Thursday, November 3, 2011

Wambamboo: Musing on a sustainable practice


Kent Gration

The key objectives within my practice are to research, use and indirectly promote environmentally-aware alternative materials (with a focus on bamboo at this point) through the medium of furniture and other product derived outcomes. By designing, using and promoting the use of bamboo in the Wambamboo range, this is assisting in reducing our reliance upon heavily depleted renewables and finite resources. As a designer working in the realms of product and furniture, I constantly witness the de-activation of our ability to be self-sufficient with the constant re-invention of products and materials that increase convenience, yet reduce our experiences and adaptive abilities within the natural world.

Image: Wambamboo, Constellation light

The core principles behind the Wambamboo range were to highlight a material that was seen as somewhat sub-standard aesthetically and practically, but had a wide range of environmental, sociological, material and advanced product application benefits. The initial pieces in the range, created at the end of 2006 (exhibited at the Salone Satellite 2007), were an altrusitic statement in design, and at the time “sustainability” or environmentally-aware factors were not the primary focus. In using bamboo, designers such as myself have universally changed the perception of materials (renewable and recycled) which have been viewed as lack lustre within modern contexts.

Wambamboo and Material Use
All pieces in the Wambamboo range use bamboo - a rapidly renewable material with a 5-6 year growth cycle. Bamboo is durable and an environmentally preferred material which has been used for thousands of years in buildings, as a food source and ornamental plant. Bamboo poles, laminated boards, veneers and textiles have been used to highlight the versatility of bamboo and it’s potential as a high-end material.

Image: Wambamboo, Constellation light

In assessing materials for the Wambamboo range, I considered two
fundamentals: Carbon Productive and Carbon Reductive materials and processes. Moso (Phyllostachys Pubescens) is endemic to the central Asia region and is a monopodial (spreading) variety of bamboo, therefore it cannot be grown in Australia. Unless bamboo products are made and sold in central Asia, this is a major component of Moso Bamboos carbon footprint, which is largely offset by it’s ability to sequester carbon (500kg of carbon per tonne of bamboo). Within my practice I’m investigating three native Australian species including Bambusa Arnhemica and researching locally grown plantations in terms of commercial viability and to reduce the embodied energy of freight, whilst fully localising material sourcing and production.

Bamboo used in the range is grown without the use of pesticides or fertilisers, whilst the major plant system is kept intact after harvesting. The propagation of bamboo increases soil quality, whilst reducing soil erosion and bamboo is technically a grass species, therefore reducing the reliance and consumptive impact on slow growth native and introduced plantation wood species and materials.

Image: Wambamboo, O+ table and seats

Bamboo accounts for 95%+ of furniture material content within the pieces in the Wambamboo range, whilst secondary materials and products used are recyclable, water-based or energy efficient. Importance is placed upon using low impact/low energy production methods such as CNC and localised production.

All pieces are designed to efficiently use the material to its full potential during production process to reduce waste. CNC processes are employed to increase accuracy and reduce workplace accidents. Pieces are then hand-assembled and finished to a high standard, with attention to detail. Production is restricted to confirmation of orders, so production will never oversupply the market nor overconsume the resource. All bamboo waste remnants are re-used, whilst e-waste and paper waste is recycled.

Image: Wambamboo, costello seat

 Pieces are more expensive than similar cheap mass-produced pieces of furniture, because of the cost of the materials, processes and craftsmanship involved, ensuring investment in local skilled labour as well as international investment in developing communities. All furniture components are produced in Brisbane with all assembly of components into furniture carried out in Integration Studio’s Brisbane premises.

By factoring in the higher price of skilled labour and high-level of craftsmanship and a refined design aesthetic, this inturn reduces the likelihood of a consumer discarding or throwing the product away.
Sadly, as consumers, we are more inclined to buy ten $20 seats than one $200 seat without thinking whether we really need all ten seats.
We’re also more inclined to throw away those ten $20 seats rather than the $200 which may last a life-time, appreciating in material, sentimental and economic value.

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