the alchemy of taking natural clay, horse-hair, and milk to create a flooring material.

The broad arc of discussion over the City of London’s skyline and wind turbines in rural areas reiterated the importance of appropriate scale, remaining responsive to context, as well as pragmatic in response to change.  We live in a finite world, and we have to manage our resources, and our buildings in a way that is responsible to future generations.  McCloud calls for a confident, considered, contextual response to that challenge.

 

Materials Moulded by the Environment

20130918-112910.jpg
Materials Moulded by the Environment, a talk by the architect of the new Viewpoint learning facility for Camley Street Natural Park drew quite a crowd at the V&A yesterday. Viewpoint is a small man-made islet on Regent’s Canal forming part of a natural habitat in the heart of King’s Cross, a borderline between the built and unbuilt. The islet is a retreat and viewing platform that was commissioned for the London Wildlife Trust. The architects, AOR, are emerging young designers from Finland and they intended the design and materials of Viewpoint to be rooted to its location, exploring the relationship between man-made and natural. AOR were joined in the discussion by Helena Sandman, another architect whose focus and inspiration for design is drawn from the local context. Her practice’s work for NGO projects in a number of developing countries is also firmly rooted in the materials and traditional building techniques of the local environment. This recognition and response to the climatic, social and cultural context gives the buildings a physical and emotional durability. The design is drawn from its context, rather than alien “air-conditioned, glass boxes” (sic).