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Hansgrohe and Designer Kitchen & Bathroom partnered for Clerkenwell Design Week this year to explore the challenges and opportunities that are emerging in the new age of sustainable design within the home.
Joined by a panel of experts from across the spheres architecture and interiors, speakers included Susie Rumbold - Founder and Creative Director of Tessuto Interiors, Bill Dunster - Founder and Architect of Zed Factory and Matt Aspiotis Morley - Founder and Director of Biofilico. Hosted by Hansgrohe at their renowned Water Studio showroom in Clerkenwell, the discussion was chaired by Martin Allen-Smith, Editor of Designer Kitchen & Bathroom magazine.
Whilst sustainability remains the number-one buzzword amongst designers at the moment, what became clear throughout the discussion was that the interest in carbon-neutral design within the built environment remains largely within the A&D community – the average consumer in the UK, according to the panel, has other priorities at the forefront of their minds when it comes to specification.
Susie Rumbold gave the example of clients who care more about the ‘nuts and bolts’ of their homes and are leading with aesthetic requirements above everything else. For instance, she recalls how many clients will still opt for a real marble worktop shipped to the UK from India at a huge cost – with a colossal carbon footprint - rather than a cheaper, more carbon-friendly ceramic worktop which looks identical to marble thanks to digital printing. Clients still want the ‘real thing’, and its up to designers and architects to convince clients of the wider benefits of carbon-sensitive specification.
Bill Dunster and Matt Aspiotis-Morley agreed, and stated that compared to other countries, the UK is at the bottom when it comes to environmental standards. Dunster argued that currently the UK market is in a bubble, adding that the government and in many ways the design community were largely paying lip service to the movement. Whilst some brands, notably Hansgrohe, were doing exceptional work in the sustainability field, the UK as a whole needs to up its standards – calling for a ‘grassroots movement’ that speaks to the same aims as those of the Extinction Rebellion movement. Scandinavian, Canadian, Australian and Asia countries are at the forefront of this – notably countries that either already have a longstanding and active ‘green’ movement throughout the past 60 years or will be the most affected by climate change and sea-level rises.
One way in which sustainability could be pushed to the forefront of people’s minds at home could be through engaging with the widespread trend for ‘wellness’ in our homes – a key trend that more architects and interior designers are engaging with at the behest of their clients. Aspiotis-Morley asserted that if you look back through human history, biophilic design both complements and encourages the incorporation of wellness within the home and workplace. The panel agreed and felt that there was potential for the development of a new design vernacular at the moment – one that combined sustainability at its heart as well as creating homes and buildings that live and breathe with its inhabitants.
When it comes to sustainable design, the perceived prohibitive costs associated still remain at the forefront of many client’s minds. For this reason, it’s a myth that architects and designers need to combat. Dunster claimed that his team can make carbon-neutral buildings and developments, and with the inclusion of smart energy and green energy generation techniques, many developments actually provide a slight surplus of renewables in the homes they build – citing the ‘mathematical’ relationship’ humans have with their environment. Dunster argued that if clients knew they wouldn’t have any energy bills for the rest of their lives, they would be more likely to want to include such capabilities in their properties. Specifying quality products (such as Hansgrohe brassware) has meant that his projects aren’t sending materials to landfill 20 years down the line and could in fact last a lifetime.
Again, education remains at the heart of the issue – Rumbold claimed that there was an intense amount of misinformation around the carbon load of materials and many clients held inaccurate information about how they could offset their carbon cost – with the panel then discussing the viability of a ‘carbon budget’ to be included for projects going forward.
Whilst the panel agreed that the task ahead is enormous, there were things that the A&D community could do to aid the promotion of sustainability throughout the industry and also society. Firstly, the community has to do what it does best – design! Only through problem solving and working with manufactures and developers can we find solutions to the climate crisis, and crucially – make them affordable. Rumbold argued for micro-advancements or being ‘Guerrilla Green’: always suggesting green options when specifying every product, being ever-so-slightly surreptitious when doing do and not over-loading people with the ‘green’ message – i.e. making it the new normal. Ultimately, sustainable design has to look good – the panel agreed that engineering and design brilliance meant little unless most people liked the product and would want to incorporate the product into their buildings based on the aesthetic benefit alone.