Through the past 10 weeks, the course had taught me a lot in developing my way of perceiving the environment. I am certain that my perspective has changed through the semester and made me more aware of the current issues. Other than that, I am able to think more critically in engaging with the environment while considering it in my practice (interior design). The philosophers, books, and writers that were introduced in the course were very new to me and I would have never thought of looking at my surroundings from their point of view. The theme introduced indeed gained my knowledge about the environment and design. The course was approached by three different teaching methods and I found that workshops and reading groups help a lot to understand the weekly theme introduced in lecture sessions. Students and tutors were very understanding and were very open to everyone’s different opinions. I felt that the weekly discussion we had contributed to my ability to think and interpret the topics in so many different ways. It has been a ride and I hope this will make me keen to learn more about the environment, design, ecologies, and futures.
Based on the book ‘Ecological Design’ by Sim Van Der Ryn & Stuart Cowan, the class discussed an overall view of ecological design and it’s examples.
I would interpret ecological design as a design that strives to reduce environmental impacts by producing design that are relevant to their surroundings. This means that whatever is produced, living things are necessary to relate with it’s environment. There should and always be an interaction with the natural world.
Examples of ecological design that is a ‘style’ :
1. Greenwashing design: Design that uses tagline to convince users of its claimed sustainability
Biodegradable plastic: it can be decomposed over time, but the process is slow and generates more waste. In a short period, it can end up in landfills or the sea which is harmful for the sea creatures. Before it degrades, its making more harm.
Examples of ecological design that is not a ‘style’:
1. Lampshade made of mushroom mycelium: The 60cm wide shade was made from waste organic materials which icludes sawdust and straws mixed with mycelium. Mycelium is respresented as a part where fungi grows/ root of a plant. The mixture is poured into a mould to let the fungi grow at a certain temperature. Here, the fungus begins to absorb the trash and grow to conform to the mould of the lampshade. No glue or chemicals were required since mycelium functions naturally as a binding component. Read more at: https://www.dezeen.com/2022/11/01/myceen-mycelium-pendant-lights-b-wise-dutch-design-week/
Shoppers in England to be charged for plastic bags – guardian.com (2013)
Debate – This house believes that we must fall in love with plastic again.
It is very obvious that plastic brings more harm than good. Humans have depended on plastic for their entire life and it is almost impossible to have a life without plastic. Even though plastic is strictly banned throughout several countries, the alternatives are not showing signs of 100% sustainability. This course made me think more about the life of materials, in which the process they are made, and the disposal/ dissemble of materials. We are only seeing sustainable products to be ‘sustainable’ because it is promoted like that.
I personally disagree with the debate motion as I have been learning and experiencing the harmful effect of plastics. Back in my country, I found plastic in the soil as I was about to plant trees around my house compound. It was still in its original shape except being covered in dirt. Just imagine how many plastics are gathered in landfills for the past decades. Discarded plastics often end up in landfills and contribute a big percentage of pollution. Traditionally, plastics are burnt to be easily disposed and this is still happening in third-world countries. It is very awful to see but these countries have no choice but to make use of whatever they have.
Alternatives to plastic do not seem convincing either. Biodegradable plastic may seem to be disposed of easily and sustainably, but it was also made using energy such as fossil fuels. Paper bag encourages deforestation and it is not a good solution to cure pollution. It may seem unrealistic, but if the world can stop producing plastics and continue to enforce a circular economy by recycling/upcycling existing resources, it is possible to overcome/ reduce these environmental problems.
THEME 4: ENVIRONMENTAL FUTURES – Time, Hope and Possibilities in Design
In this class, I was thinking a bit about this phrase:
‘ Without major catastrophes like an enormous
volcanic eruption, an unexpected epidemic, a
large-scale nuclear war, an asteroid impact, a new
ice age, or continued plundering of Earth’s
resources by partially still primitive technology …
mankind will remain a major geological force for
many millennia, maybe millions of years, to come.
To develop a world-wide accepted strategy leading
to sustainability of ecosystems against human
induced stresses will be one of the great future
tasks of mankind…’ – Stoermer and Crutzen, 2000: 18
From my own interpretation, it seems that humankind used to be the main force on this planet, but not until consequences came because of their action. Without the disasters and environmental damages, humans are not realizing how much harm they have created. Even so, humans are still living as if they own the planet and putting aside other living and non-living things. Some of us are living for our own benefit and do not care about what is happening around us. It is definitely a behavior that is hard to tackle or change and moving toward sustainability remains the biggest challenge of all time.
During week 8, the class was focusing on the book Vibrant Matter by Jane Bennett. At first glimpse, it was already difficult to grasp the overview of the chapters. There was a lot of philosophical text, theoretical explanations, and references which made it harder to understand what my reading is all about. However, during the reading class, we had some discussions to understand more about the book. From my point of view, I was able to grasp one of the points which are human being are not always the dominant living things on this earth. Past philosophers tends to emphasize human being the dominant, which made other non-human things seem on a lower level. I believe Bennett tried to tell that human relates to the living and non-living things, which means both has a shared reality. For example, without materials (chairs, table, etc. ), humans are not able to bring values to the world. It pretty much sums up that everything revolves around us. I would also like to clarify that this might not be a clear explanation on what the book is about. But that is all on my reflection of the reading group class.
Book cover of Vibrant Matter : A Political Ecology of Things by Jane Bennett
WORKSHOP – RECYCLING PLASTIC
In this class, we had worked on a mini project of upcycling plastic bottles. It made us look at the potential ways we can turn plastic bottles into new function. It may work or not work. There were a lot of interesting ideas. From making lighting fixtures to water jars and beautiful floral brooches. It was quite fascinating to see more than 15 different ideas that was produced at the end of the workshop. Some students were very passionate of what they are doing and some were clueless and just getting creative with their ideas. It was hilarious to see things not working out for some but in the end a product was created.
From the workshop, I learnt that there many potential in making plastic useful again. Humans are granted with this intelligence to create things out of the box. Just imagine if this ideas were taken seriously and develop to produce more sustainable products, the world would be so sustainably diverse. In the span of an hour, many new products were created and they eventually had their own function. This can be proven that plastics deserve to have a second life instead of being in a landfill.
The picture above shows my product which a ‘sweep’ or floor sweep. It only need a pole to be connected to it and it can be used to sweep floors. It was originally a juice bottle and only need scissors or paper knife to cut it into shape.
Debate of the day: This house would enforce circular economy.
Image by freepik
What is circular economy in the first place? This term never came to my mind through studying about environmental topics in general. It has always been about sustainability, climate crisis, green products, and so on. Now that I know, circular economy is actually closely related to the life we thrive in. It has never really been an important topic as I realize I have been living in a linear economy all this while.
I was on the team supporting the motion and I had done research about circular economy. Some of the points I got were:
Circular economy is change that is systematic not piecemeal
It minimizes virgin resources use
Turns waste into resources
Reduce greenhouse emissions
There were few mixed opinions during the debates. Both side do make sense in the point they made. It is quite endless to think of the solution or the long term and short term effect of both economy. Even though it seems that circular economy is hard to maintain, I still believe that it can still be implemented if we strongly enforce it in the community. Just like a linear economy, it was not a system that was naturally there. It went through stages and becomes a general practice for decades. I hope it can be possible to sustain circular economy if everyone is totally keen in protecting the environment.
In this reading, there was some new knowledge for me. Waste equals food didn’t really make sense to me until I read this chapter. Because most of my life I was so focused on what was meant for me – the more human part, industrial and technological. Rather than taking a look at how nature works.
It is in fact, so wonderful how amazing the system of nature is. Most of it is living to benefit others. It has thrived on the planet we live on, not making any damage. Additionally, nature is also a good resource for human beings.
Even looking back at products that were made back in the day, conventional shoes made from vegetable chemicals are considered safe as it is biodegradable.
But as the earth and population start to grow, is it really the human to blame for? Humans tend to develop products or a system that can be easily accessible and meet their demands. For example, shoes made from vegetable chemicals can be useful for people back in the day as they might not need heavy-duty shoes for daily life. Whereas now, lifestyle has changed, major differences in labor work, people heavily rely on transport and so on. Modern people would be doing things differently as we have resources differently.
It is very hard to consider every inch of a product or a system and whatnot. The earth is a massive place and it is impossible to predict how much impact a product will leave on this planet. It is seen as endless. One harmful article might end up on the other side of the world and we will never know about it.
Biological metabolism and technical metabolism could be having their own cycle. But the flows might be affecting one another. Sometimes the effects are just inseparable. It’s too complex to even talk about.
SOLAR PANEL – CRADLE TO CRADLE OR CRADLE-TO-GRAVE?
We had a workshop where we need to redesign a category – which for my group is ‘energy’. We chose solar panels as research and basically try to know what components are making the solar panel.
We look into the life before producing solar panel. It consist of different elements, from aluminum, glass, sheets, EVA and others. Which in fact, some of them are not from recycle materials because solar panels need high-graded materials to function well. However, we came out with a possible solution – which is to use recycled materials from landfill. It is a typical solution but it’s possible!
Another thing we looked at is the disposal cycle of solar panels. Usually, they will burn things such as contaminated glass as it is the easiest and cheapest way. But we know how non-environmental friendly are those things. So we thought instead of making heat from a fire. We can also be using renewable energy, to produce renewable energy (solar). If that actually makes sense.. it is. It’s a cycle after all right? It’s like renewable energy is working together to make them useful.
That was a very simple way to summarize what we were trying to do. However, there is always a more detailed thing to look at. The flows of each component. The dissembling works, and what chemicals are exposed to the environment. How is it harmful or harmless.. It’s just too difficult as we’re not a professional in this area.
Designers have not yet come to terms with their complicity in the creation of the conditions of environmental crisis or with their environmental responsibility, nor have they yet reformed their practices accordingly.
My team was team for. I did had a confusion at first whether I was suppose to give reason why designers are not responsible or why it is not a thing where designers are not responsible for their design (something like designers are not to blame for enviromental crisis). However, as the debate goes on, there were many points that came up such as:|
Efficiency in design is important, that is why designers keeps imporving design without considering much of the enviromental impact
From personal experiences, they realize how designers are aware of the things that is going to happen. Taking example from thrifting. Designers thrift so does consumers.
Most of the times, for marketing, companies will always promote the benefit of those products. But do customers going to initiate that after using the products? or they think its a product that is made up of recycled materials and lastly it will also end up in landfills.
There is of course mixed opinion from myself as well. It is hard to go for or against the motion. Environment itself is a complex topic and designing things is another complex topic to talk about. If we go back to the roots of these, it will take years to come out with a certain conclusion. Even now, it is something debatable, which never really had a solution.
LECTURE SESSION –
THEME 2: STORIES OF STUFF
Everything has a stories, right? In this lecture there were some example of stories of products. Which we wonder what happens when those products’ life ends. Some products might have way long ancient history, with so many values. It might have been travelling across the globe, used wisely.. but in reality we all realize how it’s going to end up. as a waste! – thats one enviromental crisis.
Another one – how is the product made? what is their stories?
In the slides it mentioned one of the major problem is that we don’t realize creating a product does so much enviromental damages. Like releasing chemicals when cramping up components of the product. or most likely burn them! to think about, it is sometimes a cruel world we live in.
Mass production that is currently happening now is also a result of capitalism – a thing we can never really avoid.
Together, we can build a world focused on “BETTER” instead of “MORE“ – storyofstuff.org
Both image credit: https://www.storyofstuff.org/about/
Reading group –
The reading was hard for me to grasp and understand at a first glance. As I am not a reader myself, I am trying my best to understand and catch up on some point the author was talking about.
Anthropocene. What is Anthropocene?
‘The Anthropocene Epoch is an unofficial unit of geologic time, used to describe the most recent period in Earth’s history when human activity started to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystems.’ – https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/anthropocene
In this period in earth, humans has a greater impact to the environment. Their activities has altered the earth it is now. There are several evidence that we have significantly altered our world, including greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, rising sea levels, habitat loss, extinction, and extensive natural resource extraction. It is certainly obvious how our climate has major changes, but this topic is still a popular one to debate about. This period might have actually started in the beginning, it might not be the humans. Who knows. But I am also wondering if humans were not to do things that can benefit them, what else would they be doing or making? What is the purpose of us living if it is not for ourselves? I’ll wrap it up there.
LOST IN THE ENVIRONMENT
To make this simple, we had half an hour to carry out the activities. There was a sheet given with multiple key words. Our task is to find as much of those things like how we would interpret them. The definition can be different from one person to another. That’s why it was an activity to do alone as we can come up with different interpretation in the end.
Some of the things I found:
Eventhough my findings were accurate to the word itself, many others would show different things as the perceive it differently. Shelter can be a house but it can also be a tree. I find it interesting because our backgrounds can also influence how we see things. Not everything has to be generalized and we should educate ourself to see things from different perspectives everytime.
It’s a beautiful day out! Head over to the hunter building early in the morning for the reading group. It was a chill and relaxing session to know each other for the first time. Govian is trying his best to get everyone comfortable, seating in a circle, so that we’re closer to everyone. It was a short and sweet session. Nice to hear the reason why everyone chooses this course. Whether they were forced or it was their first choice, it is still interesting to hear everyone’s first thoughts on the subject. Everyone was from different courses, countries, and of course, very different backgrounds. An hour was not really enough to really introduce ourselves but it’s nice to know a little bit about everyone.
Lets take a loot at these amazing view of our classroom! I am still amazed everytime. Edinburgh landscapes has never been more than amazing.
Heading over to the next day –
Theme 1: Experience and the environment
Design and humans. We’re pretty much apart of each other. But do we actually benefit both parties? Or only one of us is making more benefit than the other?
Some of the points that I found interesting in the lecture were:
The environment is never complete, is like an endless construction. As a living thing on this earth (as a human) there’s always a new cycle, or a reused one. I don’t see anything that has an end. Even if any of those things end up in landfills, it really never ends. If anything were ever disposed of, it probably did end up somewhere. Whereas from the natural world, it’s the same cycle, whether it’s organism or grass, they are fed or feeding others.
In an age of mass production when everything must be
planned and designed, design has become the most
powerful tool with which man shapes his tools and
environments (and, by extension, society and himself).
This demands high social and moral responsibility from
the designer. It also demands greater understanding of
the people, by those who practise design, and more
insight into the design process, by the public.
– Victor Papanek, 1977: 9
It can be said that humans or designers had influenced or affected a high percentage of what has happened to the environment. There’s a good and bad side to this. Designers’ pure intention was to make it liveable for humans to inhabit this world by making a different environment for us. But that can separate us from the natural environment which is an issue the world is facing right now.
Some people will find themselves to be inseparable from nature like the indigenous people. It’s like life and death for them. Whereas it’s different for people who live in the 21st century. They consider plants and animals as person and that they are living together.
Summarizing what I have learned:
Humans or designers are said to make major changes to the environment. But there are actually reasons why such things happen. What can be avoided and what cannot be avoided. Or limited resources and such. It is hard even up until today to blend ourselves with nature. But looking at the brighter side, we might want to look at the world as something that is continuously changing. to be better. Designers strive to make things better, to reinvent, and to repair.
This course was a second option for me, primarily because of the workload. I thought it would be a lot of work, but it was different from what I expected. You know they say – there’s always something better when you do not get what you wanted. Like a blessing in disguise. This was answered when Rachel was introducing the first week’s class. Everything seems smooth and it was enjoyable.
As a new student in Edinburgh, I was worried about finding my way to Thomsons Land. It’s a 30 minutes walk from my house. However, I did arrive earlier than expected. It came to my surprise that the class is combined with undergraduate students. It was nice meeting all the tutors. I was curious to find out how we all get along for the next few weeks.
As Rachel was introducing the course outline, I was eager to know the actual content of the course. She summarized the things we will learn such as environmental issues being the big topic and comes other sub-topics like environmental design, politics, humans, and others. There was also four main topics we will work on which is:
1. Experience and the environment: Design and the senses, Making and Consumption
2. Stories and stuff: Labour, Social Justice, and Design
3. Materials and (New) Materialism: Bodies, Resources and Pollution
4. Environmental Futures: Time, Hope, Possibilities in Design
All four of them to me is quite complex to understand at first. I might know or not know what those topic is all about. I might have some knowledge or I don’t at all. But I don’t think it matters as I am here to learn new things or expand my knowledge – that’s the whole point of me joining the class anyways. I am hoping by the end of this semester I am still eager to learn more about these topics and situate them in my practice, which is interior design. Or if I was ever going to change my passion, it can also be useful for future use. Looking forward of whats to come!