Sunday, 17 January 2010

_Elemental - Design within your means

Documentary of Quinta Monroy Project in Iquique, Chile from elementalchile on Vimeo.

What can we learn from the architectural principles applied here in Chile?  What aspects of the process, communication and strategy might we take forward when planning housing projects in the UK?

Thursday, 14 January 2010


Adj. 1. Lasting for a long time; enduring or continually recurring. > continually engaged in a specified activity: a perennial student. 2. (of a plant) living for several years. Compare with ANNUAL, BIENNIAL. 3. (of a stream or spring) flowing throughout the year.  From L. perennis ‘lasting the year through’.
[Source: Concise Oxford English Dictionary]


Good Deeds, Good Design, Edited by Bryan Bell [Princeton Architectural Press, 2004]
The Community Planning Handbook, Nick Wates [Earthscan Publications, 2000]
Permaculture in a Nutshell, Patrick Whitefield [Permanent Publications, 2008]
The Green Braid, Towards an Architecture of Ecology, Economy and Equity, Edited by Kim Tanzer & Rafael Longoria [Routledge, 2007]
How to Be a Happy Architect, Bauman Lyons Architects [Black Dog Publishing, 2008]
Peak Everything, Richard Heinberg [Clairview, 2007]
Breaking out of the box: The Biography of Edward de Bono, Piers Dudgeon [Headline, 2001]

_LINK - Towards a Zoology of Spaces

Saturday 13th January \ 3pm \ Auto Italia South East
No arts space acting alone can respond to the diverse and conflicting needs, interests and access requirements of all its stakeholders; no insular effort will suffice to critically embrace future technologies ... Instead we offer a toolkit of architectural and political strategies for knitting arts spaces into a tapestry of creative debate, out of which a new and more sustainable global society might one day rise.  Art Spaces Lead Global Ecology of Ideas, Hunter&Gatherer (with Yiannis Kanakakis).

_Green Screen at Department 21

Green Screen \ Thursday 21st January \ 6pm \ Department 21

Film \ The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil
Dialogue \ How can we move forward with lower energy?

Questions and ideas raised by the dialogue will be collated online, both here and on Sustain RCA

_Market Estate Project

Just So Studio has been invited to participate in the Market Estate Project, Islington, during February \ March 2010.  New homes from old homes.  We will be setting up shop with new household products made from the fabric of the old building – soon to be demolished.  Profits will be donated to local charities working with the homeless.

_New Homes in Haringey - Site 26

A recent decision by Haringey Council to approve the idea building on parkland in Tottenham Hale has sparked reaction in local residents.  Can the council, planning department, developers and residents be united around a shared vision for the area?  What is really needed in this area? Can underlying local issues of transience, unemployment and temporary accommodation be addressed during the design process and proposal for this site?

_Department 21

Just So Studio has set up home in Department 21 at the RCA for 4 weeks.  Department 21 is an experimental interdisciplinary workspace at the Royal College of Art.

_New Homes in Haringey - Sites 1-26

The Haringey 5-year land-supply plan outlines plans for the provision of over 4000 housing units in 25 sites across the borough.  An additional scheme, outlining a further 1600 housing units is proposed for a further site at Greater Ashley Road, Tottenham Hale.  Map:,-0.100937&spn=0.06089,0.130634&z=13

There is a large amount of local opposition to the current plans for a number of these sites [most notably Wards Corner, Seven Sisters, and Greater Ashley Road].  What do these reactions tell us?  How can we create space for dialogue, consultation and community within the development process?

What kind of development is needed?
How can we open up this question?

_PROJECT 3 - Allotment 138

The new term sees the launch of Allotment 138, at Wolves Lane Allotments.  My [very cold] allotment is to become inhabited by artists and designers from the RCA as well as vegetables this spring.  Watch this space and the Flickr Photostream for images as the space develops.

_PROJECT 2 - Mobile Garden Workshop

‘...the stall should be no greater than 2.74m long, 1.06m wide and 3.05m high.’
[Source: Haringey Free Space Regulations]

Ideas harvested from Project 1 were consolidated and reconfigured to form the brief for Project 2, a Mobile Garden Workshop, to be launched at Haringey Free Speech Area during Spring 2010.

…we need more people doing this!
Why don’t you teach them gardening?
Plant fruit trees in all landscaping schemes.
Use this ‘Haringey Free Speech Area’ more.
Get young people making things that are permanent.
Go down to Hornsey Town Hall – they gave us funding for our allotment shed project.

_PROJECT 1 - Ideas Harvest Festival

_PROJECT 1 - Haringey Ideas Harvest

1 mile, 3 hours, 4 cooking apples, 5 bunches of wildflowers, 12 black radishes [very spicy], 18 bunches of spinach.
A one-day project, getting to know the people who live in the area around my allotment in Wood Green, North London.  A wheelbarrow full of vegetables provided the starting point for conversations: I exchanged something I had [vegetables from my allotment] for something I wanted [local ideas to improve Haringey].

_Writing a new storyline

...I propose that we should not think of sustainability as a concept as is done in common usage, or as a discourse ... or even as a narrative ... but as a storyline.  I prefer this term because it emphasises the plot or trajectory of action rather than the style of the narrative. hypothesis is that successful storylines of sustainability - meaning those that lead to satisfying action - are constituted of political, environmental and technological talk that is home-grown from particular cultural and environmental conditions.
... when citizens of a particular place compare their situation to abstract models of sustainable development or lists of best practices what they encounter are local obstacles to be overcome by universal principles.  But when they begin with local patterns of public talk and historical storylines, what they encounter are opportunities.  It is this latter possibility that leads most directly to satisfying action.
Stephen A. Moore, Models, lists, and the evolution of sustainable architecture, in The Green Braid

_Studio Methodology

Never assume the need.
Keep asking: What is needed now?
Your solution to any problem will depend on what you perceive the problem to be.

...what is needed are tools that will open up new public conversations.
Stephen A. Moore, Models, lists, and the evolution of sustainable architecture, in The Green Braid


Just So Studio values:


Interdependency: No one profession or professional can change things effectively on their own.

Dialogue: Communication should be open, transparent and honest.

Trust: Without trust, nobody is free to be themselves and to produce powerful work.

_Architecture as Support Structure

As M. Scott Ball writes in Expanding the Role of the Architect, ‘the well-being of all communities is inherently valuable to the health of our profession.  How can we understand architecture as a support structure?  Can this approach help us to engage more fully with communities and create work which in turn engages with its surroundings over time?

The primary catalyst for my practice has been my willingness to be useful first, and then figure out how my usefulness is architectural.  I rely heavily on invitations and value the possibilities that they reveal for architecture to find relevant expression.
M. Scott Ball, Expanding the Role of the Architect, in Good Deeds, Good Design


The ultimate object of design is not artifacts, buildings, or landscapes, but human minds...
…The education of all design professions ought to begin in the recognition the architecture and landscapes are a kind a crystallised pedagogy that informs well or badly, but never fails to inform.  Design inevitably instructs us about our relationships to nature and people that makes us more or less mindful and more or less ecologically competent.
…If it is not to become simply a more efficient way to do the same old things, ecological design must become a kind of public pedagogy built into the structure of daily life. ... The goal of ecological design is to calibrate human behaviour with ecological realities while educating people about ecological possibilities and limits.
…When we design ecologically, we are instructed continually by the fabric of everyday life - pedagogy informs infrastructure which in turn informs us.
David Orr, Architecture, ecological design, and human ecology, in The Green Braid

The challenge of resource scarcity draws into sharper focus what we choose to construct, the manner in which we choose to construct it, and the social aim towards which it is directed.  How can we design buildings, systems, landscapes and products which increase our ecological literacy?  How can designers and architects employ permaculture principles to enable authorities, businesses and local residents to become more mindful and ecologically competent throughout each design project?

_Permaculture Design Process

A permaculture-based analysis can offer a frank and grounded way of approaching any design problem, revealing tangible ways of making transitions towards ecological and systems-based thinking from the very start of the project.  Rather than designing elements in isolation, this design approach encourages links to be formed between products, services and systems.
Close observation of existing conditions is prioritised over starting with a clean-slate:
1. Asset audit: What do we have already?
2. Establishing \ reinforcing relationships between existing elements
3. What needs to be added?
4. In what manner do we add?
5. To what ends?


Initially developed by Bill Mollison and David Holgrem in Australia in 1978, from study of the naturally occurring forest ecosystem, permaculture design offers a creative way of seeing the environment in which we live and work.  It is a principle-based approach, advocating whole-system thinking, which offers numerous 'ways in', to start tackling large problems with small, realistic solutions.

The basis of permaculture design is to establish the separate elements of any system into mutually beneficial relationships, making use of all products of the system and naturally available energy.  This enables us to design systems and environments which maximise yield whilst minimising energy use.

Useful connections can only be made between things if they are put in the right place relative to each other.
Permaculture is a process of looking at the whole, seeing what the connections are between the different parts, and assessing how these connections can be changed so that the place can work more harmoniously.  This may include introducing some new elements or methods, especially on an undeveloped site.  But these changes are incidental to the process of looking at the landscape as a whole.
The essence of permaculture is to work with what is already there: firstly to preserve what is best, secondly to enhance existing systems, and lastly to introduce new elements.  This is a low-energy approach, making minimum changes for maximum effect...
Patrick Whitefield, Permaculture in a Nutshell, [Permanent Publications, 2008]

_I am not separate from my environment

How can I visualise the relationship between myself and my environment?  These two illustrations show two illustrations of the relationship between the individual and the environment.  What difference does it make to my daily decisions if I acknowledge the extent of the interplay between each of my small decisions and the health of the wider environment?

A \ Individual-centric view: I am in control of the sphere of influence of my actions.  I can employ the people and resources around me to satisfy my needs, ideas and desires without any negative impact.

B \ Environment-dependent view:  I cannot choose the sphere of influence of my actions.  Everything I do and experience is a direct result of [and cause of] the environment in which I live.  Everything I choose to do has a direct impact at all levels of humanity and the environment.  My health is entirely dependent on the health of my surroundings.

_Ecological Literacy

We are nature, learning.
Ethan Roland

I have had email conversations with people over the last few months about what the transition to a lower energy future actually means.  It seems that the transition which needs to happen relates to our understanding of the relationship between the individual and the earth.

One of the things that will have to transition is the notion that the so-called ‘environment’ is a so-called separate ‘issue’, as if everything else could carry on as normal whether this issue gets addressed or not.  That’s plainly impossible.  Designers, artists and scientists are going to have a big part to play in communicating this, because it’s toxic to politicians. … there is not much any government can do now that will make much difference in its short political lifetime (typically 10-15 years max in the UK) and they can’t face up to telling the voters what the energy companies are already saying: energy and all fossil-fuel derived or dependent products and activities are going to get more and more expensive in the future, starting now.  Do you know about Jody Boehnert’s projects - her sites are at and
[Extract from email correspondence]

_Human Framework

How does transition happen?  In what conditions do paradigm shifts occur?
How does transition happen at an individual level - how do people change?

To change our patterns of behaviour voluntarily, we must first be aware that we are able to change.  We must be motivated to change, think through how to make that change, and act upon our realisations.  For this to happen, there needs to be an acknowledgement of the connection between the 'awareness', the 'motivation', the ‘how’ and the 'action'.

A \ Elements of myself.

B \ Elements of myself, observed and connected.  I can be aware of what is happening; I am aware of my motivations and emotions; I am aware that my motivations affect my thoughts; I am aware that I act based on my thoughts.  I can see the connection between my underlying motivations and their manifestation in action.

_Peak Oil

The term Peak Oil refers to the maximum rate of production of oil in area under consideration, recognizing that it is a finite natural resource, subject to depletion. … A debate rages over the precise date of peak, but rather misses the point, when what matters – and matters greatly – is the vision of the long remorseless decline that comes into sight on the other side of it.  The transition to decline threatens to be a time of great international tension.
Colin Campbell, ASPO,

The rate at which we are consuming fossil fuels is greater than the rate in which sources are being discovered.  How do we prioritise how we use the resources available to us?  What skills can designers and architects bring to addressing this question?

What technology should we choose to employ, and what design approaches can we use to enable a transition forward into a functional and culturally exciting society, with less cheap energy available?  We are in a period of transition.  We need many ways of visualising and making real the idea of ‘contemporary culture, within our means, within the means of the earth’.

_How the world is changing design

‘Things’ can only come into being if financial and material resources are available.  The financial and material resources available to people are changing.  The greatest challenge facing us is to learn to live within our means and the means of the planet.  It is no longer relevant to make expensive shapes or speculative offices.  If good design flourishes with constraints, can architecture come into its own as a design discipline in the current climate?

Most people dislike and are even a little afraid of change: but design means change.  It means trying out something new.  Design is also a little aggressive.  It should actively question accepted thought and dogma.  The curious and open minded will relish the challenge of surprising new vistas and will enjoy pitching their mental resources against the unexpected.
Bernat Klein, Design Matters, Secker & Warburg, 1976

_To be explored

What design needs and roles are exposed by Peak Oil and the transition towards a low-energy culture?
In light of this, what design needs and roles are exposed in my immediate community?

Themes to be explored:
Closing the gap between the designer\architect and the end-user.  Designing the means as well as the ends.  Facilitation as a design process.  The importance of dialogue.  Learning how to ask the right questions.  Closing the gap between the design process and the making process.  Defining contemporary craftsmanship. The role of prefabrication and CAD/CAM.

Words to be explored:
Ecology.  Permaculture.  Cradle-to-cradle design.  Interdependency.  Whole system design.

_Napkin Manifesto

The interdependent roles of designers, authorities and the public in shaping our environment.
Bethany Wells, Tom Lasbrey and Ceri Williams \ Oct 2009