Sustainable discovery

As an increasing number of exhibition organisers turn to designers who can follow sustainable principles, how difficult is this in practise and is there a sufficient supply chain in place? asks Emily Pacey

In comparison with, say, a brochure, the sheer size of a building’s interior makes it particularly challenging to square with sustainable values. And for designers of temporary exhibitions, which may be torn down and replaced every few weeks, working sustainably can be extremely difficult.

Tim Molloy, head of creative direction at the Science Museum, says, ’Designing environmentally friendly temporary exhibitions is really hard to do; the desire when you build a show is to communicate very powerfully – and shouting always has an impact on the earth.’

For the Science Museum’s interactive Atmosphere Gallery, which opened at the end of last year and is focused on climate science, exhibition design consultancy Casson Mann employed a sustainability consultant. ’Digitally driven shows with projections are hugely carbon heavy,’ says Molloy. In the end, making the exhibition more sustainable meant cutting back from 16 to 8 projectors.

Suppliers to the interior design industry are becoming increasingly innovative in their approaches to sustainability, making it a matter, for interior designers, of choosing suppliers on their environmental credentials. Some stand out. Woven vinyl flooring company Bolon, which won a Red Dot Award for product design this year for its Artisan collection, aims to offer clients a carbonneutral product, and claims to be the world’s first flooring business to switch to using 100 per cent renewable raw materials that have their origin in the plant kingdom.

We’re seeing a major trend for cardboard furniture, fixtures and fittings – a material that is both fully recyclable and very sturdy

In terms of materials, we are also seeing a major trend for cardboard furniture, fixtures and fittings, from designer Stuart Knox and his Coolcardboard Furniture to an entire pop-up shop in Melbourne, Australia, made from cardboard, and many examples of cardboard shelving systems in between. Cardboard has the advantage of being fully recyclable, and is proving to be a very sturdy and sensually appealing material.

Designers must consider processes involved in the creation of their interiors. Vancouver-based furniture, product and interior designer – and architect – Omer Arbel tries to source his materials locally, cutting down on his carbon footprint but also creating beautifully crafted objects that are to keep, rather than to dispose of.

Arbel sums up the kind of paradigm shift involved in thinking sustainably about design. He says, ’Our role is to design systems with enough looseness built into them that result in different pieces. Instead of designing form we design procedures.’

Case Study – Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre
by Thomas Matthews

Creating an exhibition that manages to combine sustainable materials and processes with striking and impressive features is a difficult task, and one that fell to Thomas Matthews in its recent project for Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre in Cheshire.

The 1000m2 permanent exhibition opened at Easter at Jodrell Bank, as part of the University of Manchester’s Centre for Astrophysics. Glancing at the show, which is large scale and contains digital interactives, you wouldn’t know that it had been built following sustainable principles.

Where possible, computers needed for the digital interactives (designed with the Discovery Centre team and Horsehoeshape) were sourced from existing stock at the research centre, to avoid the need to procure new ones, while other Green aspects include LED and optic fibre lighting (lighting was created with DHA Design).

But Thomas Matthew’s main focus was on minimising the amount of materials used in the design of the exhibits. This meant keeping all cut-offs and re-using them in the design. Using their imagination, the designers also found sustainable ways to allow the exhibition to be self-supporting, since the pavilions at the centre had been built with minimal internal walls.

In terms of graphics, Thomas Matthews used new ’white ink’ technologies in digital Direct to Media flat-bed printing that allowed the group to pre-cut and paint the MDF before printing the graphics. Essentially, this meant that the consultancy could print full colour images directly on to a black substrate, without having to add a new substrate to the structure.

Case Study – Coca-Cola Olympic Torch Tour
by Push Studios

Push Studios designed and created the Coca-Cola Olympic Torch Tour, which launched on 1 June with the aim of encouraging people to nominate ’Future Flames’ – youngsters who would carry the torch during the London 2012 relay.

Coca-Cola challenged Push Studios to put sustainable thinking at the heart of the campaign, since The Future Flames tour (which will appear at 50 venues and festivals this summer) will aim to encourage sustainable living across the UK. The consultancy devised an experiential and sustainable tour bus. ’We refitted a classic Routemaster bus with a cutting-edge exhaust system that has a fast- reacting stainless steel pre-catalyst to achieve high gaseous reductions,’ explains Henry Reeve, senior designer at Push Studios. ’The exhaust filter will reduce particulate emissions to practically zero.’

A Volvo Hybrid diesel electric delivery vehicle is also part of the tour, while all props, including flags, banners and staff clothing, are made from 113 000 recycled plastic Coca-Cola bottles.

Case Study – Siemens Urban Sustainability Centre
by Event Communications

Event Communications is working on exhibition designs for a new Urban Sustainability Centre, for global technologies group Siemens, located at Riverside in London’s Docklands and featuring a 2000m2 interactive exhibition about living and working sustainably in urban environments. The building, designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects, boasts a closedloop water system. Event’s creative director and Riverside project leader Esther Dugdale claims that, ’by transferring Green techniques from architectural practice and Siemens’ solutions… [the building] walks the talk’. The centre will be open by summer 2012.

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