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

Looking Forwards & Instigating Change @SustainRCA Awards

RCA.SustainThe SustainRCA Show & Awards 2014 preview was at the heart of my London Design Festival.  The event celebrates the work of some of the brightest of this year’s graduates from the Royal College of Art, addressing the big social and environmental challenges of our day.  This year is the strongest yet, with more than 100 applicants, 60 students shortlisted and 35 selected as finalists from across all RCA.  This was the first opportunity to see all the finalists together in a curated show, and together they present a powerful body of work charged with potential.  There are projects that take an innovative look at waste, water and other resources, but collectively the works show that sustainability is about more than efficiencies or climate science.  Rather sustainability is about our values and relationships with one another, and the environment, in its broadest sense.  In fact many of the tangible things we associate with sustainability are the symptoms or representations of imbalanced relationships that are at odds with values that many of us identify with.

srca1An independent, expert judging panel had spent the day deliberating over who to crown in each of four categories under the broad theme, “Looking Forwards“.  The theme suggests purpose and action.  The first category, Moving Minds confronts head-on the apathy that mention of ‘sustainability’ often generates. Works in this category might present the viewer with some uncomfortable realities or challenge the viewer to think about things we often do not.  As I walked into the Show, having criss-crossed London on my bike that day, I immediately connected with Tino Seubert’s The Colour of Air which filters Particulate Matter (PM) from car exhausts to produce lead for pencils, ink, or, as exhibited, dyes an outdoor sports outfit, PM_DYE.  The smog produced by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels polluting the air we breathe becomes tangible, even wearable, to those who inhale it everyday.  Wiping my ‘glowing’ brow, my handkerchief collects enough PM to make a contribution to Tino’s next piece, and a reminder that London’s record on air pollution is dire.

Nearby, another warning, this time of the often unseen impact of our relationship with so-called disposable plastics.    Alice Dunseath’s, Plastic Shores, are three stop-motion animations from bits of plastic found washed up on shores in Britain and Hawaii.  A simple, colourful story that reveals the impact of a throw ‘away’ culture in our closed, connected eco-system.rusak

Runner-up or Honourable Mention was given to Peter Shenai’s Change Ringing.  The haunting dissonance of six bronze bells cast in shapes mathematically derived from temperature data over the twentieth century sound the imbalance of our changing climate. Winner, Marcin Rusak’Flowering Transition explores the significant impact of flowers cultivated for the global cut-flower industry. with intensive use of fossil fuels, pesticides, water and genetic redesign.  The final chapter of Rusak’s design research project presents Flower Monster, the 3D-printed model  flowering chimera of commercial virtues.  Beware the monster we create in the search for the superlative colour, scent, shipping tolerant bloom.

4989ef0484eda1bc9d82d25501f719ebInspired Products emerge as a response to category one: once you have captured people’s attention, you need to offer them something they can do, otherwise a sense of impotence floods in.  Dunseath’s Plastic Shores animations were commissioned for a feature length documentary of the same name.  In 2011 global plastic production reached 300 million tonnes, over a third was for the disposable packaging industry.  An estimated 6 million tonnes of litter enters rivers and oceans every year.  As well as litter, every ton of PET produced for plastic bottles creates around three tonnes of CO2.  By way of response, Pierre Paslier, Guillaume Couche, Rodrigo García González’s Ooho!, winner of this category, and of the Lexus Design Award 2014, is an alternative way of packaging water inspired by nature’s use of membranes.  Ooho! uses brown algae, calcium chloride and the surface tension of the water to create a double gelatinous membrane; a process known as “spherification”.  A simple, cheap, biodegradable (even edible) alternative to disposable plastic bottles and as it is currently developed under Creative Commons license you can DIY at home!

fe3312e06ca52c99d4e956741d2612bfSolutions for Society is about scaling up interventions from products to systems and services that facilitate a fairer, more ethical and sustainable society.  The winner, with double honours, was Pierre Paslier‘s Advanced Activism, an open-source toolkit to inspire activists and campaigner.  Inspired by street art, the irreverent and playful tools include a remote-controlled drone (pictured right) to flyer hard to reach places, literally finding new platforms for alternative voices.  The instructions are available on streettoolbox, a collaborative platform for activists underpinned by the knowledge that debate and plurality are fundamental to healthy democracy.

nbennettVisionary Processes are new collaborations to facilitate Solutions for Society by stimulating innovation, or making production better.  Runner up in this category was Nell Bennett’s Coral3whose sacrificial alkaline structures are designed to be deposited by divers around coral reefs to help neutralise ocean acidification, one of the causes of coral reef degradation. Designed as part of a conservation programme that provides education, and sustainable livelihoods for the local communities, the sacrificial sculptures are the centrepiece of a system that engages and empowers a wide network of stakeholders.

mitsuiWinner Hana Mitsui’s New Value of Waste, transforms fabrics using a technique derived from a traditional Japanese process, ‘sakori’ to extended the life of worn fabrics.  Waste fabrics are shredded into thin strips and then woven over a fresh warp creating new luxurious clothes with distinct textures and patterns.  This tale of rags to riches highlights the value that is lost when we are so quick to dispose, and that can be restored with ingenuity and creativity.

Reflecting on the breadth work at SustainRCA, judge John Thackara said: ‘Products are the results of systems and processes, and we have to look at the systems from which the bad things came if we’re going to refashion systems so that good things come. There’s a whole vision of looking, thinking, solving, mobilising and empowering here.’

There is much at SustainRCA Show & Awards to challenge, provoke and inspire, the great joy of the show is that the work also offers positive and creative steps to move forwards.  Visit the show, and the momentum will be infectious.

The SustainRCA Show and Awards runs from 18 September–3 October, Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU.

Image credits: Pierre Paslier; SustainRCA

Related links:

https://carefullycurated.co.uk/2014/07/23/sustainrca-show-and-award-2014-finalists/

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2014-04/01/ooho-plastic-bottle

https://carefullycurated.co.uk/2014/09/01/celebrating-and-sustaining-the-beauty-of-our-oceans/

5 of the best pendant lamps

tr-212butterflyoak1200247x247Pendant lights, hanging from the ceiling, can literally raise our gaze from the mundane to the magnificent.  Whether striking a considered statement in your entrance hall or providing essential task lighting in your kitchen, pendant lamps can have both form and function.  Here are five of the best pendant lamps that have caught Carefully Curated’s eye.

Choosing things that will be loved, cherished and enjoyed for many years is a great, and sustainable, rule of thumb.  A recent article in the Financial Times Weekend notes that after years of cheap furniture, British consumers are increasingly keen to buy handcrafted products that can become collectables. Quality craftsmanship is at the heart of Tom Raffield’s design practice.  Based in Cornwall, Tom Raffield is influenced by the natural beauty that surrounds him. It inspires a sense of adventure.  Through experimenting with traditional techniques of steam-bending, Raffield eventually developed a new method that enabled him to create the complex, sensuous 3D forms he desired.  Steam-bending is a low energy method of manufacturing, with little wastage and without the use of toxic or harmful chemicals.  Unseasoned, green or air dried timber is sourced from sustainably-managed woodlands that are local to the workshop, where possible.  Earlier this year, Raffield’s work was part of the Green Room, a space dedicated to eco-sustainable UK design at EDIT by design junction at Salone Internazionale del Mobile to showcase British creativity and design under the slogan, Green is GREAT.  Tom-Raffield-Bloom-pendant-WALNUT-bottom-Plumen-bulbThe Butterfly Pendant (pictured above) is inspired by the movement of butterflies in full flight.  Handmade from sustainably sourced oak and finished with an eco-friendly, non-toxic, water-based varnish, the small pendant is 42cm high with a diameter of 52cm.   The light takes a 25 watt energy saving bulb, though the award-winning Plumen low energy light bulb is recommended for a distinctive twist (pictured right).  The light is priced £325 (there is currently a summer sale with 20% off).  You can see Tom Raffield’s work next month at Decorex International   as he  has been commissioned to make a special set of furniture pieces for the VIP Lounge.

dpritchard1From future collectables, to current vintage finds.  A recent visit to Drew Pritchard’s warehouse in north Wales revealed a treasure trove of lights.  There were elegant opaline pendants with pressed brass fittings; a staggering pair of cast bronze and cast iron gate pier lanterns 138cm tall; Art Deco alabaster plaffonier ceiling lights; feminine fluted holophane lights; and utilitarian factory lights.  From £99 to £7,500 (for the pair of bronze gate lanterns) there were fittings for nearly all occasions.  6945I was taken with these industrial pendant lights (H: 26 cm W: 21 cm D: 21 cm, priced £195 each) from Poland made of prismatic glass in the 1960s. The polished galleries add a sophisticated finish.

For a contemporary take on the industrial look, Offkut, an independent design company based in London, makes 4412practical, durable, that are, they hope, affordable.  As the name would suggest many of their pieces are made from up-cycled industrial wood.  The knots, grains and splits in the reclaimed wood means each furniture piece is unique.  Their pendant lamps are a series of hanging steel cages.  The Corset (priced £235) is like a generous hoop skirt that tapers to a waist as narrow as those sought by nineteenth century belles.  The aesthetic is definitely industrial, but softened by the delicate, carbon filament bulbs which are handmade in Switzerland.  The larger globe bulbs will burn for around 5000 hours.

EGG_OF_COLUMBUS_SELETTI_MG_0783The Egg of Columbus lighting collection designed by Valentina Carretta is inspired by the waves and pleats of vintage lamps.  Using compressed cardboard from recycled egg cartons, Carretta created three eye-catching designs for pendant lamps. The raw, rough packaging material takes on a clean, yet decorative aesthetic.  The pendants are available from the Conran Shop for a very economical £25 each (diameter of piece shown is 22.5cm).

Heath Nashlight-8-e1407173457405‘s pendant lamps made from recycled plastic have an altogether different look.  Nash pioneered the use of plastic post-consumer waste as a raw material in South Africa, working with a small team of craftspeople to create high-end decorative installations and lamps.  The first piece of work Nash made from ‘waste’ materials was a leaf ball,  colourful flower balls and drum lights followed.  The award-winning designer will be exhibiting an installation at Africa Calling, a show case of the best of contemporary African design that launches next month as part of the Africa Utopia festival (12th-14th Sept) at the Southbank Centre, and then to designjunction for London Design Festival (18th-21st Sept). Nash will also be running workshops at Africa Calling, and be a guest panelist in our Africa Calling debate session at Design Junction.  I can’t wait to see the work in progress!

Related links:

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/b9e6e47e-1d8a-11e4-b927-00144feabdc0.html#slide0

Image credits: Africa Calling; Valentina Carretta; OffKut; Plumen; Drew Pritchard; Tom Raffield Design

SustainRCA Show and Award 2014 finalists

RCA.SustainSustainability appeared in many guises at this year’s ShowRCA 2014, so it is not surprising that SustainRCA received a record number of applicants.  Almost 100 graduates from across the Royal College of Art, including the new programmes Interior Design, Service Design and Information Experience Design, applied to join the SustainRCA’s  dedicated programme of tutorials, talks, workshops, specialist resources and access to a professional sustainability network. As I scoured the Show, several of the SustainRCA graduates spoke warmly of the inspiration, mentoring and support that they have received from SustainRCA.  The freedom to explore many meanings of sustainability is reflected in the variety of work.  From new materials and processes to community projects and designs for a fairer, more transparent economy, the 36 SustainRCA Show finalists provide innovative responses to scarcity.  Beauty is a powerful motivator of behavioural change. larson

The declining health of coral reefs has been widely reported recently, with a WWF campaign to prevent dumping in the Great Barrier Reef, and growing concern about ocean acidification, which makes it harder for corals to absorb the calcium carbonate needed to make skeletons.  The delicate beauty of Monette Larson’s Aspiring Nature, certainly captures people’s attention.  The series of filigree glass installations made of small glass spheres fused together in the kiln to create larger organic structures inspired by corals.  Shimmering in the light, the delicate tonal turquoises and blues transport you to a marine landscape, the glass a metaphor for the fragility of marine eco-systems, where coral reefs are necessary to an estimated 25 per cent of all marine life.  nbennett

If Larson’s work excites an appreciation for the sheer beauty of coral, Nell Bennett’s project, Coral3, directly tackles ocean acidification, and provides a potential income for local communities.  Bennett created alkaline substrate structures to be placed up current from coral reefs. Over time, the water dissolves the alkaline structure, making the water surrounding the reef less acidic.  The coral reef is strengthened, enhancing local biodiversity, providing greater coastal protection and an opportunity for well-managed tourism.  The project is envisioned as a large scale social enterprise involving many stakeholders from subsistence fishermen to dive tourists, but offers potential for significant economic and environmental benefits. melchiorri

Julian Melchiorri‘s Silk Leaf & Exhale is another prototype, a biomaterial derived from silk protein and chloroplasts. It is an artificial leaf that absorbs carbon dioxide and emits oxygen and biomass via the photosynthesis of stabilised chloroplasts in the silk protein.  Silk Leaf can generate more oxygen and biomass than a normal leaf, depending on the number of chloroplasts embedded in the silk.  Silk Leaf could be used for a variety of applications from interiors products, such as the lights pictured right, to architectural surfaces that provide air purification.  Green buildings in more ways than one!

Marcin RusakMarcin_Rusak_Monster_Flower_6‘s Flowering Transition is a conceptual project that explores the commoditisation of flowers cultivated for the global cut-flower industry. These mass-produced flowers are often highly-engineered to accentuate their longevity, scent, colour or other commercial virtues.  In consequence, some flowers have lost their scent, sense of local connection and ritual.  This work is divided into five chapters: fragrance; a perishable vase made from waste flowers; a textile printed with waste flowers in gorgeous purple, pink and lilac hues; and then two chapters devoted to Flower Monster which speculates where further genetic engineering of flowers, to suit a commercial wish list, will lead.  rusakRusak collaborated with geneticists, post harvesting specialists, engineers and floral artists to combine existing flower species, each with a different virtue.  The model was 3D scanned, and after some software alchemy printed in 3D.  Beware the monster created by the search for perfection.

Max Danger.Queen bee pinThe cultivated flower industry relies on the services of the humble bee, as do up to 90% of all wild plants, and 70 of the 100 staple crops that provide 90% of world’s food.  Max Danger‘s witty Let it Bee! graphics, drawings and jewellery speculate on the future of bees to stunning effect.  God save the Queen, is a beautiful pin made of 18 ct gold and diamonds.  Gabriele Dini‘s Swarm’s Scale, a large installation of honeycomb provides another perspective from which to appreciate the complexity of bee’s behaviour, as it is derived from swarm data.  Our appreciation needs to be for more than aesthetic.  Bees numbers are in drastic decline due to factors such as diseases and parasites, climate change and wider industrial agricultural practices, including loss of wildflower meadows and deadly insecticides. Julia Johnson_Plan Bee_RCA_2014_007 Julia Johnson’s Plan Bee is a self-monitoring beehive that detects unusual activity in the bee breeding patterns and could help to detect disease or infestations.  In a Plan Bee hive, a scanner captures images of the brood daily, which are then digitally analysed for any unusual patterns, and the beekeeper is alerted to any unusual symptoms.  Perfect for the 99% of beekeepers registered as hobbyists that inspect their hive, on average once a fortnight.

mitsuiIf the many of the projects remind us that nature’s bounty is fragile and precious, others provide ways to make better use of raw materials and rescue the value that is often lost to waste.  With New Value Of The Waste, Hana Mitsui developed a weaving process that revitalises discarded cloth into new, luxurious materials.  Mitsui’s original yarns created from textile waste can be used for industrial and hand-weaving looms.  Mitsui creates rich woven patterns inspired by traditional ikat fabrics.  ladNeha Lad‘s Beauty In The Discarded literally shimmers as Lad’s experiments combine precious and up-cycled materials with traditional handicraft techniques.

Timothy Sadler‘s VIBE is a computer interface that uses vibration to transfer information to a digital output, without electrical circuit board. This streamlined product vastly reduces the amounts of critical raw materials used, and so their waste streams.  Two projects envision a circular economy model for consumer electronics.  Paul Stawenow‘s Project PHOENIX, supports design for disassembly and material recovery to tackle the a small percentage of small electronic appliances are currently recycled. PHOENIX products would be designed so the user can separate the electronic parts from the casing in a delightful way. Parts would either be put in domestic recycling or returned to the manufacturer in a pre-addressed envelope.  In many portable devices, raw materials are hard to recover as components are stuck together to achieve a sleeker look and feel.  Andreas Bilicki’s, eGlu is a reversible adhesive for electronic components that would enable easier bonding and separating of components, making it easier to replace a broken screen or recycle a smart phone.

2e893105-3860-42aa-a709-93cc4a89bc7c-620x413With festival season in full swing, Sol Lee‘s Smart Festivals is a rental system for camping equipment with a colourful intelligent wrist band.  No more lugging sleeping bags, tents and other gear to the site for festival goers.  The aftermath of Glastonbury 2014 (pictured left) is typical of desolate post-festival fields littered with tents abandoned after a single use.  With an average 10kg rubbish per person, much of it textile waste, the scheme would reduce the great clean up for organisers.  The system would also enable intelligent affiliate partnerships, with further development.  Festival goes in 2015 can travel light, travel far for their summer rites.

ShenaiChange Ringing is a collaborative artwork by artist Peter Shenai and composer Laurence Osborn that would chime perfectly with Glastonbury as it combines music, sculpture, and performance to literally convey the sound of climate change.  The six bronze bells have been cast in shapes mathematically derived from graphic statistical representations of summer temperatures at seventeen-year intervals over the course of the twentieth century.  Arranged, and struck in order the bells ring out a sombre, inharmonious warning.  It simply does not ring true.  What a wonderful example of Information Experience Design, making the intangible data of climate change intuitively comprehensible.

degarmoFinally, a super, simple gadget.  Ashley de Garmo and Federico Trucchia’s Mag-Cook uses a series of spinning magnets to create induction heat to cook your supper without gas or electricity.  It is manually operated, so could be used anywhere you have space to pull the cord!

As Head of SustainRCA, Clare Brass said: ‘The diversity, depth and quantity of graduate work this year is unprecedented. There’s growing awareness that sustainability – environmental and social equality and justice – really underpins the fabric of our future.”

The winners across four categories, Moving Minds, Visionary Process, Inspired Product and Solutions for Society, will be selected from the 36 finalists, and announced at a private view on 17 September.  Each receive a bursary of £5,000 to support their ongoing work in sustainability.  The SustainRCA Show and Awards will then run from 18 September–3 October, supported by the Genesys Foundation and Climate-Kic.  I hope to catch up with a few of the finalists before the show to tell their story in fuller form, so watch this space!

Image credits: Adam Gray/SWNS.com; SustainRCA

Related links:

https://carefullycurated.co.uk/2014/06/25/show-rca-ringing-the-changes/

http://www.scin.co.uk/blog/2014/7/10/endlessly-creative-at-the-end-of-year

A furniture painting Masterclass with Out of the Dark

62a668_de9d61af450ef7ade2bab3aeead88800.png_srz_140_135_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srzSometimes there is no substitute for experience.  Out of the Dark have plenty of experience of “How to Revamp Your Furniture” and this week ran an evening workshop at Heal’s on Tottenham Court Road to share some of the tips of their trade.

If you haven’t heard of Out of the Dark, they are a charitable social enterprise that recycles and restores salvaged furniture employing young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and training them in furniture making and restoration.  Based in High Wycombe, the 19th century chair-making capital of the world, think the classic Windsor chair and Chiltern woodlands, Out of the Dark is proud to draw on this rich heritage of traditional skills.  Much of their work is for boutique hotels and commercial clients (they just shipped a hundred chairs to Kuwait), but their work is available to all online.

ottd1The three hour workshop at Heal’s drew an attentive crowd with smartphones full of images of projects in the pipeline.  The evening started with tips on where to source furniture: keep an eye out for skip finds; for more economical furniture source further afield from London; or drop into Out of the Dark and have a look at their unpainted stock.  Look for a solid piece of furniture in a shape you like, and free your imagination.

Do be deterred by a lot of chipboard, but not by a little wood worm.  The former needs sensitive handling to preserve the veneer, the later can be solved with some white spirit or worm treatment and left for 24 hours before painting.  If there are any wobbles tighten them up before you start preparing the piece.

ottd2Planning and preparation are key to achieving a polished look, and easier than tidying up a hurried piece at the end.  Jay, co-founder of Out of the Dark, Travis and Yasser talked us through sanding, priming, painting and finishing before unleashing us on some pine boards to have a go.

I have learnt from experience to always sand in the direction of the wood grain, and start painting chairs upside down.  I scribbled these and many more tips down in the notebook provided, but there is no substitute for actually painting a piece under the watchful eye of one of the Out of the Dark team.  They have a real attention to detail, patient perfectionists with paintbrushes!   You have to literally get a feel for it.  Tactile is a word that crops up a lot.

ottd3Heal’s were game to allow a group of amateurs loose with aprons and paint in their showrooms!  The evening was an intense transfer of Out of the Dark’s knowledge gained from working with all manner of pieces, and products.  Osmo finishes are a particular favourite for their performance and environmentally-friendly footprint.

ottd4It was engaging to chat to Travis about his quiet passion for the traditional crafts of caning, painting and upholstery, as well as appreciate the confidence he now has working with wood.  It may take a matter of minutes to spray paint a chair in a factory setting compared to the several days by hand, but the skill, satisfaction and story are far from comparable.

If you are short of time, or the inclination for lots of elbow grease then Out of the Dark run a commission service to spruce up your un/loved pieces.  If you are keen to try your hand, the event cost a very reasonable £15, and all proceeds went to support Out of the Dark’s work.  You can find out about future events at Heal’s here.  News of Out of the Dark events and workshops and open studios this June can be found here.

Out of the Dark have a very exciting collaboration in the pipeline for later this year which bring their work to a wider audience and deepen their knowledge and skill of traditional furniture-making. So watch this space!

Related link:

Out of the Dark: restoring furniture & direction to troubled teenagers

 

 

 

Virtuous circles of conscious consumption

UnknownIn the midst of exhibitors proudly displaying their new wares at May Design Series, Stephen Gee, Director of Resource hosted a discussion on the circular economy with Sophie Thomas, Co-Director of Design, RSA, Mark Shayler, Managing Director of Ticketyboo, and James Bell, Environmental Consultant at FIRA.

Our industrial economy can be described as a series of massive conveyor belts (“Remaking the industrial economy“, McKinsey Quarterly, Feb 2014), sucking in raw materials and resources at one end, channelling them through manufacturing and production processes, often located in different geographies, pushing products into retail networks, where they are consumed, then discarded and replaced with surprising rapidity.  90% of all products are waste within 6 months of purchase.

Resources are increasingly limited, and ever more in demand, so their prices are rising, and volatile.  As well as increasing costs of supply, demands for resources are growing with three billion more middle-class consumers forecast  by 2030 (from a presentation by Dr Markus Zils, CEO Returnity Partners).  The linear, one-way production model is under increasing under strain.

A circular economy aims to recover and restore products and materials, eradicating waste.  This is not simply recycling,  when large amounts of embedded energy and value are lost, or efficient manufacturing processes, but systemic redesign to create a continuous flow of products and components.

Circular-Economy-Concept“The circular economy is a generic term for an economy that is regenerative by design. Materials flows are of two types, biological materials, designed to reenter the biosphere, and technical materials, designed to circulate with minimal loss of quality, in turn entraining the shift towards an economy ultimately powered by renewable energy.” The Ellen McArthur Foundation

The system diagram (pictured above, from the Ellen McArthur Foundation) illustrates the necessarily distinct paths of biological and technical components or nutrients.  Biological nutrients can easily return to the biosphere without depositing synthetic materials or toxins. Technical nutrients can continuously circulate in closed loop industrial cycles.  We have some way to go.  At the moment, in the fast-moving consumer goods industry roughly 80% of the $3.2 trillion worth of materials used each year is not recovered.

sthomas1To illustrate what that means, the toothbrush, that humble, innocuous aid to our daily routine uses 1.5 kg of material in its manufacture (see the slide from Sophie’s presentation, left). We replace our toothbrush every few months, so that is 6kg per person, per annum, just on toothbrushes.  Sophie Thomas, designer, co-founder of the Great Recovery, is on a mission to create more circular systems through good product design.  “Waste really is a design flaw” (Kate Krebbs, ANRC), quotes Sophie, and a Design Council report notes that about 80% of environmental costs are pre-determined during the product conception an design stage.

cc09a86259a7649b0ce694a3d5ac4650The Great Recovery project has sketched out four design models for a circular economy, represented by the multicoloured loops at the top of the page.  The inner loop is ‘design for longevity’.  Designing products that can be repaired or upgraded.,  Products that are well made and reliable so users have a strong emotional attachment, like your favourite pair of jeans.  If they are Nudie Jeans then you can get them repaired for free at Nudie Jeans Stores, or they can send you a repair kit free of charge.  If beyond the point of repair, then Nudie reuse them (and gives you 20% off a new pair), or recycle them.

20140531_WBP003_0The second (orange) loop is ‘design for leasing or service’.  Companies are constantly trying to deepen their relationship with us, urging us to register accounts, and sign up for newsletters. They might even speak of compelling customer service, but often still conceived as a linear consumption pattern.  But it is services, rather than the products themselves that we use, so voice calls, videos, hot water, and clean clothes rather than phones, tablets, boilers, and washing machines.  A service-based model changes the relationship.  The manufacturer owns the products, and materials (increasingly valuable assets), so keeping the value in the system.  Think Zip Car or Google’s vision for its driverless car,  Leasing products could allow for higher design specification.

1399989163490A02_ADEN_LargeThe third (yellow) loop is ‘design for re-use in manufacture’ where products are returned to the manufacturer for upgrade or new components.  These products are designed for disassembly via a reverse supply chain.  Two recent winners of the Furniture Makers’ Sustainability Award have taken responsibility for their products’ end of life to the heart of their businesses.  Senator International (2013 winners) and Orangebox (2012 winners, Aden chair pictured left), both suppliers to commercial clients, have their own dedicated recycling plants, and both target zero landfill.  Sometimes simple things, such as marking parts with a material identifier, means they can be recycled properly, other interventions require a more thorough design appraisal.  Good design means less material, more durable products, and less manufacturing time, easier to dissemble, repair and update.   What if legislation required producers to have responsibility for the end of life of their products?  When they don’t it is a cost to us all, directly, and indirectly to deal with the waste.

umbrellaThe outer (green) loop is fast-flowing products, such as packaging, that can be reprocessed (recycled) into new materials.  Designing with this in mind increases the value and ease of material recovery by reducing contamination.  For example a spray dispensing bottle made sole out of one type of plastic is easier to recycle than a bottle with multiple types of plastic and metal components.  Trying to recycle my child’s broken umbrella illustrates the challenge of mixed materials!

UnknownImprovements in technology and efficiency are central to more sustainable lifestyles, but there are other parts of the puzzle.  Mark Shayler challenges us think about our relationship with consumption.  Currently, around 80% of products are discarded after a single-use.  ‘Disposable’ products are a myth.  As Michael Braungart and  William McDonough, authors of “Cradle to Cradle: Re-Making the Way we Make Things, note the “away” in throw away does not really exist.  What is more, in spite of the fact that, we consume twice as much as we did in 1974, but we are not as happy.

206Shayler describes a transition from unconscious consumption to conscious consumption to conscious unconsumption, urging us to “buy right, buy once”.  For a revealing illustration of consumption in contemporary society visit the Victoria & Albert Museum to see the Prix Pictet, the global award in photography and sustainability.  I was captivated by Hong Hao’s My Things (pictured left), the result of daily scanning his consumed objects.

There is much to be said for moderation in all things.  This chimes with the first design model of longevity, through physical and emotional longevity, and the second loop of re-envisioned service-based business models.  There is value in the customer relationship.  What is more there are opportunities for companies to be champions through editing customer choice (removing unsustainable products), influencing customer choice through marketing messaging that reiterates a brand’s value, and production innovation.  Average, or ‘a bit less bad’ is not really an aspirational brand value.

And now I’m off to try and to upgrade and repair my laptop!

Image credit: Google, Hong Hao, Nudie Jeans, Orangebox

Related links:

Will Google’s self-driving pods spell the end of the road for car ownership? from the Guardian

Driverless cars: In the self-driving seat from The Economist

 

Grand Designs & Green Heroes

VW-218Any trip to Grand Designs Live starts with a stroll down the Design Arcade, and inevitably I linger at the Vintage Wonderland Chandeliers stand (E7).  The chandeliers are sourced from France, Belgium or Italy and then restored with skill, knowledge and a great deal of love.  Those that are beyond repair are reborn as drops and pendants on new bespoke work.  The chandeliers are rewired to conform to British standards and supplied with ceiling bell and chain.   Alison can also work to create something bespoke to match a client’s colour scheme.    They create a magical atmosphere in a room. This is upcycling at its most glamorous!

BnNUX2zIgAE8CsVA few strides further, Green Decore Rugs, is a riot of colourful rugs made from 90% recycled polypropylene plastic.  Prices start at £42 for a 120x150cm rug that could be used indoor, outdoor, at the park or on the beach.  The bold patterns would brighten any gathering.  I wonder where they get their colour?

nestHappily the Design Arcade is also the most direct route to Kevin McCloud’s Green Heroes.  This year the selection is influenced by McCloud’s most recent series on Channel 4, “Kevin’s Supersized Salvage”, in which designers are challenged to repurpose or upcycle an Airbus A320. The Aircraft Workshop, set up by Harry Dwyer and Charlie Waller after working on the programme, have their quirky bird nesting boxes on display.  The weatherproof Aircraft BirdBoxes (priced from £110, pictured left) are made out of air ducting pipework with back plates made from cabin flooring and an entrance from wing fuel pipe connectors.  The resin-fibre duct pipe can not be recycled an would otherwise be landfill.  I also like their egg cups at a more affordable £22!

01Making good use of the things that they find are TING. They rework leather belts to create a glossy, subtly textured surface material for floors, walls or table tops (pictured right).  The vintage belts, of high grade leather are stripped of buckles, hand cleaned and then carefully made up into panels that balance their pattern and colour.  And if customers should ever fancy a change, then TING will accept the tiles back to recycle them.

From the dark to the bright white panels from 3DWalldecor.  The panels are available in eight distinct patterns and made of bamboo pulp.  Bamboo is often lauded as eco-friendly as it is fast-growing and can be cultivated without pesticides.  The panels are modular, paintable, and bang on trend. 

lightThe eye-catching ceiling lights from Willem Heeffer are upcycled washing machine drums that have been powder coated in a choice of six subtle colours from light pink to slate grey.  The lights are 35cmhx 48cmd, priced 310 euros and supplied with 2m of fabric braided cable.  A literally more domestic take on the industrial look.

bedTaking centre stage is the ‘Eleanor’ bed from the Wrought Iron and Brass Bed Company.  This elegant bed is built to last, by hand in Norfolk from part recycled iron tube and scaffolding junctions. The ‘William’ in a raw metal finish is closer to its industrial roots.  Prices start at £855 for a single bed, and it would no doubt withstand a lot of energetic bouncing kids.

For outdoors, Thomas Bramwell are showcasing their ECOLLECTION of modular outdoor seating, loungers, tables and planters made from 100% up-cycled plastics.  The contemporary furniture is chemical, UV and heat resistant.  It would make a striking addition to an urban garden.

From furniture to foundations.  It is often the invisible elements of site design and construction that have the greatest environmental impact.  Screed is what binds a flooring finish to the substrate and incorporates other flooring elements such as acoustic insulation or underfloor heating.  Isocrete Green Screed, from Flowcrete UK, does not contain Ordinary Portland Cement (OPC).  OPCs are a common ingredient in concrete, but at a high carbon price, accounting for 90% of the construction industry’s Co2 emissions, and the cement industry accounts for 24.9% of global Co2 emissions (source the Materials Council).  Isocrete Green Screed is also made up of 40% recycled materials reclaimed from heavy industry, diverting the material from landfill.  A heavy duty product with a lighter tread.  

Groundshield is a self shuttering, lightweight foundation system from Swedish company, Advanced Foundation Technology Ltd.  It is a slab foundation technique based on expanded polystyrene that eliminates the need for screed and is thermally very efficient, so suitable for low energy and passivhaus buildings.  In this context the durability of polystyrene is a benefit!

IMG_3349Good insulation is essential for energy-efficiency in buildings, and Inno-THERM  (pictured right) is an insulation made from 85% recycled denim and cotton.  It is non-itch and does not contain any chemical irritants. It has low embodied energy as it uses 70% less energy in production than conventional inorganic insulation, and can be recycled at its end of life.  It has a thermal conductivity of 0.039 WmK and very effective acoustic performance. 

And finally, a by-product of a favourite fuel, coffee. Bio-bean collect waste coffee grounds sourced from coffee shops and instant coffee factories in the South-East.  London produces over 200,000 tonnes of waste coffee grounds annually, and it generally ends up in landfill.  Waste coffee grounds contain up to 20% oil by weight, and Bio-bean have patented a process to convert this oil to biodiesel that conforms to EU standards. The residual grounds are made into biomass pellets and briquettes which are carbon-neutral and suitable for all bio-mass boilers. Oh and they produce a coffee aroma when burnt.

Grand Designs Live 2014 is currently on at the London Excel centre until Sunday 11th May.

Image credits: Green Decore; TING; Vintage Wonderland Chandeliers and the rest are my own .

What a lot of bottle, a conversation @ Glass Lab

glDiana Simpson is in residence at 19 Greek Street, a multi-space gallery in London’s Soho dedicated to sustainability and experimentation in design.  Diana’s Glass Lab, turning ‘waste’ glass into tiles and surface materials, is the very embodiment of that ethos.  As a designer, Diana, is interested in the often overlooked value of waste as a resource, and its potential as a catalyst for localised systems of processing and transforming waste.

Waste Lab was a design response to the Mayor’s Business Waste Strategy as part of Diana’s MA Design Products at the RCA.  The report noted that only 52% of waste from the commercial and industrial sectors in London is reused, recycled or composted.  Glass Lab, the first Waste Lab initiative, provides an alternative waste disposal for small businesses.  Local waste, local collection, and local processing for local use.  To this end, Diana has collected glass bottles from within a one mile radius of the gallery and Soho offers a rich supply!

gl2Revealing the hidden treasure glass waste is less alchemy and more elbow grease.  The glass is sorted into different colours, blue, browns, clear, and shades of green to provide Diana with a richer colour palette.  The bottles are then steamed to clean and de-label them, before Diana gets to work with a hammer on the hard floor of the loft space at 19 Greek Street.  After breaking the glass into chunks, these are then ground into smaller granules in a pestle and mortar.

gl4The fragments are sieved through a variety of household appliances, into different grades offering different finishes.  The granules and fragments are mixed with a bio-resin, Super Sap, combining different colours and textures to create varied surface finishes.  Bigger pieces offer more transparency, and the sandy granules a more abrasive finish on the tiles.. Super Sap replaces petroleum-based with renewable materials from waste streams of other industrial processes, such as wood pulp and bio-fuels production. Super Sap uses less power and water in its manufacture and produces less harmful by-products than conventional epoxy resins.  Diana knows that using a bio-resin may limit the potential to recycle the tiles at the end of their life.  She opted for a binder to keep the process accessible to a local infrastructure, and conventional glass recycling is very energy intensive, as the glass has to be heated to around 1500 degrees celsius.

P1160849P1160866The mixture of bio-resin and glass is poured into a hexagonal mould to a depth of 10mm, before the tray is left to set at room temperature.

As well as tiles, Diana also produces hexagonal lights for use outdoors (pictured below) and is working on a number of bespoke pieces for commercial projects, including a bar counter top for a new private members club, The Library, and for bathrooms in a boutique hotel.  Glass Lab is making the transition from a conceptual design intervention in a gallery to commercial applications as a surface material.  Light bollard_1The project has attracted a lot of attention as part of the Sustain RCA Show and Awards 2013, and more recently at resource, as part of the SustainRCA exhibit showcasing their Awards and consultancy work for clients demonstrating the circular economy. Let’s hope the interest turns into tangible efforts to replicate Glass Lab in other locations, with other materials and communities.  For the moment in Soho at least there are designers, a rich supply of and healthy demand for glass products!

imageDiana hopes to apply the Waste Lab concept to other materials, recognising that waste has different identities, and poses different challenges, in different geographies.  She is already working with Sudha Kheterpal, an internationally renowned percussionist, to take musical instruments that produce clean energy when played into areas with little or no electricity.  Playing the shaker (pictured right) will generate enough electricity to power an LED light or charge up a mobile phone, vital for people living in remote villages.  A prototype shaker, ‘SPARK’, has just been tested in Kenya, and a Kickstarter campaign follows later this spring.  Keep your eyes peeled for more news about ShakeYourPower.

In the meantime,I only hope that the imminent arrival of a glass crusher brings the price point for the tiles below £200 per sq metre, as I would leap at the chance for a set of Glass Lab tiles for my bathroom.

Photocredits: Diana Simpson, my own.

 

 

 

Revamp complete!

chairsAfter many hours of elbow grease, painting, and waxing, I was delighted to finish revamping the interiors of two flats for a private landlord.  It was a first for us both.  As a rental flat, there were budget tight constraints for me, and for the landlord it was an experiment to furnish the flats with a lower impact, at a similar cost to the conventional alternative.

The landlord had some chairs from former tenants, an Italian restaurant that had closed, and another who was downsizing.  The chairs are in perfectly good condition, just a bit too country house kitchen for a city flat pitched at young professionals or couples.  You can find similar at secondhand furnitures shops, or at your local furniture reuse and recycling centre.  The Furniture Re-use Network is a national body supporting charitable re-use organisations across the UK.  Re-use enterprises combine social and environmental aims.  Typically, they collect unwanted furniture or domestic appliances that are then refurbished providing work opportunities and training for the socially excluded, and helping people in need turn a house into a home by providing affordable furnishings.  Every year the sector re-uses 2.6 million items of furniture and electrical equipment and diverts 90,000 tonnes of waste from landfill.  Anyone can donate or find furniture via the network.

Look for pieces that are solid, in good working order, and whose basic shape you like, then you make it your own.  I selected a set of chairs for each flat and set to work sanding where necessary, painting and waxing.  The chalk paint from Annie Sloan has a smooth, matt finish and can be used on almost any surface from wood to plastic, inside and outside without much preparation.  It is low odour and low VOC (volatile organic compound).  It dries fairly fast, so you can apply a second or third coat without too much delay, before sealing the paint with soft wax.  The Annie Sloan website has a series of short video tutorials, or you can contact your local stockist to ask about workshops.  We sourced a drop-leaf table and some bedside tables from Sunbury Antiques market.

cranhurstThe bedside tables were treated to a livery of Annie Sloan paint on the sides, sanding and clear Auro matt varnish on the front to accentuate the grain of the veneer, and decoupage.  The Auro varnish is environmentally-friendly and free of solvents.  It has a milky colour when you apply it, but dries clear.  I used an off cut of a favourite fabric to cover the top of the bedside table, using Auro universal adhesive, a natural latex milk adhesive, and then a few coats of the matt varnish to seal the fabric.  I used the same fabric, Carnival, from Christopher Farr,  to soften the black faux-leather headboard.  The fresh, exuberant print of pomegranates in blue and green on the fabric gave the room a focal point making economical use of an off cut and staple gun.

Beeld-handle-4Another trick to quick refresh a cupboard or set of drawers is to change the handles.  These leather handles (pictured left) from Nu Interiuer Ontwerp were featured in the March issue of Elle Decoration.  Simple, elegant and available in four colours.  Chloe Alberry, on Portobello Road and online, has an encyclopaedic range of handles in glass, wood, ceramic and other materials.

If you are daunted by the thought of DIY then look for a course in furniture painting or restoration at your local adult education college.  In London, the Goodlife Centre runs a range of courses in upholstery, furniture restoration and painting that are said to be “Suitable for absolute beginners. Enjoyable for everyone.”  Maybe a Mother’s Day treat for someone?

WWT-21_largeOr if you like the look, but not the effort, then three of my favourite up-cycling ventures in the south of England are Out of the Dark, Xylo Furniture and the Restoration Station.  The sleek monochrome matt finish of this drop-leaf table from Xylo Furniture (right, £280) highlights the craftsmanship of  the beautifully shaped legs, but brings it bang up to date.  As well as working on their own stock, Out of the Dark can also work on yours.  The OOTD team can refresh an heirloom so it sits more comfortably in a contemporary home, or repair wooden and upholstered furniture.  Restoration Station also take commissions. So bring a little spring zing into your home.

Photo credits:  Nu Interiuer, Xylo Furniture

As good as new drawers please!

prepMy eldest daughter is almost able to dress herself, and to incentivise her to put the clothes away as neatly as she puts them on, I gave this mid-century dressing table a facelift.

We bought the Uniflex dressing table, along with a couple of bedside tables at Sunbury Antiques Market.  The dressing table had been in the sun, and the varnish had turned a fairly unattractive yellow.  A through sanding revealed the  fantastic colour and grain of the walnut veneer.  It took an afternoon of elbow grease in the garden to sand the dressing table down.   Then all that was needed was a few of coats in a matt varnish in the kitchen (out of the rain)  once the kids were in bed.  I used the Auro matt varnish, which is water-thinned, free of solvents and wood preservatives and made of environmentally friendly raw materials such as linseed and rapeseed oils.  I shall spare you a full list of ingredients, but safe to say my daughter’s bedroom is not the place for VOCs (volatile organic compounds).

brushMy tool for the job was a professional quality Ecoezee 2 inch paint brush.  The brushes handles are made from bamboo, which is lighter than oak, highly durable and a fast growing, sustainable natural resource.  The brush filaments are a mix of recycled natural and synthetic bristle designed to work well with all paint types (I can vouch for varnish and chalk paint so far).  The ferrule (the band attaching the filament to the brush) is made from recycled stainless steel.  The packaging is recycled cardboard and a donation is made to rainforest conservation for every brush sold.  The brushes are widely available from Travis Perkins as well as other retailers, such as the Eco Home Centre.

desk

We are all impressed with the results.  The dressing table is now full of my 3 and 3/4 year old’s essentials, including cress seeds germinating in eggs shells in the cupboard before the rest of her t-shirts are moved in!