Monday, March 30, 2009
Although I understand the logic of these core values and believe they hold true as goals societies should aim for, the political ties these pillars have are too strong and therefore have an inherent opposition simply because they are placed as political objectives. I believe that in order to have a clean environment, the motivation to change needs to be understood by all regardless of political leanings. The least politically tied goal of these pillars is ecological wisdom, it seems there can be common interests, profits, and benefits regardless of right or left wing politics. It is hard to say the same thing for social justice, grass roots democracy and non-violence.
The “best” solution, in terms of a broad reaching and effective one, in my view is a politically neutral solution and for this we turn to research, facts, numbers and charts. The benefits of a Life Cycle Analysis are key to helping companies recognize their ecological impact. A parallel can be drawn to the Nutrition Label Act of 1990 that created heightened awareness about the food eat and more importantly, the choice to make an informed decision as a consumer. If the government is to take a stance it has to be on behalf of the consumer because, especially in a country like the USA, it is the only way to encourage companies to change their methods of production.
In the natural world, a close look at an ecosystem shows the roles of producers, consumers, and decomposers where each is dependent on the other for survival and a return to earth means eventually becoming earth and feeding the system again. The EPA’s definition of LCA as a Cradle to Grave concept is “raw materials from the earth to create the product and ends at the point when all materials are returned to the earth”. There are two basic concepts that we can extract from this phrase that directly feed the more thoughtfully developed Cradle to Cradle approach. First, the phrase “returned to earth” implies that it is simply put back in the earth but not necessarily benefiting anyone or becoming anything else. This is reinforced by the second concept in the phrase, “ends at” these two words have a detrimental affect on our current approach and understanding of product life. If the term “ends at” needs to be used, then it should consider the point at which the raw material is formed again making the complete cycle the end point. McDonaugh and Branghart have explained this concept most successfully in their collaboration with Rhoner Textiles in Switzerland where they were able to produce cleaner water leaving the factory than coming in and the waste material was used as insulation for local agriculture.
Although the moral implications of social justice and environmental action are equally important, the politics involved in the resolution of the social aspects of our society are much deeper today than those implied by a more ecologically conscious world today.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
In reflecting upon my position or where my ethical line is drawn, I find that pollution is a necessary evil in architecture. The extent to which we pollute can be debated and the consequence of all our choices can be weighed, but to some extent there will always be an environmentally adverse part to the process. I think that we can be more deliberate in our choices of materials, construction processes etc. and then have an understanding of where the failure is in our process to begin to try to correct it or make it "less bad", However to embark on a goal of making something completely "green" seems somewhat hollow. Having your goal be checking every box in a LEED checklist so that you can declare a certain level of environmental certification is just too easy for me to believe in. Understanding the implications of your choices and knowing that you cannot achieve everything but can achieve some of the goals on that list, and achieve them to the highest order is what I believe in. This is durability in architecture, something that will last over time and will function well within a certain set of parameters. At some point the building will live long enough so that the initial environmental cost of construction will have been worth it. These building are able to transform over time in their use and allow the user to occupy them in a number of different manners. Designing not for one specific use but for varying uses within one specific duty.
An object I would compare this idea to is perhaps a pair of Doctor Martens because you can wear them with a pair of jeans, or your sunday best.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
The building industry has such a large impact on the environment in several ways - from the demolition of the site, to the actual construction and then to the operation of the building’s multiple systems. Areas such as material selections and the installation of certain objects (ex. plumbing fixtures, floor tiles) also contribute to the impact on the environment. It is a difficult line to draw since all areas relate to one another. But to expand into very broad terms, relegates it to generalized grand gestures and less of the specificity in the actual consideration of materials.
In my previous work at a historic preservation architecture office, we considered the intangible in conjunction with the tangible aspects of architecture – that to preserve the original material of the walls (by repairing rather than demolishing) is to maintain the craftwork/intent and the historic significance imbued in the overall structure. But there is a certain compromise in the renovation of these historic structures – where does it become absolutely necessary to recreate the element that was there before? Could something that looked very similar but of a different material be suitable? How much are we actually contributing or taking way from the historic significance of the property by this substitution? What of localism – what if something that was prevalent in the surrounding areas is no longer available and that to obtain that material requires an enormous amount of effort (eg. hardwood)? I feel that the overall gesture of preservation – the recycling of a historic structures sits very well with me, that I can not only believe in the reuse but also in the continuation of the past into the present. But it is in the details that make the work unsatisfying - that to maintain the historic significance is to disregard avenues where one could lessen the impact on the earth, for example, the choice to use a ‘greener’ mechanical system or to minimize the alteration on the historic fabric by choosing a more compact, less intrusive, and less ‘green’ system. Or that the desire for authenticity results in having to order a very specific type of wood from another country. How do we work within this existing framework and determine what can constitute material ethics? Where does one draw the line in regards for ingredients? How much should the intangible (cultural and historical values) affect the intangible? Or is the life cycle of the structure itself (continuing the life cycle of these structures/materials) overrides the need for that specificity? Does the larger picture justify this comparison?
In historic structures, there are varying degrees of intensity. On one side there are the house museums where everything is kept intact - the building’s original function is halted in time. The other side is adaptive use where the building’s function is changed to allow for new programs, new systems and new materials. I am more interested in adaptive use – I am more excited by the navigation of the historic integrity with the introduction of new material/program. Preservation to me at this point, has been always more about the intangibles values imbued in the tangible materials. Compromise is inevitable but compromise as I have seen it, has always come from budgetary, aesthetic and historic concerns rather than environmental ethics. I am mulling over how to reconcile or adjust one’s framework so that this concern for the environment, for our material responsibilities to that of preserving these structures for their historic significance.
Friday, March 20, 2009
After considering the readings and discussions of this class, I am now more conscious of how material selection and the production process impact social and environmental justice. I am now asking myself to think more deeply about how my choice of materials (even in model-making) is just as important as the intended production and function of the product. I was and still am focused on who has access to the objects I design, what needs or wants they serve and how they contribute to excessive consumerist tendencies. However, now I am also considering how people are affected by the materials I choose to build even my models and prototypes. What are the working conditions of the factory workers who produce these materials? Is their health being jeopardized? Are they being paid a fair wage? Is the environment being degraded in the communities where the raw materials are being sourced? I must also envision a production process. Who will be involved? How would their working conditions be considered? During use of these products, how will the materials affect those using them? And after use, where will these products go? Will they be dumped in disadvantaged communities. These are all questions that I must consider in moving forward with my interests.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Is there a way similar to Caroline’s work, that we can use foam core as a composite. Foam core takes a long time, if it ever disintegrates in landfills. It is important to look at the Life Cycle of these products and the ecological footprint of them. Where are they being made, who is making them? Where do the materials of these composites come from? Are these companies out sourcing and providing jobs for people in the community with good/ safe work environments or are they the next Walmart?
As an architect it is important to know/ understand these ideas of Life Cycle which ecological footprint falls under. Do you use materials that are mined/ harvested in the area? Or do you specify an exotic wood that comes from Costa Rica? I get to decide these things in my architecture as I get to also decide which materials to use in models. As clients come to me it is my responsibility to specify materials that I think are ethically responsible. I would choose the Zumthorian approach to materials using local materials in the area, with a small ecological footprint, where the ones mining/ harvesting the materials are treated right.
At the large scale of architecture I understand the importance of social justice, life cycle, and “sustainability.” As far as the materials we currently use at RISD in the architecture department it is far from these ideas. I have no clue where the materials I am using come from. Is plaster better to use than foam core? What is the best mold making material? What is the best for the maker to be breathing?
I am interested in exploring ways of recycling foam core or other non-recyclable materials that end up in the trash as part of a composite or hybrid material. I am not sure that melting petroleum products is the way to go, but there has to be another process of re-using. Even thinking about plaster, how can it be broken up and used with another material to achieve a certain effect. We could create the new CesarStone with casted material scraps.
Caroline’s work is great, very inspiring. I am excited to start thinking about ways in which we can re-use our materials and make a new composite material.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Inherently or not, an artist’s work is shaped by the nature of its medium. Trying to push away perhaps by its conventionality, the materiality used by students and their designs in mind converge. Many are driven by the qualities of either natural or synthetic materials, which can also dictate a student’s working process. This however can be convenient and can offer a sense of direction to a maker. At the same time some materials can limit our desire to express an idea. Some materials do not perform of have certain qualities that one might be looking for changing the end result or a design.
It is interesting to see how every department, it be the furniture, architecture or industrial design, has a different dialogue with the materials and resources they gather and use. For the furniture department it seems important to use recycled material to built upon from but still using “new or raw materials” to create a hybrid between the two. It seems like the process of experimentation and creating furniture made out of composite materials is common. However, I find interesting student’s concern to use recycled materials to make furniture but contradictive the amount of waste that can be produced by making for instance a chair.
In the architecture department, it seems like students take the time to fully understand their material selection. They test their materials to make sure they respond to what they are looking for while still being interested in it. This dialogue between the artist and their medium allows them to negotiate the boundaries between the material and their ideas.
Forcing students to use specific materials like corrugated cardboard, plaster, or wood is a good learning experience to understand the behavior of such. Hundreds of models and prototypes are made with affordable materials for students to development their ideas. It is something I find in common with many departments where exploration is encouraged and the endless amount of idea production is reinforced. The process can very wasteful, even more so if the materials used are being converged with others that are hard to take apart if those were to be recycled.
It doesn’t seen that much after thought has been given to the way ideas are being developed in relation to our material consumption and exploration. It’s hard to find a balance between making biodegradable resources, using little energy or not polluting in the process and designing an efficient product. Because more thought and awareness is being addressed to these concerns at RISD, it might affect the way we make and question the consequences composite materials can have to its environment.
It is good to hear that the department of industrial design is trying consolidate years of inefficient material production and packaging design since the industrial revolution to a more efficient and recyclable end product. Bringing to use more eco-friendly materials into our design might inspire other departments to act and react to these issues that are affecting the way we live and make.
Friday, March 6, 2009
It is true that how the fabrication of materials run counter to the way the environment interacts with other members of the living nature family. That harm to the environment is not calculated/considered at all in the numbers of the industrial revolution – that it is only several years after the fact, that industries are forced to find alternative for a more eco-sensitive way to do what it is that they do (i.e. do not dump your toxic waste into the river). But how much of that kind of impetus pushes for a new material to emerge? How much of those big industries with their tried and true product really investigate for a new material (process and product). I wonder how much emphasis should be spent on the new eco-sensitive material investigation when in fact that arena is insignificant compared to the production of existing materials – that perhaps our focus is not so much on the new, undiscovered, uninvented but rather toward a modification of the existing harmful, inconsiderate products available on the market. The huge elephant industries needs to change in order to make a significant positive impact on the environment in line with all the little mouse industries – I guess, I feel that clean-up is a major concern in the environment, that it is not enough to be pushing for new frontiers. So much of the environmental problems facing us now are pressing and that it is all about just trying to get the water out of the boat as fast as possible instead of thinking about a new motor.
Biomimicry is a rather exciting field in that science and technology are looking to what was around us all this time, to learn how to design things that can do things more efficiently. Indigenous crafts and technology is so fascinating in that sense, in that there is this high level of sensitivity to the system that is the environment (a pause to look around) so that their products retain draw upon that. I think a lot of our products have no sensitivity to how it works with other products, that it lacks that integration to what surrounds us so much. That there is in mind, this cycle, of birth and death and rebirth, that there is none of this synthetic, cooked materials that cannot be put back into the ground.
I first stumbled upon this interesting sculptural piece. At a first glance, this binding material appears to be pantyhose. But with further exploration, I found the wrapping to be a self adhesive tape which adheres to itself, but not to the objects it holds together. Here it is used to support the piece while glue dries. However, this example reflects a way of approaching combining materials so that they are able to be disassembled and recycled easily.
Next I began a conversation with Nora who creates new pieces of furniture from found objects and new materials. Here, the components of an existing metal and glass lamp combine to become a new composite material incorporated into a larger whole. This leads to many questions: How do we define a composite material as distinct from an object composed of several parts? Do the separate parts of this existing lamp read as individual parts of a new whole or does the lamp exist as a unified single entity which is a component of a larger piece? Does the passage of time and a previous life for the lamp mark the difference?
In the two photos above, Nora has employed an existing metal mould, expanding foam and new wire work to create a stool. She used a two-part solution expanding foam to pour into the found mold to create the cushion for the stool. What is interesting here is that the mould has created part of the form, but also remains a part of the final piece, leading to no waste.
This jig Nora used to form the wire work in the piece above is composed of plywood and other laminates. These are partially recycled materials made from leftover wood parts. However, they fail to consider the environment at every stage as the other ingredients in these composites are toxic, and the laminates themselves are difficult to reuse or recycle. A large volume of material is used not for the piece of furniture itself, but as a support or aid in forming the end product. This creates a huge waste stream when the furniture is finished. What if the students created their own plywood and laminates out of shop scraps to serve as jigs and other forms for draping?
Overall what I observed in the Furniture Department reflected and further opened the ideas of no waste and considering the environment at every stage. What seemed to set Furniture’s approach apart from ID’s is the lessened concern for functionality and reproduction. With these limitations removed, students seemed to experiment more the the possible properties and context of numerous materials.
Bright light. White. Sterile. Linoleum floor. Ventilation booth. Rubber gloves. Piece of burned wood . . . biology lab? Nope. But close. A mini kiln, I believe, has replaced the Bunsen burner, turning this space into a lab for resins and enamels.
I turn and am immediately confronted by a low table lined with wax routers in a room the size of a recording studio. Bolted into the wall behind me is a minerals list, charting the strengths of some of our beloved gems. And in the corner, below the sink’s super-sonic water filter, is a spaghetti strainer tilted up against a shallow basin filled to the brim with those itty-bitty rocks we’re familiar with seeing in fish tanks.
In a studio space across the hall, dangling from the ceiling, are giant vacuum hoses –canary yellow, coiled in black and looking as if they rolled off a page of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax. Adjacent to these odd creatures are the most peculiar of them all: a display of orbital buffers and sanders, which happen to be stationed in front of welding masks tacked into the wall.
You’ll need muscles, not a mouse, to operate in this department. No where will you find a computer. Instead, prepare to dig through heavy drawers filled with containers of delicate tools used for making the tiniest of silver knots. Then scan carefully organized walls in an impeccable fashion to grab hold of a massive, wooden handled instrument in hammering out some magnificent alloy.
Power fills this place in every sense of the word. Energy takes form from the electrical outlets spaced at regular intervals throughout each room, to the time it takes in sourcing material, all the way to the effort one makes in salvaging scrap pieces of dust. My modest understanding of jewelry making tells me there is something embedded between the formal operation of making and the intrinsic processes of working with metals, resins and enamels that can be applied to our new generation of ‘crafts people.’
The success of a piece be that it purchased and worn. Aside from any aesthetic judgment, its desire links back to the creator’s skilled knowledge of material and fine attention to detail. These also being the two main ingredients of our design challenge in conquering what ‘ecologically responsible design looks like.’
To take and frame this with C.Rose's observation exercise in drawing everything but the intended object analogous to constructing ‘green’ design principles, how do we evaluate by not looking at it aesthetically? How does purchasing power change if considering the color, cut, clarity and carat of a gem is no longer of value or fashioned?
Thursday, March 5, 2009
The beginning stages of ceramic pottery : clay from the bag to prep work for the wheel.
Addition of water in order to manipulate the clay on the wheel. Not exactly a change of state but perhaps a change in material properties as the clay absorbs the water.
Leftover clay pieces are discarded in a bin with water to be recycled.
Above: Bisque pieces; bisque meaning that the clay pieces have been fired in the kiln and are now ready for the application of glazing paint.
Glazing powders - classified by their chemical names. Perhaps there is the addition of other chemicals to create the glazing liquid...
A sample wall of glazed clay pieces that shows the color and sheen of the glazing after the clay piece has been fired for the second time.
A final piece.
The process of ceramics is about stages of phase transformation of the initial material (clay). Through the addition of water, the clay can be manipulated to any shape and forms . Then a minor subtraction of the water through air-drying, only to be sent through an intense firing process that pulls out all the water inside the clay, creating new bonds to harden the clay. I am curious about the process of glazing - how exactly does that glazed paint affix itself to the bisque clay, why is it necessary to send the entire artifact back into the kiln - how does this differ from other color-application process? How does this chemical reaction/process affect the design process/experimentation of the ceramic artist? questions questions...
Although it is still early in the semester, the fourth floor of the BEB has been buzzing with activity since early January. Degree project research and design began with the start of Winter session and never saw the break between semesters as anything more than a three day weekend, if that. So, for all intensive purposes, I am observing a section of the department that is already in the middle of a long semester, deep into rounds of exploration for some, research for others, and the early phases of architectural design for the remainder. No desk seems to be the same. Each student has their own repertoire of materials. For some, they are materials they have tested previously and have developed an intimate knowledge of, seeing them as reliable, yet exciting materials. Looking around, there were no materials that I felt to be unusual for the department, but it was clear that each individual had developed a preference for certain materials.
Around the floor, a few people were exploring use of sheet acrylic, a common material in the BEB, but being explored both for its material properties as well as its formal abilities. In most cases, working with sheet acrylic can nearly guarantee use of the laser cutter in the basement, as seen in the first image, where dozens of quarter sized circles were sliced out of 3/16” acrylic. However, one of the significant problems with this material is hardly noticed until you land yourself a studio desk on the south side of the building next to a great window that pours in sunlight and fresh air. During the traditional school day, roughly 9 am – 6 pm, the laser cutter does not get much use. Unfortunately though, from 6 pm until roughly 12:30 am, that laser cutter gets a full workout. There is an exhaust vent that pulls the toxic and generally nauseating fumes out of the laser cutter room, but then it dumps it directly outside of the window for the unexpecting students on the upper floors to breathe in, leading to horrible headaches and nausea.
Another materials, known to all architecture students, yet not frequently utilized is the reflective sheets of mylar. Every second year graduate student and forth year undergraduate is forced to take advantage of two major characteristics of this materials in order to study acoustics in design proposals. First, the reflective nature of the material allows for the use of a laser beam to determine how sound will bounce off of surfaces and secondly, the flexibility of the product allows for easy application to most model surfaces.
The next two images show two very common materials used at all stages of design development and representation. The third image shows a series of plaster casts that one student has been studying. The fourth image shows 1/8” corrugated cardboard, which is being used for its thickness, ability to layer and modify layer by layer, as well as the opportunities allowed by the voids of the corrugation. For many students, it is a joyous product because you can cover a lot of area for not a lot of money, which is great for study models that you would not consider precious.
The last two images are of fabric-like materials. The first being a heavy felt that has been rolled, sliced, wrapped, folded, and stitched. The second is a heavier leather material that has undergone similar explorations as the felt, but is now being stitched together with metal wire joints to begin forming a surface system.
Unfortunately, within the department, early on, there is encouragement to produce as many iterations of an idea as humanely possible in a 24 hour period as opposed to thorough study of a few models. Although as you continue through the program, students begin to control this idea more, there is still a vast amount of waste that exits that building through the garbage cans at the end of each semester. As I live in Providence year round, I have walked through the various floors of the BEB after everyone has cleared out their individual studio spaces, but before the maintenance team has had a chance to clean it all up, and I have consistently been horrified, semester to semester, year to year, by the volume of trash.
In the architecture department most of the materials I use and see are not ecologically responsible, cardboard can be recycled and is a recycled product, although most of the time I see scraps of it in the trash can, not in the recycling can. The laser cutter, exacto blades, scissors, glues are all made of composite materials, cooked materials which are not responsible. Therefore, everything we use in the architecture department is cooked.
Architecture has so many pre-existing ideas of what a topography model is and what material it has to be made of. No one goes beyond what they don’t know and explore another material, we use what we are familiar with. As long as this investigation of alternative, valuable materials is not done then the cycle of using foam core, chip board, cardboard, or any other sheet material will always be used. Perhaps that is the problem; maybe there are not enough sheet materials out there that are eco friendly and responsible.
In addition to the models as a mode of representation in architecture, there is digital drawing. We spend lots of money on ink and paper, which all ends up in the trash at the end of the semester as we clean out our desks. In the computer lab there is a recycle trash which is full of paper at the end of the day. It surprises me how people just toss paper, why not use it for sketching ideas or notes? Printing and drawings are great ways of communicating ideas but, we need to be more responsible with the end life of our drawings.
As the architecture department is full of composite and hybrid materials, I would have to guess that most other departments use them the same way, I would assume the jewelry department to be one that saves all their scrapes. I especially appreciate RISD as a campus informing us to recycle and using recycled materials, containers at the food locales around campus. Providing (selling) stainless steel water canisters instead of plastic bottles. RISD is really trying to make an impact and do their part by reaching out to the students as well.
I think it is important that we start looking at the materials we buy to use as designers and even within our personal lives at the life associated with the material, buy local, and be more ecologically responsible.
These two sculptural studies caught my attention because I suddenly realized the process designers go through when choosing materials and shapes. We are trying to interpret an image, feeling, sensation or other intangible moments and make it into an object, no matter what its size or purpose. Each designer goes through their own set of considerations in deciding how light is reflecting/refracting off the angles in the form and the material and if/how/why that will correctly translate their initial objective. I think both of these are successful interpretations considering I immediately saw and understood a connection between the objects and the images that were behind them.
It is now easy to understand the importance of the study shown above once I found these models of loft spaces. As these are models, the materials used must try to create the same emotion, feel, style the imagined full-scale space will have. If all of these were done in chipboard like the one in the lower right corner, they may not stand out as much. The addition of specific materials and shapes, helps sell the design. The choice of materials, color, textures and the amounts of each all affect the overall spaces and all were individual choices/decisions done by each designer to interpret their point of view into the design.
When I first saw this from across the room I wasn’t sure what I was approaching, initially I thought it was scrap from a furniture project and as I came closer I realized it was a city map in progress and each of these blocks represented a building. This misreading opened up a whole set of possibilities of explorations that could be done working with this kind of material and I was suddenly caught myself zooming in and out of this space at different sizes, from furniture to urban environment. The gradations of color on the sides adds an aesthetic to it as well as create a shadow and add contrast therefore elevating these objects from the map board. It would be interesting to see if students in this department are now so accustomed to using this type of material in recreating city spaces they are now bound by that association?