Green

Design can save the world

This year’s 25th Design Indaba hosted some of the world’s foremost thinkers and speakers, with sustainability and biophilic design high up on the agenda. Here’s a wrap of the highlights

Pic credit:  Living with nature Paul Cocksedge | biophilic design

WORDS: DEBBIE LOOTS :: PHOTOS: SUPPLIED

SA is not alone in its struggle with a high unemployment rate, rising homelessness figures, sexual crimes against women, corruption at grassroots level and a flat economy. It may be little comfort, but most countries in the rest of the world suffer similar woes. Yet design offers solutions. This was the message last week at the 2020 Design Indaba, where local and international speakers shared their inspiring visions to create a better future for the world.

Living with nature Paul Cocksedge | biophilic design

Unwilling to be labelled as one specific kind of designer, the award-winning Paul Cocksedge focuses largely on designs that improve people’s environmental experience. He incorporates as many natural elements as possible into living and work spaces to counter technology that permeates most aspects of modern life. His striking public installation Please Be Seated (above), commissioned for the London Design Festival and British Land, is both functional and sustainable, and provides reprieve from the busy Finsbury Avenue Square in London. With spaces to sit or lie down, this bench-sculpture is made from upcycled scaffolding planks. Two other significant works of his are Drop, a large buckled magnet coin on which spare change for charity can be affixed, and The Living Staircase in an office building in Soho, London, where workers have the opportunity to look after plants that seem to be flying off the balustrade, and spend time in a library or relax at a tea bar.

Better cities Jeanne Gang | architect

One of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2019 and Architectural Review’s Woman Architect of the Year 2016, Jeanne Gang is a US architect who believes in building sustainable futures for cities. The term “actionable idealism” drives Studio Gang, her multidisciplinary practice. Apart from a range of projects using design to help people and organisations create their futures, the team also has a longstanding interest in ecology. In 2011 Gang wrote the book, Reverse Effect: Renewing Chicago’s Waterways to Propose a Greener Future for the River. Always pushing boundaries, she also designed the Aqua Tower in Chicago. Completed in 2010, it was the tallest building designed by a woman at the time. It is only surpassed by her Vista Tower, now under construction, also in Chicago.

Radical empathy Bas Timmer | philanthropic fashion designer

On a mission to clothe the homeless of the world, Dutch fashion designer Bas Timmer is pursuing his vision one Sheltersuit at a time. The young ArtEZ Institute of the Arts student’s award-winning waterproof and windproof bodysuit (left) with an attachable sleeping bag and matching backpack is made by volunteers – formerly homeless or unemployed people, or refugees – using upcycled and recycled materials. Some of the workers are paid and refugees are given opportunities to integrate into Dutch society. Sheltersuits have brought relief to refugees as far afield as the Greek island of Lesbos and Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. During Design Indaba 2020, Timmer launched the Sheltersuit SA with seed funding from the conference. The design of this version differs from the original to accommodate the warmer South African climate.

Building with seagrass Kathryn Larsen | architectural technologist

Kathryn Larsen is a US architectural technologist with the firm Bygningskonstruktør MAK, based in Denmark. Her interest in vernacular architecture and the adaptation of local construction methods and materials into modern buildings led to her dissertation on the seaweed houses of the North Sea island Læsø and the use of eelgrass as building material. “Eelgrass and many other inedible seaweeds are seen as waste,” she says. “If we don’t remove it from the beaches, it will pollute the water with nitrates. If we use it, we create a circular economy and improve the water’s quality.” Eelgrass does not decay and is fire resistant thanks to its salt content. It is nontoxic and can create breathable, membrane-less constructions when used as insulation, improving indoor air quality. “When used locally, it helps create carbon-neutral buildings,” Larsen says. “A traditional seaweed roof lasts up to 200 years and, on top of it, it’s a great fertiliser.” For her research project, Seaweed Thatch Reimagined, she built prefabricated seaweed thatch panels to use on roofs and façades. These panels were installed on a roof and studied for more than a year.

Local rising star Vukheta Mukhari | civil engineering graduate, UCT

Enthusiastic about design since childhood, Vukheta Mukhari pursued a master’s degree in civil engineering at the University of Cape Town before joining a dynamic team that shared his passion for sustainable design. Being awarded a GreenMatter and WRC fellowship groomed him to become a leader in the biodiversity and science spaces. Soon Mukhari got involved in a project that made the world’s first biobrick made from urine. Finding sustainable ways to utilise our “waste”, the team also created a fertiliser and sustainable building material. Mukhari’s other green interests include saving the oceans by spearheading a plastic pollution awareness campaign, and building smart technology that promises to revolutionise the health and fitness space.

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