Question Time on sustainable design and development.

I went to an awesome talk tonight at the RSA – unfortunately I didn’t take a notebook so I’m gonna have to riff on what people said a little – it was called ‘Question Time on sustainable design and development’ and was hosted by Griff Ryhs Jones who was as smart as he was funny – in fact the whole evening was both insightful and hilarious. There were a heap of people talking Koen Steemers was interesting and at hand with facts and figures, Dr Shahrah Ali was a bit meh and kept bleating on about Green Party policy but luckily there were 4 awesome people as well.

William Alsop is a famous architect who I’ve never heard of before but was completely awesome and I’m going to call him the Christopher Hitchens of Architecture – he was quite contrary and at one point proposed that we ‘wipe Hull off the map’ and later stated laconicly stated that it didn’t much matter what we do about sustainability what with China coming up behind us. He did however have some interesting things to add and much of it seemed to be around geographical location of both houses (supposedly you can reduce up to 80% of emmissions or waste from a house just by positioning it to face east / west) and demographically – here he proposed we move 50% of the population to London, where it seems everyone wants to be, thus reducing transport issues and freeing up the rest of the country to awesomeness – oh and he also said that Milton Keynes shoudn’t exist – ha!

Sat next to him was Nick Johnson, a chartered surveyor who seems to work here as well as advising the government on stuff – he was really enthusiastic but at times pained at the way that the construction industry has no incentives to build really sustainable housing and that there is no real ‘value capture’. He was also very animated by the fact that sustainability should not be a burden on the punter which was interesting – he talked about how the producers and industry need to be making it easier for us to be green rather than blame consumers for not recycling properly etc.

Then there was Rod Liddle who is awesome – he generally chatted about the planned eco towns and how there are supposedly something like 750,000 vacant houses in the UK which is more than double the proposed new builds and putting people in them would save on emmissions creating the new towns! Sounds like sense to me.

Then was Deyan Sudjic, director of the Design Museum – he was very awesome and much of what he chatted about was around ‘planned obsolescence’ and how we’ve created a culture of need and want which doesn’t help the housing market seeing as we’re always looking to upgrade and move and consume more.

This was one of the main points of the evening which reminded me of what Neil Boorman talks about – we’ve created this culture of avarice, people want and want and want, we have to keep buying new stuff because new is good but also because the new stuff we buy isn’t built to last. The government would rather create new eco towns than address the problem of changing/modifying the existing ones. Everyone seemed to agree that a paradigm shift was needed in the way we view sustainability – not only in the incentives to industry but also governmental policy through legislation and somehow shifting the public’s mindset that new and more etc good and better.

Rob Liddle made and interesting point in closing saying that he thought the credit crunch and housing crisis was a blessing in that it will give everyone a chance to reflect on this culture of greed and waste that we find ourselves in – I think he’s right and this whole sustainability thing is just part of a huge change in mass conciousness that needs to happen – the most salient point coming from Neil Boorman’s Bonfire of the Brands is that whilst we’re all way too obsessed by brands and this is not good for our mental health, its much worse that we wantonly get ourselves into debt clamouring after their next offering when we don’t even need the things – what we need is someone like Boorman to team up with Mark Earls and maybe Lucy Siegle (she’s pretty and that always helps) and work on some sort of uber ‘less is more’ campaign to educate people that debt isn’t cool and can fuck you up, driving a massive SUV isn’t cool (yes people are coming round to that), bigger isn’t always better and new is often much worse than old – now I guess this opens a whole new can of worms so I’ll leave it there to be picked up another day but since I’ve been alcohol detoxing recently I’ve really been thinking about having a branding detox or really it should be an aspiration detox – maybe we all need a bit of time to think.


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