Buildings must be designed to have multiple lifes

At the “Design Matters, Sustainability Matters” event in November 2019 in China, at the 2F MIXPACE, the main topic was about recycling plastic into design objects. I kept wondering on the relevance of the efforts and if we all there were not pissing around the problem!

A big part of the work presented was from the Dutch company Better Future factory. After a long and engaging session of examples came a discussion which included the role of education in “saving the world” and the urgency of making people aware of tackling plastics.

I posed the question, is there not a bigger urgency in tackling 1st the CO2 and waste created by the construction industry, which some figures bring it to a staggering 44% of the total CO2 emitted worldwide.

The panel did not fully welcome the question. It might have been my phrasing or the bubbles we all create in blocking ourselves from wider perspectives with the constant threat to a meaningless life lead.

Shortly after, one of the heads of a major cosmetic company of China stood up after this reminder of mine and wondered: with so many bright people out there making amazing technologies, shouldn't there be some MIT genius to model what is the best model for our world?

I took home, not the MIT suggestion, but the reminder that materials and buildings need to be designed to be recycled. It is through design that we create value after a foreseeable life-cycle. But that is not an easy task.

Let’s take the company Erno Laszlo, it packages its products in heavy plastic. Heavy still is synonym to quality. But how to make it better recyclable if the demand is not for temporary but for, as usual, permanency.

People tend to invest in durable products, heavy, in either packages or houses and even if this part of the equation is solved, other conflictual elements kick in. Take the example of the organic peppers on sale at the Albert Heijn food chain of Holland. It was ecological, but wrapped in plastic bags. It was a compromise to keep it fresher.

Is there a right or wrong in what is being called "sustainable design"? Should we not quantify it to justify it?

Over 100 billion plastic bottles are produced per year in the USA. What is the threshold that compensates to add a post-mortem design solution to a product such as a bottle? What are the energetic values needed to compensate the design effort? Is reusing the best option, but what about safety restrictions?

The reuse of packages is important, but less urgent, far less, than the reuse of old buildings, in so many cities where we have so many empty buildings just beside new ones being built.

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