Green Design by Marcus Fairs

We are getting ready at the moment for our third (and final) semester as MA students, amongst other things we have been reading many books on ecological and sustainable design for our own benefit and for our dissertations. One of the books we have been reading is Green Design by Marcus Fairs, a wonderful book which documents key developments in sustainable design in recent years. Broken up into eight sections – lighting, houseware, furniture, textiles, products, transportation, interiors and architecture, you get the big picture on green design and what it can encompass.

There is also a forword by one of our favourite designers, Tom Dixon. Tom introduces the subject but also highlights the confusion surrounding it:

“…. that confusion certainly extends to the design community and beyond, where it proves increasingly difficult to marry up the twin demands of encouraging consumption, while at the same time reducing environmental impact.”

He then goes on to talk about how he has tried to combat this by trailing experiments in single issues. Attempting to define clarity in at least one aspect of his products – for example, the material and it’s provenance in the case of the Bambu Range for Artek where there is a finite amount of raw material (Bamboo) but there is still the issue about it’s global distribution and role in consumerism. At least Tom is aware of these issues which is more than most designers. He is constantly experimenting and finding new ways around the problems surrounding green design – many of his products and projects feature in the book such as the Bambu Range, 2nd Cycle (both Artek), Eco Ware and Blow Light.

The book also contains an introduction from Marcus, in this he explains how the design world is responding to the environmental challenges facing us. He also helps define green design – as Marcus put’s it:

“Green design can loosely be defined in terms of a set of objectives: to reduce the use of nonrenewable resources, both in the manufacturing process and in the finished object or building itself; to enhance the lives not just of users but also of everyone in the supply chain; and to minimize the environmental impact of the product or building during and after its useful life.”

He describes the aims and objectives of the book:

“The purpose of this book is not to present a manifesto, to moralise or to establish criteria for what constitutes valid green design, but rather to present a snapshot of this surge in activity and to explain the forces and thought processes that are behind designers work. The diverse range of projects shown here represents the disparate ways in which they are addressing green issues.”

We find ourselves dipping in and out of it all the time – a constant source of inspiration and debate.

Whilst reading the book it was fascinating having the knowledge of developments in green design since the book was published in 2009 and to know that some of the prototypes and concepts covered have since gone on to have commercial success. For example, the (then prototype) Plumen low-energy light bulbs (page 21) went on to become Plumen 001 and won this years Brit Insurance Design of the Year Award and is doing very well commercially. It shows the pace at which green design is rapidly developing and becoming more and more mainstream and accessible to all – Plumen light bulbs are just £19.95 each and have a lifetime of 8 years!

Interior Design Section

As aspiring green interior designers we found the interior design section of particular interest.

So (you may ask) what is green interior design?

Is it an old and unwanted building given a new lease of life? Is it a building and or room that can be endlessly adapted for new uses? Is it a product that allows you to constantly reconfigure a space? Is it energy saving fixtures, fittings and appliances? Is it a space which uses cradle to cradle products and furniture? Is it an innovation so extreme that it resembles nothing we know yet? – Or is it just a really well designed space?

Well, it’s all of these things – collectively they would make an extremely green interior.

That’s why we found this section so interesting – because Marcus uses examples from all of these area’s. For example, in the case of a product that allows you to reconfigure a space Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec’s Stitch Room is mentioned and for appliances which consume less energy Alexandra Sten Jorgensen’s The Ethical Kitchen is elaborated upon.

Marcus understands the importance interior design has to play in helping to push towards a smarter and more sustainable future:

‘Unlike industrial designers and architects, the interior design profession has until now been on the periphery of the sustainable design movement. Yet, interior designers may soon find themselves at the centre of the green design debate, since their ability to change the way a space works and feels without the need for demolition and rebuilding means they can significantly extend the useful life of buildings.”

We agree. Here are a few examples of interior design projects that where covered which particularly address this issue (and which we particularly liked):

Hotel Ballymun by Seamus Nolan/Various Artists and Designers

Hotel Ballymun was a project that temporarily turned a condemned tower block in Ballymun, Ireland, into a hotel as part of a cultural project headed by artist Seamus Nolan. This was to highlight the wastefulness of pulling down buildings just a few decades after they where built, and to explore how unwanted dwellings could be given a new life.

Hotel Ballymun

Seamus Nolan

Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen by Merkx + Girod Architects

Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen in Maastricht is a bookstore inside a former Dominican church in the Netherlands and is an example of how existing but unwanted buildings can be adapted to new uses without having to knock them down. The 800 year old church has had many uses over the years, as a place of worship (obviously) as a warehouse, as an indoor market, a beer hall and a bicycle park.

Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen

Merkx + Girod Architects

Sayama Flats by Jo Nagasaka/Shemata Architecture Office

Sayama Flats by Shemata Architecture Office is an example of how an existing building can undergo a major refurbishment without stripping out, discarding and replacing every element of the building.

Sayama Flats

Shemata Architecture Office

Chimney Pot Park by Urban Splash/Shedkm Architects

This was in the Architecture section but there are many elements of interior space planning/architecture to it so we thought it was worth a mention – plus it’s one of our favourite Urban Splash projects.

Chimney Pot Park is a project which repopulated a blighted urban area without totally demolishing it and starting again. Designed by architects ShedKM, the two-storey century old houses where turned upside-down, with bedrooms on the ground floor and living space upstairs, overlooking a raised deck divided into semi-private terraces.

Chimney Pot Park

Urban Splash

Shedkm Architects

This kind of a design is still just as much a philosophy as it is a practice and is still in it’s early stages of conception. We believe that merely questioning or challenging systems of distribution and consumption is a step in the right direction. It’s not the solution itself that is necessarily radical but the shift in perspective with which we begin to question things that will have the most impact.

I highly recommend this book – not just to other creatives or to people interested in sustainability – but to everyone. Green issue’s affect us all and we all share a responsibility in helping to reduce our impact on the environment – Green Design helps to show us how we can lead a more ecological and sustainable life through design.

You can buy Green Design by Marcus Fairs from Amazon

Related links:

Marcus Fairs

(Marcus was formerly founding editor of Icon Magazine and is now editor-in-chief of Dezeen)

Icon Eye (Icon Magazine online)

Dezeen Magazine