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.

 

 

 

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Defending the rights of nature

RIGHTS-OF-NATURE_web_LOW-06_905 ‘The Rights of Nature and the Nature of Value’ was the last SustainRCA event of the season.  The speakers, chaired by Paul De Zylva from Friends of the Earth, framed a vital debate exploring the complexities of how and why we value and protect the natural environment.  The IPCC has just published its latest report, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability” asserting that  “Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts”. Climate change, in conjunction with changing habitats, over-exploitation, pollution and invasive species mean that a significant proportion of land and freshwater species “faces increased extinction risk under projected climate change during and beyond the 21st century.”   As for our marine species, climate change and loss of biodiversity will “challenge the sustained provision of fisheries productivity and other ecosystem services”   As the warnings become ever more stark, the debate becomes even more critical.

justwoodtablePippa Murray, designer and maker, was the first of four speakers at the SustainRCA event.  Pippa presented ‘Just Wood’ her final year project for her MA Design Products at the RCA.  For nine months Pippa was based in a 45 acre Cumbrian woodland, consisting mainly of British hardwoods, as an apprentice at Danny Frost Timber.  Pippa developed an adhesive free method for moulding greenwood shavings in an affordable batch process.  The greenwood shavings are a by-product of pruning the hardwood trees.  Pruning, or coppicing, is a traditional form of woodland management.  In contrast to mono crop woods that are clear-felled in twenty year cycles, hardwood trees play many different roles in their lifetime.  Writing about Britain’s ancient woodlands recently in the Financial Times, Matthew Wilson, managing director of Clifton Nurseries, noted that a single mature oak can host up to 25,000 individual animals.  Pippa hopes her process offers the potential to make good use of the 649,000 hectares of unmanaged woodland in England today. While pruning and reshaping the trees, Pippa was mindful that the impact of her actions will be revealed in 100 or 200 years time.  On a greater scale, Pippa’s reflections remind us that our interactions with nature have repercussions far beyond our own lifetime.  In closing, Pippa asked, “What is our generation leaving for the future?” 

Hopefully not the sound of the chainsaw that filled the theatre as Andrew Simms (author, nef Fellow, Global Witness) played a short cartoon highlighting financial ties between Arnold Schwarzenegger, former governor and climate champion, and tropical forestry companies, a number of whom were implicated in illegal logging.  It is a lighthearted look at a serious issue, not Schwarznegger’s reputation, but the impact of industrial logging, and the role of investment vehicles as intermediaries.  There has been much written about valuing nature’s resources and services, but this presents a paradox, Andrew reminds.  While something is invisible to the system unless it has a price, if you do price it, then it becomes vulnerable to the vagaries of short-term markets.  Nature becomes commoditized and its value reduced to its monetary price.  Yet, Andrew went on, orthodox pricing models fail as you can not put a price on civilisation.  What price for that last barrel of oil?  If monetary values are reductive, even to a Western model, then what alternatives are available for decision-making?

TJ Demos, UCL, while calling for full natural capital accounting as a means to end unsustainable resource exploitation, swiftly challenged us to look at the politics of ecology.  TJ presented works from a number of artists exploring the growing conflicts around ecology and climate change.  Red Ant Dream, directed by Sanjay Kak, and The Sovereign Forest, by Amar Kanwar, look at the impact of mining on the landscape and communities of Odisha (formerly Orissa), India.  Here the artists are protagonists and inquisitors challenging our socio-economic and political culture and its concept of value.

nef first published the Happy Planet Index in 2006.  The HPI measures which countries offer long, happy, sustainable lives for their people.  Small and island states perform best (the UK is ranked 41 out of 151 states).  While economic growth and development is often viewed in a vacuum, devoid of social, cultural, ecological or spiritual values, for many communities nature is central to their heritage.   Earth Law recognises that the Earth is the source of laws which govern life, something that many indigenous peoples and local communities have been practicing for centuries.  Earth law, earth jurisprudence, or wild law recognises the rights of nature , its right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.  In 2008, Ecuador became the first country to adopt Rights of Nature in its constitution.  This changes nature from an asset (that you can put a price on and offset) to an entity than can assume agency in a legal situation.

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Recognising the rights of nature changes our understanding of nature and the purpose of law and governance, from property-owner to trustee.  In this context, it is much harder to put a price on significant harm, as the final speaker, Polly Higgins,  environmental lawyer and author of Eradicating Ecocideargued so eloquently.  As Polly noted, we do not ask what price to put on child abuse, domestic violence or theft.  They are simply crimes.  Ecocide is, “the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.”  It is not a radical, dark green manifesto, it was included in the UN’s draft Code of Crimes Against the Peace and Security of Mankind and examined for 11 years as the fifth Crime Against Peace in the Rome Statute before being mysteriously shelved at the last minute in 1996.  Wish20 – Eradicating Ecocide is the global citizens campaign to create a global duty of care and end Ecocide by 2020.

A more holistic approach towards nature, environmental ethics and governance, is one of stewardship, where nature is not an asset to own, where the value of something is greater and more complex than its present monetary price tag.  In the context of SustainRCA, artists, designers and makers have a powerful role to play in envisioning a better world, challenging the status quo, and mediating a more sustainable social, cultural, environmental and economic compact.  Andrew ended with John Ruskin’s quote, “There is no wealth but life”, I shall add, Ai Weiwei, “Your own acts tell the world who you are and what kind of society you think it should be.”

Image credit: Eradicating Ecocide, Pippa Murray, SustainRCA

Discover craft at Heals

heals1It’s time to discover new craft at Heal’s Modern Craft Market, running in their London Tottenham Court Road store until Sunday.  With expert demonstrations and hands-on workshops of contemporary craft as well as the chance to pick up a unique design, it is a real opportunity to invest in  some of the most innovative craft makers of the moment, from as little as £9 for a limited edition pencil sharpener from Will Smith.

IMG_2695Heal’s has a long history of nurturing designers from its beginnings as bed-makers in 1810, to Ambrose Heal’s instrumental role in the Arts and Crafts movement supplying sound, well-designed furniture at reasonable prices, and more recently the Heal’s Discovers Design Competition.  Today the Modern Craft Market, in association with the Crafts Council and Contemporary Applied Arts brings work from a carefully edited selection of artisans using traditional and contemporary techniques, skill, innovative materials and often a wry sense of humour.

jleeChief among the pieces that caught my eye were Jungin Lee’s candlestick holders made from salt.  In a range of colours from spring green to candy pink are a passing joy that can be savoured in the moment, as with any celebration, and then dissolved after use.  Jungin Lee is part of the the WORKS collective, a group of Royal College of Art alumni formed in 2012.

prin2Fellow WORKS design talent Ariane Prin‘s pencils are made from the wood dust, graphite, clay and flour recovered from the floor and canteen of the RCA and compressed into pencils. The pencils are labelled “From Here for Here” as they are waste from various areas of the RCA recycled in a local pencil factory to supply drawing tools to students. The project, shortlisted for the RCA’s Sustain Award, connects making, materials, and product with their place, and environmental principles.  The picture shows the tool, surrounded by pencils arranged in a dial.

stoolAnother wonderful reincarnation courtesy of  WORKS designers are the Well Proven Stools,  from Marjan van Aubel and James Shaw.  Mindful that processing wood products normally incurs 50% to 80% timber wastage Aubel and Shaw looked for ways to recapture the value in that waste.  Mixing a bio-resin with waste shavings caused a chemical reaction resulting in the distinctive foaming wood, a lightweight material reinforced by the fibres in the hardwood shavings.  Aubel and Shaw mixed the porridge-like material with coloured dyes and found it could be easily moulded.  The resulting Well Proven chair was nominated for the Designs of the Year 2013 by the Design Museum.  The stools currently for sale in Heal’s are the next iteration of the Well Proven Chair.  Pairing the foaming wood with  elegant turned American Ash legs creates a partnership of two contrasting forms.  The stools are  available in a variety of heights and colours.

The stools from Ellen Thomas were another pretty place to perch, with their on-trend teal feet and decorative inlay.  Prices start at £220 for a small stool.  Nick Fraser’s witty take on candlestick holders made from brass fittings and pipework are useful objects with industrial form, fitting for more than bachelor pads.  There were also gorgeous woven accessories from Beatrice Larkin and Eleanor Pritchard and equally tactile, though not as cuddly, boiled leather moulded to make lampshades from Hoare and Brady.nest

Everybody needs a home, and for £20 many of us could joyfully accommodate a Bird House from Smith Matthias to provide a home for small British birds such as the tit family and tree sparrow.  The flat packed nesting box is designed to fit in an envelope through a letter box and for easy self-assembly.  The Bird Houses are available in a palette of colours that are kind on the eye.

Go discover, there are many delightful objects with their own story to tell!

Grow your own?

I have been catching up on my reading with a recent article in the FT Weekend, ‘The growing culture of living furniture‘ about bioengineering of living materials like fungus, moss or yeast and bacteria cultures, so the title is a play on words, oh and there is a joke about fungi….

But the content is noteworthy.  In 2012, Philip Ross, an artist and mycologist based in California teamed up with local carpenters to grow furniture from an engineered type of mushroom called linzghi and wood salvage.  Ross has also used the fast-growing fungi to create building bricks, Mycotecture.  The vegetative part of the fungi, mycelium, forms a fibrous, root-like network.  Once dried, the mycelium can be formed into a light, water, fire and mould-resistant bricks.  Like plaster or cement the fungi can be cast into any number of shapes.

Designers Marjan van Aubel and James Shaw have adopted another technique that makes use of the estimated 50-80% of material waste in traditional wooden furniture manufacturing, mixing wood shavings with a bio-resin.  The resulting substance can be dyed in a range of colours and finished with American Ash legs to create the Well Proven chair, which was nominated for the London Design Museum’s Designs of the Year Award 2013.

Other approaches are also revisiting the way we work with traditional materials like wood or hemp.  Arbofoam, made from lignin a wood extract, can be injection-moulded like plastic. Calligaris, the Italian Design house, has used a similar technique to mix polypropylene and natural fibres for the manufacture if its new stackable Skin chair.

Seaweed is not a material associated with the home environment, but designer Nir Meiri has fashioned the Marine Light series by layering wet seaweed over a metal lamp-shade structure and as the seaweed dries it hugs the form of the shade and the light casts through the translucent seaweed.

For scientists at University of Cambridge it is an often overlooked member of the plant world, moss, that has captured their attention as a potential source of electricity through biophotovoltaics.  The Moss table, which won the People’s Choice Design awards at the 2012 Design Icons exhibition in Cambridge, uses electrons formed as a byproduct of photosynthesis to produce a small current, only enough for a digital clock at the moment, but the designers believe it offers the potential for more.

And finally, the luffa, a natural smart material.  Luffa fibres form a complex cellulose network that is both light and extremely strong.  RCA student, Mauricio Affonso, has been exploring the potential of luffa as an alternative to synthetic materials in consumer products, so the shape of things to come could be very different.

luffa