Monday September 3, 2012
Change how you look at things
Story and photos by GRACE CHEN
Sustainable design is everywhere and in everyone, if only people will open up their hearts and minds.
A CUP that tracks your tea breaks. A new wind generator, born from the idea of a whirling sycamore seed, with the capacity to power 10,000 homes. A bicycle constructed completely of nylon and lifted almost entirely out of a printing machine....
Welcome to life in the future, as imagined by the British Council’s Everything Forever Now exhibition at Publika in Kuala Lumpur.
Don’t expect to see something out of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century. There’ll be no photon phasers or “Beam-me-up-Scotty” teleporters. No, the tagline here is “Design For A Sustainable Future” and it is one show that is guaranteed to get the brain juices flowing on how we can all contribute to a less wasteful lifestyle and a greener Earth.
First impressions seem unimpressive – and then the ingenuity of the designs hits you.
Take for example the Solar Sinter designed by German-born, London-based Markus Kayser. It is a device that harnesses sun rays to heat sand to melting point, turning it to glass. You can then form any shape you need with 3D designs from a CAD-CAM (computer aided design and manufacturing) system. The first prototype, a manually-operated model, was tested in the Moroccan desert in February last year. The current exhibited version, fully automated and computer driven, was completed this May and has spent two weeks in the Sahara desert. Progress is slow, with the system taking about six hours to manufacture a bowl.
But, looking deeper, it dawns on us that the 29-year-old product designer has found abundance in the inhospitable desert. In no man’s land where there is nothing but sun and sand, Kayser has seen the potential of vast energy and an almost unlimited supply of sand for glassware. The only thing to do now is to find a way to speed things up.
The message here is, “The resources are there if only you will look for them in a different way”.
The Aerogenerator by Grimshaw Architects and Wind Power Ltd takes a leaf from the term “thinking out of the box”. Inspired by the whirly movements of a sycamore seed and based on the wind turbine concept, it harnesses the tempestuous energy of sea winds.
According to Evonne Mackenzie, 31, project manager of the globe-trotting Everything Forever Now exhibition, the first machines should be ready by 2013 and may be located off the southern coast of Britain.
“Wind energy needn’t always be captured in an open field or atop a mountain. Here, they have looked at harnessing energy from the same source but in a different location,” says MacKenzie of the Aerogenerator.
The initial phase of this project has seen an investment of £2.8mil (RM13.8mil) from the Britain-based Energy Technologies Institute. Developed over a period of 18 months by a consortium of industrial partners, the rotations of the lifting blades – which measure the length of a container ship – are expected to generate some 10MW of electrical power when wind speeds reach 35km/h (22mph).
On a homier scale, there is the Pallet Project from Nina Tolstrup of London’s Studiomama. Following a brief in 2006 to stick to a budget of £10 (RM49.30) and to use materials within a 10km radius of her studio, Tolstrup stumbled across a pile of discarded wooden pallets and, with a few nails, turned them into chairs.
As to how sustainable these innovations will really be, there will always be the question of whether, for instance, the pallet chairs are comfy, if they might leave splinters in someone’s derriere or if the Aerogenerator will live up to its promise. But if we are serious about going green, then we have to understand there are no overnight solutions.
The process has to begin with the birth of ideas, and to drive that message home, sustainable and environmentally-friendly designs must permeate our surroundings.
“In the past, the mention of ‘environmental’ in design terms has always been linked to the trashy look with egg cartons and plastic bags. But here, we are showing that environmentally- friendly designs can be sexy, aspirational and ambitious,” says exhibition curator, Henrietta Thompson, 34.
In the Pallet Project, for example, Tolstrup has added the plushy element of cushions and lacquer to her chairs to address the splinter issue. And as a novel way to stretch resources, she got fellow artists to add their own unique touch to her chairs that were then auctioned to raise funds for charity.
Going greener still, Tolstrup does not manufacture the chairs herself. People who are interested in them can download instruction manuals from her website and make them themselves using locally-sourced materials, paving the way towards the beginnings of the self-sufficient community.
In another intriguing experiment, the Plastic Bottle Project teaches Saharawi refugees of Algeria how to turn strips from plastic mineral water bottles into haute couture jewellery. The idea came from Florie Salnot, a 28-year-old Parisian currently working as a design research associate at the Helen Hamlyn Centre, Royal College of Art, London.
By looking beyond the obvious, Salnot actually saw a “cheap and abundant” resource in the barren Algerian desert: the plastic water bottles that are now so globally ubiquitous that they even clutter up Mt Everest. The bottles are sprayed with paint and cut into strips that are then wound around a wooden nail board to form patterns. The whole thing is then submerged in hot sand – heated for free by the relentless sun! – to shrink the strips into shape. This is the sort of idea that makes people say, “Now, why didn’t I think of that?”
Everything Forever Now may not have the bells and whistles to make an audience ooh and aah. Instead, it turns our attention back to the basics of what is sustainable design.
Take the cup that tracks your tea breaks, for instance. The surface is treated to pick up tea or coffee stains in predetermined areas, resulting in the development of a pattern that will become more prominent over time. Quite a novel way to encourage the owner to hold on to the cup for as long as possible before it becomes another object in a landfill.
Or if you’re sick of that old Tupperware, why not turn it into a DIY camera? There’ll be no dials for shutter speed or aperture or even a lens to focus but you’ll experience the fun of raw pictures captured on film, just because you hung on to that old Tupperware....
We discovered a wonderful local expression of the exhibition’s message right there in Publika: One floor below the exhibition space on Publika Boulevard is Ben’s Independent Grocer and in its vegetable section where the salad greens are, butterhead lettuce sit in hydrophonic pods resting in a series of water pipes. The idea for this set up was purportedly mooted by one Alex Tan, 47, of CVS Fresh Vegetables.
Tan, who has 17 years of experience in the field, barely finished primary school but his idea has kept plenty of butterhead lettuce from ending up in the bin.
This just goes to show that sustainable design is everywhere and in everyone, if only people will open up their hearts and minds.
Everything Forever Now is on at Publika Boulevard (No.1, Jalan Dutamas 1, Solaris Dutamas, KL) until Sept 13. For more information, call 03-6207 9426.