The Air Travel Dilemma

Design & Technology

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So the other day I was asked to calculate how many square kilometres of woodland would be required to provide enough biofuel to run an Airbus A380 plane for 24hrs. Obviously some assumptions/estimations had to be made but it worked out to be one square kilometre per plane. It may not seem like that much but considering there are an average of 93,000 flights a day, you would need an area of woodland larger than the whole of Scotland to fuel all the planes in the world for just one day. Doing this calculation really highlighted to me the excessive amount of fuel that is used to power our flight industry. Just one return flight from London to New York produces a greater carbon footprint than a whole year’s personal allowance needed to keep the climate safe. That is terrifying. 

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The detrimental impact planes are having on our climate makes air travel seem like something one should avoid at all costs. In terms of emissions this is true and as someone who is very environmentally conscious I should never even consider flying. However, I’m going to be honest with you, I often find myself on a flight, I was on 8 last year alone. This is because unfortunately my other passion of travelling can conflict with my environmental views. I am not against flights as I believe they have lead to us having a more connected world. It is so easy now a days for people to travel across the world. I think that is something amazing and it should be celebrated. We are able to experience different cultures at the click of a button by simply booking flights online. The world is literally at our fingertips. 

This accessibility brings so many benefits including helping to build our global community on both a social and political level. Affordable flights also give people the opportunity to escape from their everyday lives to see a new place and experience a different climate. This can be really good for mental health, especially when living in Scotland where it can be dark and grey for months. 

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The key thing here, as with many things, is moderation. I don’t think we should be overwhelmed by guilt simply because we want to escape to the sun for a wee holiday now and then. The two main sources of unnecessary flights, in my opinion, are business and domestic flights. Business men and women can find themselves going on flights weekly or, in some extreme cases, even daily. This is excessive to say the least. Thankfully alternative approaches like Skype meetings are becoming increasingly popular. I am hoping business flights will reduce over time as it saves the company expenses if they don’t have to pay to fly out their employees to meetings. 

Domestic flights on the other hand are in increasing popularity. The main reason for this is that ‘greener’ methods of transport like trains are often more expensive than flying. I find this so frustrating. A classic example is Glasgow to London. I have had to make that journey a number of times and have often discovered that flying is significantly cheaper than getting the train. Obviously people are going to choose the cheapest option and as a result people are taking short flights all around the UK. If train/ferry/bus travel isn’t made cheaper then I worry in the future we are going to look at flying as the preferred travel method. The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research says we need to cut emissions by 90% by 2050 in order to keep our climate safe. If the flight industry continues to grow we have no chance of achieving this.

So I guess my view on flights is rather mixed. I wouldn’t say I am totally against flying, but when you are next planning a trip, have a look to see if there is an alternative way to travel to your destination.

L.C. Tiffany

Great Design

I think an important trait of ‘great design’ is the ability for a product to withstand time. Over the decades, many products have surfaced, had a period of popularity and then been discarded as tastes have evolved. For a product to still be appreciated hundreds of years after it was first introduced is something I find truly fascinating. Although designed over 130 years ago, Tiffany lamps continue to have a place in the home today.

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These beautiful statement lamps were designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany in the late 19th century. Tiffany started out as a painter before branching out into interior design. His interiors, often featuring stain glass windows, lead him to become very successful and he even designed for The White House. In the 1890s, Tiffany decided to focus on designing lamps which would champion his stain glass aesthetic. It’s worth noting at this point that Tiffany came from an exceptionally wealthy background. His father founded Tiffany & Co who’s designer jewellery I’m sure you’re familiar with. Growing up in a rather lavish lifestyle had a notable influence on his work and can be seen in the intricately detailed lamps he designed. He had a great appreciation of the arts and crafts movement and it’s fine craftsmanship which led him to create these beautifully crafted pieces. 

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The form of the lamps is very organic which clearly reflects his main inspiration – nature. The dragonfly lamp in particular is one of my favourite designs, I love the blue colour palette that is reflected in his glasswork. The iridescent finish of Tiffany’s work is what makes his lamps truly unique. His trademark ‘Favrile glass’ was created through a unique process involving exposing molten glass to a combination of vapours and metal oxides. This glass texture was developed to imitate glass natural stones such as agate.

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Tiffany was a part of the ‘aesthetic movement’ and that is very clear in his lighting designs. I think that’s what makes his lamps so timeless, they are just so classically beautiful that they haven’t been affected by the changes in style over the decades. The influence of nature played a big part in this, the natural environment isn’t something that goes out of fashion.

Unfortunately if you are now keen to get your hands on one of these stunning lamps, you better start saving. Original Tiffany lamps can be extortionate, costing thousands and in some special cases selling at auction for over a million. This kind of price is just unrealistic for the common person. I guess one way of looking at it is most people who own an original Tiffany lamp have had it in their families for generations. It’s the kind of object you would put in your will, intended for your next of kin to inherit.

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Tiffany lamps are, in my opinion, exemplary examples of design. As much as my environmental side is questioning the necessity of these lamps and why their price is so high, I can’t help but be in awe of their undeniable beauty. They are the kind of objects that bring many people real joy to look at and I think that is an important feature of great design.

Blood in the Mobile

Design & Technology

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Mobile phones have become an essential part of modern living. You will most likely own one, along with a range of other electronic devices. Maybe I’m naive but I would not expect my phone to be directly linked to war and conflict. I would have assumed that humanity wouldn’t have allowed for such a popular product to be responsible for the rape and deaths of millions of people. Unfortunately I was wrong. After watching the documentary ‘Blood in the Mobile’, I struggled to pick up my phone without feeling like there was blood on my hands.

Some of the precious metals that our phones rely on to function are only available in the Congo. The popularity of these metals has played a big part in funding the bloody conflict there. Armed groups are running mines hidden deep in the jungle that can only be described as hellish. Children as young as 12 are working 100 metres underground in horrendous conditions to source the metals we require for our phones. Since when did being able to scroll down our facebook feeds become more important than the wellbeing of a child. Something has gone horribly wrong. I won’t go into too much detail into the situation in the Congo as I highly recommend you watch the documentary yourself. I’m going to warn you, it’s not a pleasant watch but I think it’s very important that we are all aware of what is going on. It’s shocking how little media coverage this situation has.

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What frustrated me the most when watching the documentary was how poorly the mobile industry came across. Nokia, a company that publicly advocates social responsibility, was contacted numerous times to ask if they used any ‘blood’ minerals in their mobiles. It was insane how hard it was to communicate with them, constant excuses were given before eventually they spoke. It’s worth mentioning now that the documentary was made in 2011. The situation in the Congo had been known for a decade at this point, yet Nokia had no proof that they had made any progress in tackling the issue. 

The shots of the Nokia headquarters, filled with corporate suited men and women was a sharp contrast to the previous shots of children working in dark mines. The Nokia employees were in an entirely different world. When they spoke with apparent sincerity about their concerns over the issue and how they were taking it very seriously, it was hard to not think that they were so ignorant about the reality of what was happening. I’m sure they did feel bad about the story they were told of the young boy that was working in the mines, but it was as if they weren’t actually taking into account he was as human as they were.

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Obviously I am aware that ensuring there is no trace of blood minerals in Nokia’s phones was very tricky. There are so many different parties involved and the supply chain is confusing and hard to keep track of. However, a progressive step that was suggested to Nokia was to publish all of their supply chains. Making their supply chains transparent would assist in identifying where their materials were coming from. Nokia’s response to this suggestions is what left me in complete despair after watching the documentary. Basically they refused to publish this information because their competitors would see it and may catch on to their new technology development. I was honestly at a loss when I heard this. Consumerism has gone way too far. What has happened to compassion, how can a company be so cold hearted. Releasing this documentation would save so many lives, I don’t understand how that has just been put aside, money being a much higher priority than human lives.

When the documentary finished I honestly didn’t know what to say. I was so deeply saddened by what I had seen. I honestly had less faith in humanity. However after I’d had enough time to let it sink in, I did start to think about how there must be a way to help this situation. The documentary has a rather negative view, leaving you thinking the whole thing is a lost cause. I refused to believe that there is no way to stop blood minerals from always being in our mobiles. I am not willing to just accept it. 

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Big corporations like Nokia are very powerful and have the potential to have a huge influence on situations like what is happening in the Congo. But if they aren’t taking action then what do we do? How do we, as consumers, make a difference? The answer is simple. Consumers must demand change. The true power is in the consumer, we are who buy their products and if we refused to buy blood minerals then phone companies would be forced to make the necessary changes so that they can offer us conflict free products. 

However, the sad fact is people aren’t going to stop buying electronic devices in protest about blood minerals. As much as I’d like to say I would, we live in a society where we are way too reliant on our phones and laptops to make that sacrifice. This makes me really sad, I wish it wasn’t the case. I do believe that most people do care about the wellbeing of others and that’s why I think it is so important to raise awareness of this situation. The documentary was made 8 years ago, yet I saw it for the first time the other day. I’m sure I’m not the only one in this position. I think raising awareness is an easy step that can be taken without having to tackle our consumerism based society which in my view is what is preventing any real progress being made.

Some improvements in awareness have be made. In 2012, the SEC issued a rule requiring that companies disclose whether their products contain conflict minerals that are “necessary to the functionality or production” of their products. There are flaws in this, for example supply chains are always changing to an extent that it’s impossible to keep track to ensure that they remain conflict free. However, it’s a step in the right direction. We just need to be taking much bigger steps! 

Less, but Better

Design & Technology, Planned Obsolescence

Dieter Rams’ ten principles of good design are like the ten commandments of the design world. They have influenced the work of many young designers and are still as relevant as they were 50 years ago. The 10th principle arguably represents Rams’ design philosophy the most. “Good design is as little design as possible”. Unobtrusive design is something that Rams’ believes is very important. A product should simply disappear into the background and only have the necessary components for it to serve its purpose. Some people have described Rams’ work as ‘no design’ and although that may seem offensive, Rams takes pride in it. His products have an aesthetic sensibility that makes them very easy to understand. If you look at the Braun RT20 radio, designed by Rams in the 1960s, you can tell what the function of the product is instantly. You often don’t need to look at an instructions manual to be able to operate one of these products. I think this approach to design is brilliant as it leads to universal products that everyone can use. 

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The idea of ‘no design’ is a hard concept to comprehend as a designer. Although Rams’ pushes forward this idea of as little design as possible, this doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been a lot of hard work and consideration into each of his products. Rams’ is the definition of a perfectionist and every detail in his designs has been meticulously studied and adjusted until they are ‘just right’. It is a well known fact that it is much more difficult to take away from design that to add to it. So the simple, minimalist designs that Rams’ has created may look effortless but in reality they are the results of endless hours of tenuous work.

Following his 10th principle, Dieter Rams often uses the phrase “less, but better” to describe his design philosophy. This ideology can be seen in the 606 universal shelving system he designed for Vitsoe. He described this system as “good english butter”, it’s always available but not intrusive. The idea of creating products that are reliable and long lasting but happily sit in the background just serving their function is something Rams strives for in his designs. This “no fuss” attitude has lead to his designs being timeless as the era that they were designed in have not managed to make a mark on his products.

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I have mixed views on this minimalist approach. I feel that Rams designs can lack personality and have quite a utilitarian aesthetic. Some products should be unobtrusive and belong in the background, but I would argue that it is also important to have products that have a story to them and celebrate their history. However from an environmental point of view, the timeless aesthetic of Rams’ designs has its benefits. The constant changes in styles and trends don’t have an effect on his designs and this prevents people from throwing away his products as they never go out out fashion.

Beyond Rams’ simple aesthetic choices, I couldn’t agree more with his design philosophy, especially when it comes to his views on sustainability. He is very passionate about designing products to last a lifetime and this is very clearly put across in Vitsoe. Although the price tag associated with his work can be exceptionally high, these products are intended to be passed on through generations. They are all designed to be easily repaired and individual parts can be replaced if they wear out.

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As I said before, Dieter Rams has had a huge influence over the design industry. Apple is arguably the biggest impact Rams’ aesthetic style has had in the modern day. There is an undeniable similarity in the aesthetic between Rams’ work and Apple products, especially their earlier work. For example, the iPod is clearly inspired from the 1958 T3 radio Rams’ designed at Braun. Jony Ive, the chief design officer at Apple, has been very open about Dieter Rams being his inspiration for many design decisions. What’s interesting is although Rams’ has said he takes this influence as a compliment, there is an unspoken tension. As a modern technology company, Apple has built its success on the reliance of planned obsolescence. This fundamentally contradicts Rams’ principles of good design. This could be considered rather controversial as Ram has unintentionally encouraged a company to use his aesthetic choices to make a huge profit, solely based on their products not being long-lasting.

Rams makes his thoughts on consumerism very clear. He recently declared that “”If I had to do it over again, I would not want to be a designer.” I think Rams is fearing that his initial intentions have been lost in our consumerism based society. He worries that he has indirectly inspired this materialistic approach and lack of consideration for sustainability. This is a concern I often have myself as a young designer. I don’t want to get caught into this idea of designing products to break in order to make money. I really do sympathise with Rams’ dilemma, he didn’t intend to encourage consumerism. It is very difficult to be a designer today without being tainted by the profit driven industry that has been established.

Air Conditioning

Great Design

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Walking down the street in peak summer temperatures, you will often find yourself escaping the heat by side stepping into a shop or public building. The cool air in these spaces isn’t there by chance. Although often visually disguised and forgotten, air conditioning is something we often rely on and you may not realise how big an impact its invention has had on our lifestyles, architecture and even demographic globally.

Initially air conditioning wasn’t designed for people, it was designed for paper. In 1902, a young engineer, Willis Carrier was asked by a printing company in New York to design a system to help dry ink in the heat. The humidity levels in their factory were causing issues when they were printing in colour because each colour had to be printed separately and the paper would warp in between, causing misalignment. Carrier developed a machine that circulated the air over cooled coils, maintaining a constant humidity level. This was a great success. However, this cooled printing room was not only helping the printing process, workers started spending their lunch breaks there, enjoying an escape from the humid heat.

By 1906, Carrier started to realise the potential for his new machine and seeked out new customers that would benefit from its cooling capabilities. During the summer months, movie theatres were really struggling to make any business. Imagine a room with no windows and lots of people crammed inside, theatres were the last place you’d want to be on a hot summers day. Carrier sold his machine to theatres across the country and this is the first indication of how much influence air conditioning could have. Now that theatres were nice and cool, they became the first place you’d want to be on a hot summers day. Advertisements were put out with images of people sitting in their coats with icicles hanging off them, enticing customers to escape the heat and enjoy a film. Thanks to air conditioning, theatres were now booming with business in the summer and this is when the tradition of the summer blockbuster was born.

Originally, buildings were designed around the climate they were built in, known as vernacular architecture. Buildings in a hot climate were built with thick walls and windows facing away from the sun, with outdoor courtyards and corridors incorporated into the floor plan to allow cold air to flow through the space. However, after air conditioning started to expand beyond cinemas and into a wide range of public and private buildings, this approach to architecture was put aside. Huge skyscrapers, encased in glass windows, started to rise in places like Dubai. The idea of central courtyards were abandoned and without the need for windows to provide cool air, rooms formed deep inside buildings, with no sign of natural light. Without air conditioning, these types of buildings would be uninhabitable in the heat. We could now control the climate inside and this removed the need for vernacular architecture. Cities across the world, in a variety of climates, started to look very similar. Traditional buildings for specific cultures were dying out. It could be argued that air conditioning was responsible for completely transforming the architecture of our cities today. It is fascinating that something that was originally designed to dry ink had the capability to completely change architecture on a global scale.

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The transformation of architecture isn’t the only big impact the invention of air conditioning had. In America, the hotter southern states were now more inhabitable thanks to air conditioning. This resulted in a big shift in the population between states, inevitably impacting voting patterns. Now that is was more pleasant to live there, a large amount of conservative retirees moved to the south. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president and some say his success is thanks to air conditioning causing the migration of ‘votes’ from the north to the south. It is hard to comprehend how a relatively simple invention had such a huge impact on a political level.

Air conditioning should definitely be considered to be great design. Its invention has had a positive impact on many sectors. It is beneficial to health, with lower mortality rates during heat waves. Exam results are higher in cases where students are working in cooled rooms. There is a proven relationship between keeping cool and productivity. Air conditioning in offices has lead to much higher productivity rates. It has also allowed people to live comfortably in hotter climates which has increased the amount of land available for housing, always welcome in a growing population.

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It’s not all good news though, there are some issues developing with air conditioning. Firstly, it’s worth considering the fact that in order to make inside cooler, you make outside hotter. This has resulted in actually increasing the outdoor temperature. A recent study found that the night time temperature in Phoenix, Arizona increased by 2 degrees thanks to air conditioning units. However the biggest problem associated with air conditioning is the amount of power required to run the units. Although the units are becoming more efficient, the scale of the problem is too high. 75% of homes in America use air conditioning. The electricity powering these units is often reliant on the burning of fossil fuels which has a huge carbon footprint. We have actually trapped ourselves in a corner here as there are now so many buildings world-wide that we are completely dependant on air conditioning. So it is difficult to reduce the environmental impact it is having.

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The original design of air conditioning was not intended for such large scale applications and it’s starting to catch up with us. So what can we do? The development of ‘greener’ technology has allowed air conditioning to become more efficient so I guess one approach would be to continue to improve the design to minimise environmental impact. However, I think it’s worth looking at embracing some aspects of vernacular architecture in our future designs. Simple changes, such as the way a building is angled to create shade, can make a huge difference. I’m not saying we should abandon air conditioning completely, but I think there are ways we can reduce our reliance on it through thoughtful design.

Mass Production

Design & Technology, Planned Obsolescence

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During the war, countless factories were built, and with advancing technologies, war machinery was able to be mass produced. Once the war had ended, these factories were quickly snatched up and converted to serve the consumer community. Products could now be mass produced and this was something that sparked the interest of a lot of designers, including the husband and wife team, Charles and Ray Eames. The couple had set up the Eames office in 1943 with the intention of working with a new material (plywood) to build chairs, but due to the war they started designing plywood leg splints instead. When the war had ended they could continue to develop their chairs, designing them to be easily mass produced. “We want to make the best for the most for the least.” was their mission statement and the result was their iconic chair design, something that has had a great influence over modern design for many decades, even to this day.

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The Eames chair was one of the first designer pieces of furniture that was affordable to the general population. This was because mass production allowed products to be produced cheaply which meant they could be sold at a lower price. This was a game-changer for designers as they now had the opportunity to make more of their products which could reach a much wider audience than before. Unfortunately this is not the only motivation for mass production. A big incentive was the amount of profit that could be made due to lower manufacturing costs.

The iconic Eames chair is a positive outcome from introduction of mass production, with the general population being able to access products that were originally unaffordable. Unfortunately the low cost of mass production was exploited by manufacturers and low quality, cheap throw away products started to fill the shelves.

The overall economy in America grew by 37% and the ‘make do and mend’ culture during the war was abandoned, replaced by a need for ‘new’ products and gadgets. People were making more money and as a result buying more things. This was great for the economy at first, the consumer was playing ball, buying into all the great (or not so great) products that were being released and promoted through advertisements. However eventually the amount of products being produced grew beyond the consumer demand leading to overproduction and an economic crisis. It was at this point that the method of planned obsolescence was put in place. This involved designing things with a limited lifetime which allowed manufacturers to manipulate the way the consumers were spending, making them replace or upgrade the same type of product frequently.

Obviously at this point I can’t help point out how bad an idea this was. The concept of designing to fail really triggers me. The birth of planned obsolescence after world war 2 has led to the throw away culture we have today. And I’m sure you are aware of the environmental issues associated with that. 

Mass production is something that most designers rely on today. It definitely has its benefits, as seen in the Eames case, as it is much easier to make mass produced products affordable. However, unfortunately it has also caught the eye of greedy manufacturers, who have seen the opportunity to make more and more money by forcing large quantities of unnecessary, short-lived products on the consumer. With an environmental crisis on our hands, maybe it’s time we reconsidered our throwaway culture. It isn’t environmentally or financially sound for us to be investing our money in products that are designed to fail.

 

Kintsugi

Great Design

We live in such a throwaway culture these days, if something breaks it is instantly considered useless and we simply discard it. There is a lack of respect and care towards our belongings, we are never satisfied and always looking to buy something new. I really disagree with this attitude and believe we need to view more of our belongings as lifetime objects that can be passed on to the next generations. We need to reduce the waste the human race generates which is polluting our environment. Sometimes looking back in history can teach us important lessons that will help us to protect the future of our planet.

Originating in the 15th century, the Japanese art of Kintsugi, highlights the importance of not only repairing objects but using it as an opportunity to enhance them. This technique involves using lacquer mixed with powdered gold to repair broken pottery. The lacquer is used to bond the broke pieces back together, with the gold making the cracks aesthetically pleasing. The practice is linked to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi which is all about seeing the beauty in flaws and imperfections. Kintsugi is all about emphasising the cracks rather than trying to hide them. Often we wouldn’t want to display a broken object but in this case the scars of the object are accepted and even shown with pride.

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The irregular golden trails are unique for each piece as it is dependant on the way the object shattered which is entirely random and impossible to replicate. I think the idea of every piece having its own story and its history being on show like that is a beautiful concept. We have been living in society that pushes for perfection and measure success on this. We all have our scars and as this is slowly starting to become more accepted in modern society I don’t see why we can’t apply it to products as well.

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Another fascinating aspect to the practice of Kintsugi is the time and patience required. Instant gratification is something we all expect these days. Waiting isn’t something we have to do often with the development of modern technology. The lacquer used to bond the broken pieces together is very slow to cure. It is applied in layers, with each layer taking up to a month to dry. After all the layers are finally finished, the piece needs to be carefully sanded so that there is no discrepancy between the gold filler and the original piece. This is a hard and time-consuming process but the results are stunning. In most cases the object actually looks better with the addition of the gold than before it broke.

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I believe the important message from Kintsugi is that objects should be treasured and if they are damaged then they should be repaired in a thoughtful, beautiful way that embraces the scars that are left. You should buy an object with the intention of keeping it or passing it on to others, landfill should be avoided at all costs. In an attempt to reduce the waste we are creating I think we should change our perspective when it comes to the ownership of products. If we own something then we are responsible for it and should treat it with respect and not get caught into the idea that imperfections are a negative feature.

 

 

Patagonia

Design & Technology, Planned Obsolescence

The desire for well made products has grown as we realise that our current lifestyle, built on consumerism, is not sustainable and is having a detrimental impact on our environment.  Modern businesses promote the concept of a product being designed to be durable as if this is a new approach and you will often find yourself paying a premium for a ‘lifetime’ product. Ironically, in the past it would have been considered absurd to develop a product with any intention other than to make it last as long as possible.

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It is surprising how few companies actually run their business with the intent to create these ‘lifetime’ products. Patagonia is a great example, creating high quality products using sustainable materials and manufacturing techniques. The founder, Yvon Chouinard, set up the company in 1974 with the mission statement: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Patagonia was considered to embrace the green movement well before it was considered of great importance to most other businesses. The company has 4 core values: Quality, Integrity, Environmentalism and Not Bound by Convention. I think the fact they have managed to stick to these core values over the years is responsible for Patagonia’s great success.

Patagonia are involved in a number of environmental initiatives. One of their biggest initiatives is supporting the organisation called 1% for the Planet where they donate 1% of their revenue to environmental causes. Patagonia really push for product repair and recycling. Their Common Threads initiative was inspired by their determination to close the loop on the lifecycle of their products and embrace the cradle to cradle ideology. They offer to repair any clothing at a fair price and actively encourage their customers to sell or donate their clothing if it is no longer needed. If the product is worn beyond repair then Patagonia will recycle the clothing for you.

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It is often considered that making more environmentally conscious business decisions can have a negative affect on the financial success of a company. Patagonia have proven that to be an incorrect assumption. The clothing brand is thriving while maintaining its integrity and often breaking convention from a marketing point of view. Patagonia’s anti-consumerism, anti-growth and anti-materialistic views have resulted in some unusual business moves in the past. For example, their “Don’t buy this jacket” advertisement in 2011 consisted of an image of their best selling, R2 fleece sweater and the environmental cost of making it. This was a very risky move, they were asking consumers to think twice before buying their products. One would assume this would have a negative impact on sales but in contrary the ad had the opposite effect and sales increased dramatically. Some say this is because the ad attracted an environmentally conscious target market who were happy to support this anti-consumerism approach.

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The success of the ad in 2011 leads us on to the debate about growth and how the expansion of Patagonia as a business may contradict their fundamental beliefs. Although the individual environmental impact of each product is minimised, the overall footprint of the company is increasing as they grow. This is a serious dilemma that Patagonia faces. However it can be argued that although there are some negative environmental implications associated with the expansion of a business, a new wider audience can be reached to pass on their environmental message and inspire consumers to think about what they are buying.

If you are environmentally conscious and have been enticed by Patagonia’s core values for their brand, you may find yourself on their website with the intention of purchasing one of these lifetime products. However it quickly becomes apparent that you need to have access to a large amount of money. These quality products don’t come cheap, a standard coat comes at around £200, with some of the more luxurious coats reaching £750. This raises the issue that your income can prevent you from making environmentally conscious choices when purchasing a product.

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Patagonia follows some great core values and as a result has blossomed into an ethical, environmentally conscious business where many people would choose to shop to access high quality, eco-friendly products that could last generations. However, their wholesome intentions are potentially being tainted by their reliance on making a profit. This could put them at risk of losing sight of the initial beliefs that the business was built on. It is disappointing that many common people are unable to join this sustainable approach to consumerism simply because they cannot afford to do so.

Bombay Sapphire Distillery

Great Design

Connecting old and new buildings together can be a very tricky thing to pull off. I have seen, as I am sure you have to, many failed attempts of this popping up all over the UK. To achieve a successful integration of these two contrasting types of structures requires a very considerate design. In my opinion, the Bombay Sapphire Distillery in Hampshire, designed by the Heatherwick Studio, is a great example of how to do it well.

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The founder of the Heatherwick Studio, Thomas Heatherwick, is considered to be one of Britain’s most significant designers. He has been a part of many well known projects such as the New Routemaster bus and Rolling Bridge in London as well as projects further a field such as the Seed Cathedral in Shanghai. Heatherwick is known for his controversial design approach which has in some cases not been successful. For example, ‘B of the Bang’ which was a sculpture in Manchester had to be taken down when it started to fall apart and the Garden Bridge proposal (a pedestrian bridge over the River Thames) which was abandoned in 2017 after £37.4m of taxpayers money had all ready been spent.

However, on a more positive note, The Bombay Sapphire Distillery is one of my favourite Heatherwick projects. In 2010, Bombay Sapphire invited Heatherwick to design their headquarters, distillery and visitor centre. The project consisted of the renovation of a collection of derelict red brick buildings at Laverstoke Mill and the addition of glasshouses to host the plants that flavour the premium gin. The original buildings had been built up over 200 years, resulting in a sprawling maze covering the river below. In order to create a more simplified site, Heatherwick focussed on revealing the river once more and using it’s path to organise the layout. Although all of the grade 2 buildings were conserved, others were removed to allow the countryside views to be seen even from the heart of the site – depicted by a central courtyard. I think this is a lovely approach as it’s important to encompass a building’s surrounding scenery so that it is appreciated from various vantage points around the site.

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I am focussing on the main focal point of the project which is the sculptural glasshouses that appear to ‘grow’ out of the red stone buildings. The structures remind me of something you would see in a sci-fi film, but for some reason they seem to integrate really well with the older buildings that surround them. There are 2 separate glasshouses, one for tropical plants and the other for mediterranean plants, which allow the key botanical ingredients required for the gin to be grown on site. The glasshouses are constructed from 893 individually crafted pieces that are held in place by bronze-finished stainless steel framing with a total length of over a kilometre. According to Heatherwick, these unique structures are inspired from the “ambition and energy that the Georgians and Victorians had” who were responsible for the surrounding buildings. There is definitely an energy to these structures, the dynamic frames create a sense of movement. I really like how Heatherwick has considered the history of the site and has used this to influence the design of the glasshouses.

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What is really special about the design of these glasshouses is the fact that there is a strong emphasis on not only how sustainable the distilling process is but also the glasshouses themselves. Heatherwick worked with the Carbon Trust to include a number of sustainable design features that have resulted in the botanical distillery being the first facility in the drinks manufacturing industry to be awarded a BREEAM ‘outstanding’ rating for sustainability. The glasshouses are heated using hot air from the distillation process that is channeled from the older building through large pipes that are built into the metal framing. Heatherwick describes the link between the older building and the glasshouses as an “umbilical connection” which I think is really lovely analysis as the heat from the distillery is feeding in to the warm climate that is required for the plants to grow. The structures also have built in photovoltaic cells (solar cels) and a water turbine to generate electricity to provide power to the site. Electricity is also a generated using a biomass boiler which recycles the plant waste from the glasshouses. I really appreciate the circular approach that has been made when designing the site, using the sun, river and plants to provide power. 

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The self-sufficiency of the distillery is really clever and I love how Heatherwick has considered what opportunities there are from the distilling process to create an energy cycle. There’s something special about integrating a modern structure into a historic site which not only embraces the past but has an emphasis on the future as well. The glasshouses are not just a beautiful sculpture but also very practical and have some clever engineering incorporated into them. This site represents the fact that we shouldn’t forget our past but we should learn from it and make the necessary changes to create something that is not only pleasing to look at but also has a minimum carbon footprint and the ability to provide for itself.

V&A Dundee

Great Design

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Recently I was in Dundee visiting my sister and couldn’t resist checking out the V&A Museum. It only opened in September this year and is Scotland’s first design museum. It is considered to be an international centre of design for Scotland so I was excited to visit. Obviously there are exhibitions inside that I could talk for days about but this blog post is actually about the building itself.

There was an international competition for who would be responsible for designing this building to reconnect the city of Dundee with its waterfront. The winner was renowned award-winning Japanese architects Kengo Kuma & Associates. Kuma is also the architect who is responsible for designing the New National Stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The Japanese design influence is very evident in the shapes and materials used in the building and I can’t help being reminded of my visit to the Japanese House during the London Design Festival.

I was lucky enough to be visiting the V&A on a beautiful crisp day. As my sister likes to tell me frequently, Dundee is the sunniest city in Scotland and I have to say it was proving itself on this day. The clear blue skies created the perfect background for the contrasting geometric lines of the building. It was that perfect lighting for taking photos and I was in complete awe of the enormity of it all.

The form of the V&A is certainly unique, Kuma says it was inspired by the cliffs on Scotland’s north eastern coastline. The museum is built over the River Tay like the bow of a ship which acts as a reminder of the shipbuilding days in Dundee. I would say the most distinctive feature is the cladding. There are 2,466 panels that have been created using pre-cast reconstituted stone running horizontally around the building. What I was surprised to discover is that there are NO straight external walls. I thought the whole building was very angular and only after I discovered this was I able to appreciate the more organic form.

When entering the building, you walk through a modest entryway which opens up into an impressive space. The external cladding is mirrored internally here, this time made of wood rather than stone. This creates a warmer, more welcoming atmosphere suited for the interior. The ground floor consists of a cafe and shop with a staircase leading up to the exhibitions. What I found bizarre was the lack of windows, considering the museum was built on the banks of the River Tay with the potential for stunning views. However as I made my way up the stairs I discovered tiny hidden windows disguised among the cladding. These created perfect little snapshots of the view, almost like a picture frame. In a weird way the lack of windows actually made me appreciate the view more, the tiny windows taunting me with glimpses of the water. Walking up the staircase I was also able to get close to the panelling that lined the walls. I was distinctly reminded of shutter blinds when I looked up at the panels overlapping each other. I couldn’t resist the temptation to try and move them as they looked like they were on a hinge. However they didn’t budge and I was left looking like an idiot…

After wandering around the exhibitions I spent some time walking around the exterior of the building. Just to the left of the entrance there is a tunnel-like opening in the centre of the building. Walking through this space is a unique experience, the cladding surrounds you, reflecting in the water on either side of you to create an illusion. The triangular archway frames a view of the Tay Road Bridge. Again I must say I was lucky with the weather, I am sure the experience would have been rather different in horizontal rain, but the view was quite outstanding. 

Of course I can’t help adding in the fact that the museum uses renewable energy in the form of geothermal energy. That’s got the building some brownie points from me when considering the design. Thirty, 200m deep holes have been dug into the ground, with heat pumps installed on the roof. The pumps draw heat from the ground to provide heating for the building in winter. They also transfer excess heat from the building in summer down into the ground, not only cooling the building but also storing heat that can then be used in the next winter. I think it’s so important that any modern building should really consider it’s carbon footprint and it should be designed to minimise this as much as possible.

Although the form of the building could be considered quite intimidating with it’s strong, sharp edges, I have to say I really think it works well in it’s environment. The position and angle of every piece of the structure has been considered in a way that embraces the waterfront and creates these unique views. As a DESIGN museum, a lot of pressure is put on it to be well designed. I believe it has been successful in this. I love how the modern aesthetic still manages to encompass the heritage of the city and the nature surrounding it. As a design museum, I really think it’s important that it offers an experience and the V&A certainly does that.