After seeing the Design for a Living World exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt my wheels have been turning. Although, the wheels may not have led me anywhere other than out on weekly $20 challenges which have proved surprisingly successful in my opinion, I still love hearing what people have been able to create with resources that are available to us rather than exhausting the same ones we always have. For the Design for a Living World, the Cooper Hewitt challenged 10 designers to create something with an abundant resource with the motivation that if the taste makers of our culture come up with a way to make these materials popular or create some want for them their would be mutual benefits. Guiltlessly capitalizing on sustainability.
For instance, Isaac Mizrahi was challenged to create an outfit from salmon leather, a material that can have the effect of looking like a sequin paillete and is thrown away by the hundreds or maybe thousands of pounds daily by salmon fishermen.
And do you know what vegetable ivory is?
So going on the theme of "one man's trash is another man's treasure" seems to be the underlying theme to it all, whether it's actually someone else's trash or a material that we just currently don't recognize as being valuable. Then I saw this segment on a man named Dan Phillips who takes the idea pretty literally and is doing something exciting.
“We are slowly denuding the planet,” Phillips says. “We can’t continue to live this way. We throw away and buy new rather than repair and re-use,” he adds. “We need to use renewable resources and use non-renewables carefully.”
So, he uses "free, salvage and recycled materials" to build homes for those who might otherwise never have the chance for one reason or another to own their own home. He uses unskilled workers only who he then teaches so that they qualify to get another job. They are paid $10 a square foot to mentor participants in his program to build their own homes. Consequently they receive the experience and education in a skill that can qualify them for a better job somewhere else.
And if it were not enough to have found an efficient way to recycle, and to train people in order to get jobs, Phillips is building on another principle. By offering someone the opportunity to own their own home he is giving them the opportunity to "join the mainstream culture."
"The houses are small – 240 square feet for one person with 100 square feet added for each additional person. There are no amenities such as dishwasher, trash compactors and king-sized beds. 'When you are poor, you can’t afford a lot of space,' Phillips says. 'Building small means building efficiently with energy efficiency.' Energy efficiency includes such things as lots of insulation, tank-less hot water heaters, and rain barrels that provide water for toilet flushing."
After several months of foreclosure reports, Phillips project is definitely a change of pace in the right direction...something to actually make you want to get a bit greener.