Perhaps the Greatest Social Challenge We are Facing
Written by Claude Bérubé FIIDA, Designer
Past-President of the International Federation
of Interior Architects/Designers (IFI)
This article is by no mean a scientific document but rather an overview of how new materials and innovating concepts will change our way of practice as engineers, architects or designers in the forthcoming future. With the new nanotechnology products already available architects and designers are expanding not only their traditional palette but also discovering new materials with new properties, bringing our concepts to avenues never exploited before. Like once said in a famous television series “I would like to take you where no man has been before”,
Twenty years ago (1987), the United Nations “identified” sustainable development as a critical priority. This concentrated the world’s attention on a set of related issues and problems, which had been recognized earlier by a few specialists. The identification of the problem was followed in 1992 by the creation of the Commission on Sustainable Development. Since then the UN has reaffirmed their commitment to sustainability through a series
of quinquennial summits. The last summit was held in New-York in June 2007. Put simply, the problem identified
that existing patterns of growth and development, while driven by rational behavior at the individual, enterprise and even national level, produced unwanted results that endangers not only the collective aspiration for adequate,
equitable and fulfilling life for all but to the extreme, the very continuation of life on the planet. In order to deal with such a problem, it is necessary to recognize it at a collective level, to understand its dimensions and uncertainties, to identify the important actors and their motivations and powers, and to develop collective institutions (of whatever degree of formality) capable of supporting solutions.
The UN report identified three dimensions along which sustainability could be assessed:
environmental (comprising resource use and ecological impact); economic (combining the provision and distribution of the means of sustaining life) and societal (including the institutions through which we interact with one another). Subsequent work has expanded this view (recognizing in particular an additional, cultural dimension to sustainability), greatly improved our scientific understanding of the mechanisms and processes involved, generated masses of new data about the state and trajectory of world systems, and produced a host of policy and institutional suggestions. Some have been tried out, and many more have been discussed.
But the challenges of sustainability, far from receding, have sharpened and drawn closer. So, where are we now in 2007 after 20 years of “development”. I believe, the ball is in our court.
Material Culture and a More Sustainable Society. A few years ago, Canadian environmentalists, Dr. Stuart Walker and Designer Hans Wissner explored in a paper the notion of authenticity and sustainability. They came to the conclusion that interior and industrial design interventions are highly important in insuring the balance between our material culture and a more sustainable society.
Architectural and Interior Design ethic therefore requires that we address the subject in terms of economic, ecological and social equity just as suggested in the UN report of 1987.
These ethic concerns contribute to the authenticity and elevation of our profession. With this in mind, we can start understanding the interaction that exist between our environment, its economy and the cultural context in which we, as designers contribute to create. We then can better understand our moral responsibilities in this world influenced by objects we contribute to create or to distribute and by actions we do when we create buildings that do not support the ecological and social equity our environment requires. Elevating the profession is not a goal in itself but a process of inner growth in which working toward a sustainable environment can play an important part. Our profession has changed in the recent years and, just as we change ourselves, the world around us also changes.
If we consider important our participation into our society and all cultural aspects it supports, interior designers should actively participate to its sustainable development and its growth. But, the problem is that human needs are infinite and can never be satisfied. Therefore it is clear that the current demand for production based on continual
economic growth is not sustainable.
The sustainable design concern should be so woven in the creative process that it becomes one more tool by which you undergo the project and deliver the required result to the client…in others words, what is considered as the best practice. But then, what is the best if not durable, maintainable, long time lasting… in other words “sustainable”. The healthcare & education areas are teaching us a lot. Furniture and lighting fixtures are conceived to last 20 years and walls and floors finishes should last for 10 years and be guaranteed to last that long.
A much more sustainable approach then which is seen in some office environments where everything is expected
to last 5 to 7 years. Extending product life is a very sustainable approach as we will see in some examples presented in this article.
Environmentalists Walker and Wissner believe that it is our duty to support all sustainable initiative susceptible of
improving our environment. J. Mays, the vice president in charge of design for the Ford motor company, suggests that the future success of major corporations will be based on supplying “regional products-sold locally” (1),this notion is currently being explored in the development of the e-Volution car (2). This seems to support the notion that local initiatives, providing products with regional appeal, can be a viable and effective vehicle for promoting a more sustainable way of living.
Wissner and Walker suggest that the key to making such endeavors successful lies in providing products that exhibit a genuine concern for the environment, provoke thoughtful interaction, and are produced in a sensitive and equitable manner. By ensuring that these products are economically viable and aesthetically appealing, they stand a
better chance of competing successfully against mass marketed, industrially produced objects. (3-4) It should also be noted that the assessment of sustainability has also evolved; in the beginning, it was measured in terms of stocks of scarce resources, income, social capital, cultural products, etc. Despite early indications, we have not run out of these things. From this, we have learnt two lessons. First, human ingenuity can identify substitutes for scarce resources. Second, from the human welfare perspective the ownership and distribution of resources matters as much as their absolute levels. This suggests that we should be concerned with the capability of world systems to support life – this is a more general and technology-friendly concept than a stock-based definition.
From Sustainability to Nanotechnology Nanotechnology in some countries follows a public trajectory similar to the one plant biotechnology once pursued. Perception by some of its detractors is that nanotechnology is an out of control science developed to serve the interests of industry, mad scientists, and corrupted government. This is what is expressed in the popular animated series Justice League Unlimited, where the arch-villain Lex Luthor harnesses the power of nanotech to juice up his symbiotic union with the android Brainiac. I recently saw on a “blog site” a comment posted by a concerned individual stating that “nanobots have charismatic villain potential since they could control us from inside”. Nanotechnology is definitely the new science that plays the “transformative plot role” today. Biotechnology and Nuclear Sciences can rest for some time. But it is somehow a reality in very positive aspects; Nanotechnology will lead to drastic changes in the use of natural resources, water, and energy production and distribution.
Waste and pollution will be minimized and therefore a major impact on a sustainable environment can be expected.
Nanotechnology offer major potential benefits in numerous fields and hold the promise of contributing significantly to sustainability, based on enhanced properties with decreased use of materials, energy, and reduced waste. Ultimately computers can be 1000 times smaller and use 100 times less power. Materials can be about 100 times stronger. This means that most human-scale products would consist almost entirely of empty space, reducing weight, material requirements, and cost. Most of the rest of the product would be structural and easy to design. Now
we can all imagine the impact that new techniques and processes or new and more flexible materials can have in a profession where our traditional concept of structure does not hold the same value anymore. Now that sustainability has become an essential component of the economic world and more cost competitive intelligent nano solutions are combined with mass production, we can expect strong venture capital becoming available. With an increasing number of new nano products being available day after day, (500 are advertised in July 2007) industrialists, developers, investors and manufacturers are starting to believe that any cost conscious clean technology is a very profitable business.
Sustainable architecture and design goes beyond being just efficient, attractive, on time and on budget. It is a design that cares about how such goals are achieved, about its effect on people and on the environment. Similarly, sustainability and nanotechnology share the same basic principles.
An environmentally responsible professional architect or designer makes a commitment to constantly try to find ways to diminish design’s impact on the world around. It is also a smart way of doing business: sustainable design is the fastest growing segment of our industry. Combined to nanotechnology a sustainable world becomes increasingly more possible.
Broadly, nanotechnology allows the creation of entirely new materials with superior strength, electrical conductivity or resistance to heat.
• Manufacturing metals, ceramics, polymers, etc. at exact shapes without machining, this produces lighter, stronger and even programmable materials.
• Self-cleaning materials: material surfaces are manufactured to prevent any absorbing or sticking of any unwanted substance on the product body; the material can be adjusted to the exact requirements of the task expected.
Products from the emerging nanotechnology
New Nano-Technology Based Textiles
The application of this technology is leading to the development of new functionalities in textiles without losing the fabric’s texture.
CSIRO Textile and Fiber Technology (CTFT) have achieved a major technological breakthrough by creating a range of unique physical properties in fabrics – including the ability to conduct electricity and heat. These textiles also give excellent strength and toughness but also provide self-cleaning coatings. A wide variety of surface protections has already produced materials with anti-corrosion, anti-dirt, antismells characteristics, materials expected to solve serious hygiene and health problems in hotels and hospitals.
The development of these coatings is key mainly in sectors such as architecture and construction, textiles, heat exchangers, air conditioning ducts, hygiene-health (hotels, hospitals, schools).
The achievement of such coatings means, not only a reduction in the problems of corrosion and in health risks, but also a reduction or elimination in the consumption of biocides and toxic industrial detergents. Nanomaterials are only some of the new products developed by researchers to make a better use of the materials we have on this planet.
You can play your part in creating this change and seize the rewards of embracing sustainable development, from new markets and new products to the advantage of your projects.
Aerogel: A Unique Product for Architects and Designers
Aerogel (or Nanogel) is the strongest and lightest material known to man says Nicholas Leventis PhD. a chemist with the University of Missouri-Rolla.
Aerogel is part of the new family of semi-transparent solids that also include products such as translucent concrete.
Aerogel is 5% solid and 95% air with its small pores it is one of the best thermal insulators in the world. Cabot and Vector-Foiltec are the only companies manufacturing the product. In addition to being the world’s most efficient insulation, Aerogel nanocomposites is a lightweight climatic envelope that can control and regulate light transmission, change colour and even produce energy. With this innovative product, architects and designers can develop an infinite range of building envelope, create furniture and find alternative uses such as translucent acoustical walls.
Target applications could range from shopping center atriums to museums or swimming pool roofing where day lighting conditions are required. Aerogels were invented over 75 years ago but Leventis used nanotechnology to make the product 100 times stronger and virtually insensitive to moisture. This structural composite material is a translucent panel that can provide up to 3 times the thermal performance of material currently preferred on the market; Aerogel or Nanogel offers therefore significant economies in term of energy saving.
By far the biggest user of applied products in nanotechnology composite in the world is the American General Motors. Nano composites have been used by the company since 2004 for exterior car body application mostly for the trimmings of the cars. GM is using nearly one million pounds of nano composite material a year in the car industry.