Friday, 27 November 2009

buy nothing...

It may go against the grain given that we have very little shopping days until the seasonal festivities (or so the goggle box continually tells us) but tomorrow, Saturday the 28th November is National Buy Nothing Day.

I have written before about the perils of being a consumer, ethical or otherwise, and exactly how difficult it is to not consume anything.

Or is it?

With the fantastic slogan of 'shop less, live more' the wonderful website of BND encourages you to spend a day without spending and find other life enriching things to do instead. It even has an events section where you can go and spend a day with other people who are also not spending but doing something creative and nice.

Or stay inside and clear out the wardrobe to give to charity, go for a walk in the woods (or anywhere for that matter), bake a cake, visit a relative or neighbour (with the afore mentioned cake if you are really organised) or make something for someone for Christmas.

Once you put your mind to it, there are loads of things to do for free.

Enrich both your pocket and mind...and have fun in the process.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

green apples, fondant fancies and earl grey tea...

Have you ever done something and immediately forgotten about it as you never thought anything would arise from the seed?
I have.
But every now and again, something does spring up and makes you so happy your head goes light and excitement and pride fills your every thread of being.
And so it was with a section of our week - Tuesday was the day we were heading to London to pick up an award I never even thought we would be shortlisted for.
We were going to London to pick up our Green Apple 2009 for Environmental Best Practice.

This award was based on our efforts at the Royal Horticultural Society London Plant and Design Show in February 2009 - our little eco front garden - 'the electric urban orchard'.

So in true eco fashion and dressed in some of our finest, we boarded a Southern train and rolled up to London Victoria to attend the awards ceremony which was held at the awe inspiring House of Commons.
Once through the very intimidating security system, we wandered through sections of the House (occasionally interrupted by security personnel who asked if we knew where we were going - we didn't a lot of the time). At one point we ended up by the Parliamentary florist, who is housed in a bottom section of one of the gate arches, and I could not resist the urge to pop my head around the heavy oak door and ask further directions.

'If you get to the river, you have gone too far' was the reply, 'so turn left before you get there!'.
We did, and found where we were all congregating - a lovely little section next to the House alongside the River Thames.

Greeted with tea, sandwiches and cakes, we instantly regretted the horrible plastic offering we had bolted before we entered. But, so as not to be rude of course, we had a lovely cup of Earl Grey tea (with milk) and a couple of perfectly cut finger sandwiches and one of the tiny, Alice-in-wonderland style cakes. The looked beautiful and tasted even better.

Once we had all congregated, the awards began, and it was truly humbling hearing the size, scale and commitment of many of the projects who had also gained an award. We felt very proud yet as if we didn't deserve to be there.

One project had saved £750,000 and thousands of tons of CO2 by adapting a few changes, another organisation had planted 50,000 broad leaf trees and another had created a whole toad habitat in wales to prevent them needing to cross a main road.

It was incredible to see and hear about all of the inspiring projects, and it was fantastic when people also wanted to hear more about what we do at the office.
After we had been presented with our award, we did a little more networking and ate another posh sandwich or two, then wound our way back to the south coast with our Green Apple nestled in our bag.

Well done to everyone who was presented with an award and thank you to the Green Organisation for putting it all together. We met some wonderful people and came away inspired and enlivened by all of those we met.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Doug the third...

Meet our new addition to the family - Doug the Third.

He is not residing with us just yet, and is currently sitting in his field nestled in the Sussex High Weald, but come early December, we will trundle over to Hadlow Down to ceremoniously dig him up and bring him inside.

Yes, last weekend we went and picked out our 2009 Christmas tree at the fabulous Wilderness Woods.

A chilly day, and after rain (which always seems to happen, and I spend most of my time trying not to fall on my arse on the wet and compacted chestnut leaves), the sun was trying to shine and life was good. We wandered down the very beaten track to the tree field, joined by other families and dogs and passed through the (chestnut) rabbit gate and into the mass of spruce and fir.

The view is always stunning (I wrote about it last year here) but people really seem to have gone to town with their identification decorations this year. Tinsel, baubles, laminated signs, toy robins (I did worry about these, given that the real thing are so territorial), and other assorted highly visible bits and bobs adorn the trees - both to act as an indentification aid, and a sort of 'ownership personalisation' I suppose. We did not bring anything and just stuck to our tag and zippy tie instead.

There were a few contenders for Doug the Third this year, but ultimately we plumped for a beautiful fellow who stood slightly alone (very important when planning the logistics of digging him up), was the correct height and was well compacted. A real beauty.

It is very stupid, but I always feel a slight panic when in the field until we have got our tag secured around our Chosen One. What if I see a contender, then leave him only to return and find another tag on him? It feels like a race with everyone else in the field - who will get their perfect tree first?

Of course, this is all tosh, as all of the trees are beautiful in their own way, and there will be always a perfect example for every visitor. We even saw a most odd tree - about 12 foot tall, completely denuded from the ground up to about 4 foot high, with a mohican type crest of branches from then on. It was definitely a looker, and low and behold, had been reserved by a happy visitor.

We then had the task of finding and reserving a tree for my Mum and Dad ( a blue spruce this time - we prefer the Douglas Fir as they transplant well after Christmas). This was harder than finding ours, but after a little hunt, Bluey the Third was found.

And as we had spent out so much effort and energy, we had to award ourselves with tea and cake, so we sat in the pale afternoon sun on a bench under the trees eating Coffee and Walnut cake, Elderflower and Gooseberry cake (using locally made cordials and jams) and good old Sussex tea.

Whilst there, we sat and watched a children's party who were trooping off into the woods to build bivvies and cook sausages and marshmallows. I was very jealous and wished I was six once more.

So, with the woods full of whoops and shouts, and our tums full of home made wonders, we wandered home to cook chestnuts and look forward to December, safe in the knowledge that Doug the Third is sitting and waiting patiently for our return .

And yes, we listened to the Rat Pack Christmas album in the car there and back - singing at the tops of our voices out of my open window and into the chilly air.

Want your own locally grown tree? Contact these guys to see where you can find one near you...

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

component structures...

My last posting talked about 'touching the earth lightly' and some of the different forms this can take.

Components were one of the things that I highlighted - items that can be readily dismantled and remantled are excellent in many ways as they can reduce transportation costs as well as being adaptable. They can be re-used for different projects and therefore have a fantastic 'cradle to cradle' profile.

So it was with great joy that I watched James May's Toy Stories last night, which focused on upscaling and updating the age old toy, Meccano.

With (mostly) regular parts, James, Atkins Bridge Engineers and a handful of students from Liverpool University constructed a full size, single person tilting bridge - all from Meccano.

It was a wonderful watch, and demonstrated fantastically what can be built from little components and how component design has been utilised in the Industrial World.

And (I believe) the Meccano was to be stripped back down after the project.

Just a shame it is now made in France instead of Liverpool... it could have been a really local project.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

compostable structures...

Green architecture and design usually entail 'touching the earth lightly' in whichever form is relevant, be it a reduction in materials, using items which are local to the project, the utilisation of traditional techniques or the use of renewable energies and intelligent building / product form.

But life cycle analysis is also a highly important aspect of the design process - not only where does something come from, but how will it perform, last and eventually, end it's life? Can it be re-used? Can it be broken into components for re-use or recycling? Can it be composted?

Composted? I hear you cry. At the end of it's life, can we compost a building?

Well, some architecture students have been very busy trying to find out how.

The result (in my opinion) is absolutely beautiful.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Iconic Monday...

'Design icon' is a phrase that is bantered about far too often for my liking, but tends to relate to items that stand out for a particular reason - be it representative of a time, a place, a successful solution to a problem or even a particular feeling prevalent at a point in history.

The London Routemaster bus, a phone box, the Le Courbusier lounger, Katherine Hamnett logo T-shirts, the Olympic Rings.....

All of these items, in their own way were created in response to a problem or an issue, and as history has worn on, they have been adopted as stylised logos which represent the foundation of the design itself. This is what an 'icon' is - it is iconic of a time and a place and can be recognised across the world as being itself and as a logo which represents related issues.

So all design is about communication - whether internal and external spaces, graphics, fashion, photography etc etc etc.

The very best design can communicate on many different levels - some obvious and some subtle, yet be accessible to people across different lifestyles and cultures - this is part of what 'iconic design' really is.

Plus, successful modern design also takes the wider issues of sustainability into account - a design can no longer be labelled 'iconic' lightly. Form does not need to follow function, but surely in times of responsibility and frugal thinking, functional design takes priority lest an object be frivolous and surplus to creation?

So - if a design is sustainable, can be read across cultures and lifestyles, communicates loud and clear, is functional and beautiful, can it be labelled as 'iconic'?

Well - today I found this, and it ticks many boxes. Would this be a (tiny) iconic design? It has my vote...