Bucks New University FDA Kitchen Design – Residential weekend 3 – 2018/19

Unless you are the President of the USA, you’ll probably appreciate tackling climate change is the most pressing issue that we as inhabitants of this planet must address to safeguard the future of the next generation.

Sustainability is on the tip of most of our designing tongues but what does it really mean?  Why do we stop short of spitting it out and how do we alter our approach to design to do so sustainably?  I don’t believe we need to tear up the rule book and start again – instead we should enhance our trusted methods and integrate a new mind-set, new targets but most importantly, have a greater understanding of what we simply have to now achieve.

As designers, we have a duty to deliver what our clients demand.  We know they wish to do their bit so we must be able to deliver them designs and products based on sustainable principles – the kitchen industry is lagging behind similarly priced consumer investments and we can’t play at it any longer.

So this sets us up fantastically for the final residential weekend of the year for the students of the FDA in Kitchen Design at Bucks New University.  This weekend’s theme was, of course, sustainability.  We headed off piste for this trip and made our way to Dartington Hall in the Devonshire countryside.  In the grounds of the estate is the Schumacher College – a place that was to be integral to the weekend’s experiences.

Day 1

The residential would include a mixture of talks, experiences and final presentations from the students.  Things kicked off with a presentation from biophilic designer, Oliver Heath.  Many had not previously heard of this approach but Oliver spectacularly (and it must be said, very generously) explained the effects biophilia has on our health through design.  The lecture acknowledged that while we currently introduce the natural environment into our designs where we can, we never had the place to give it a ‘home’.  In the short period of an hour, Oliver had managed to instil into each of us the opportunity to include these principles (in a world focussed on betterment of wellbeing) and raise them up the list of priorities in our designs.

Next up was a presentation from Charlotte Hughes of Cosentino.  This was a nice touch enabling the students to get a better understanding of the manufacturing processes and compositional makeup of quartz and sintered materials. We were also told of the eco credentials of the brand.

After lunch it was to be the final presentations from the Year 3s of their RSA design brief works.  Some wonderful creations were presented, demonstrating how the students had discovered solutions for real life issues – a critical skill in design.

Our evening was to be spent at the Schumacher College.  Founded thirty years ago by Satish Kumar, the college was inspired by the author of Small is Beautiful, Ernst Friedrich Schumacher.  The college is respected across the globe for its holistic and experimental approach to delivering environmentally focussed courses.

We had an early evening talk from Roberto Fraquelli, the college’s ecological designer.  Having a formidable history in industrial design, Roberto now devotes his time to developing strategical systems of how designers should assess and develop their personal ecological responsibilities in design.  Being completely honest, I would benefit from the opportunity to revisit his thoughts – I didn’t realise there were so many words I had never previously heard!

A long day of learning was drawing to a close so we headed to the gardens to eat.  We were greeted with a gin and tonic and treated to some delicious homegrown produce, enjoyed in the woodland around a fire.

We then ventured deeper into the woods where we would hear about the life of the extraordinary Satish Kumar.  To the backdrop of the setting sun and crackling pops of burning timber, this was an experience everyone took something slightly unique from.  Hearing (normally cliched) words of wisdom from the softly spoken, worldly wise and experienced Satish, he impacted us all in our understanding of life’s true values.  It was a genuinely humbling experience and one that I hope all the students store in their memories of life’s experiences.

Day 2

Our second morning started with circulating rumours of an early hours ‘swim’ in the outdoor pool!  Thankfully, they had an extra hour to sleep off any regrets before we had our first chat – Duncan Baker-Brown of BBM Architects, a globally recognised firm in the field of sustainable architecture.  A truly fascinating lecture was given as Duncan shared his approach to achieving sustainability in the form of reuse rather than recycle.  60% of all waste generated on our shores comes from our construction industry.

Duncan designed and built the ‘Waste House’ on the grounds of the University of Brighton.  The Waste House reuses abandoned products destined for land fill to build the property.  Products such as disregarded video tapes, toothbrushes and used duvet covers were afforded the opportunity of reincarnation, now contributing to the future of our planet acting as the building’s energy saving materials.

We then jumped on the coach and headed to the Dartmouth Coast.  Here we met Stephan Harding of Schumacher College, an ecological scientist.

I don’t want to ruin the experience for anyone considering doing this but in brief,  Stephan’s ‘Deep Time Walk’ took us on a 4.6km walk along the picturesque coast of Dartmouth.  Thomas Newcomen invented the first steam powered engine in Dartmouth – the significance of this being that it enabled deeper depths to be reached resulting in the mining of the fuel that powered  the industrial revolution – coal.  What started unknowingly here, three hundred years ago has left us now in the position we need to rectify.

The 4.6km walk was representative of our planet’s 4.6 billion years of existence and evolution.  As we ‘passed through time’, Stephan demonstrated wonderfully how the Earth’s resilience to devastation is unrelenting.

Some may question the direct relevance of this to us as kitchen designers but that would be missing the message.  Time is understandably impossible for us as humans to comprehend – the walk gave us the relatability of a definable distance and thus the realisation of how rapidly we have managed to take the planet to the brink. More importantly, it demonstrated how quickly we must act as designers to protect our environment.

There is a great app available for anybody wanting to know more: https://www.deeptimewalk.org/kit/app/

Dinner on Saturday evening was at the Riverford Field Kitchen.  Tutors and students again enjoyed the culinary tastes of locally grown produce before heading back to the White Hart to enjoy our last evening with the Year 3s.

Day 3

Considering all that had been done over the last couple of days, we could have forgiven the students for being a touch drained ahead of their final year presentations.  But ahead they pressed and some truly excellent work was presented. From a personal angle, it concluded my first year as part of the lecturing team – an experience I have truly and unreservedly enjoyed.

So what did this weekend teach us?  Well, firstly that the calibre of speakers on this course is exceptional – the world’s finest.  Johnny, Craig and Natalie organised a weekend that I hope will be cherished by the students (and tutors) as an educational experience from which we will alter our thinking towards our planet.

And what about kitchens?

We simply must now develop a truly sustainable kitchen.