DMatters February 2019 Issue

The Coming of Age of Sustainable Practice in Design

We have all seen photos and videos of marine life being intruded by plastic waste. As they become more prevalent, we have to remind ourselves not to desensitize ourselves to their dreadful impact on the environment. In the new year, why don’t we start life anew with sustainable design? As the environmental awakening sweeps the globe, many individuals and businesses are taking action to reduce the use of plastic. Some countries are even taking bold moves, like the European Union’s ban on single-use plastics by 2021. But from heated debates on issues like fast-food chains cutting out free plastic straws, the matter is much more complicated than simply leaving plastic out. Our plastic-dependent lifestyle needs to be redesigned.

In addition to plastic pollution, the growing threat of global warming, extreme weather and air pollution – to name a few – are calling us to reflect on the way we consume natural resources. The design field has long been aware that it can take a critical role in changing the status quo. Visionary architects and designers have been making an effort to push forth more sustainable design practices for decades. As the rising environmental awareness is changing consumer behaviour, the time has come for design to make a paradigmatic shift.

Taipei-based material innovation company Miniwiz has opened the world’s eyes on the extensive possibility of recycling and upcycling waste. In its 15 years of research and business, the company has created 1,200 new materials and an online upcycling database, and worked with international brands such as Starbucks and Nike. They have also used innovative materials to construct buildings across Asia. A prime example is the EcoARK Pavilion in Taipei which was built with 1.5 million recycled bottles. Their material innovation allows them to build at an extreme speed at low cost, “Many designers, engineers, contractors and material suppliers feel threatened when they see us sit in the same pitch because we usually get the bid,” said Miniwiz’s founder and CEO Arthur Huang. They keep pushing the boundary of the applications for renewed materials. Their “House of Trash” in Milan, an interior showroom with furniture made from shoe soles, food packaging, old clothes, etc. showcases how recycled materials can enter our everyday life sophisticatedly.

Tourism is another industry that needs a green makeover. naked Group is an emerging hospitality group in Asia dedicated to developing eco-conscious hospitality services. Built with a love for nature and outdoor living, their resorts aim to “minimise the impact on the environment and maximise symbiosis with the natural surroundings.” Its naked Stable resort in Moganshan received the LEED Platinum certification from the US Green Building Council. The 70-hectare resort has its architectural and interior design, material use, water and energy efficiency, waste disposal, etc, all designed and executed sustainably. “Design has been under-utilised in the conventional linear design process in which designers never touch their products or services again,” said naked’s Co-Chairman Delphine Yip-Horsfield. Under her helm, design thinking extends into the operation of their hotels. For naked Stable, they designed an energy monitoring system for guests to keep track of their own energy consumption and keep it low. It ensures the ecologically built resort is also operated with sustainability at its heart.

Education is the key when it comes to making fundamental change. The Sustainable Design School in France is one of the pioneering design schools oriented to eco-design. Patrick le Quément, one of the three co-founders, has over four decades of experience in automobile design. Witnessing the impact of cars on the environment, he believes designers should strive to find better and more environmental-friendly solutions for mobility as well as other aspects of life. The school equips young and mid-career designers with skills and knowledge such as design thinking, frugal innovation and social innovation. Through working with corporates to come up with eco solutions for commercial projects, the students gain first-hand experience in solving real-world problems. They are trained to be highly creative and empathetic, and to have a strong sense of social responsibility. For example, to tackle the homeless problem, a group of students slept in the street themselves to gain an authentic feeling of what homelessness is like. That is the kind of commitment designers need to make to combat wicked world problems.

Environmentally sustainable design goes beyond green architecture. From product to graphic, all design disciplines can reorient their practice to a more sustainable approach. Young designers in Hong Kong are taking the lead. KaCaMa Design Lab and product designer Kevin Cheung are known to create ingenious and beautiful products by upcycling waste. Fashion designer Angus Tsui’s design highlights edginess and environmental friendliness at the same time. Gaau1 Up is running a community plastic recycling workshop in To Kwa Wan. The sustainable design movement is also carried forward by pioneers like Christina Dean who founded Redress to change the way we manufacture and consume fashion and strive to reduce textile waste. Once our environmental consciousness is awakened, it only grows stronger. When the vision of businesses, designers, manufacturers and consumers are aligned for a circular economy and responsible production and consumption, the most important turn in contemporary design will come.

In this issue, we are taking a look at how Wan Chai has been spruced up by the placemaking initiative of #ddHK, a creative tourism project launched recently. We will also learn more about the artistic vision behind Golden Monkey, another #ddHK project. Wrapping up, we will report on the IDK workshop specially designed for the students of the EMBA programme of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and see how design thinking can help them come up with the next business innovation.

Further reading:

Case study of the LEED certification of naked Stable

Patrick Le Quément Design Story – Pushing the Boundaries

Click  here  to read the full issue of DMatters February 2019.