Monday, November 21, 2011

Nick Randall: Musing on a sustainable practice

My recent work has focused on material minimisation by creating structures using slender pieces of timber aligned in ways to provide strength to the piece.  These structures also function as aesthetic elements. I have exposed these structures completely enabling them to be the major focus point.      

The major influence for this approach comes from the world of engineering where industrial structures are built to be completely utilitarian with their appearance not considered. I feel though that while these structures as a whole are not the most attractive sights they feature elements which are unintentionally quite beautiful forms which reveal an inner beauty when considered.

I find this an interesting notion, these industrial structures which were created for purposes one would not usually consider sustainable were designed by engineers to be built using the least amount of resources possible which is in very general terms a sustainable approach to design. 

This made me think are we as designers somehow unsustainable in our approach at times through the addition of unnecessary adornment and therefore resources for aesthetics sake to our work?  This is a somewhat Brutalist way of thinking but an interesting one none the less. I think that there is a middle ground in terms of balancing aesthetics with resource usage and the intrinsic value added to a beautiful object through adornment means that it will not be readily disposed of.   

My Tangent table utilities a very small quantity of material for its size (1200mm x 600mm x 420mm). The leg and rail structure are one connected element with the wishbone configuration of the leg structure providing strength through triangulation and the side and end rails double as edging for the table top. The entire structure only uses one board of solid timber 1800mm x 150mm x 38mm a very small quantity of precious timber for the purpose it serves.  

 Sustainable design at this time I feel is overly focussed on just using sustainable materials. Sustainable materials are a major element of a sustainable approach to design but I don’t see that using large quantities of sustainable materials instead of large quantities of unsustainable materials an overly sustainable approach. Rather I think that a more holistic approach should be taken by utilising a combination of methods to ensure a sustainable result. Some of these methods include minimising material usage through considered well thought out design, producing work with a high level of craftsmanship to increase its lifespan and possibly negate the need to recycle but for it to simply be refurbished far into the future and creating objects that are timeless in their aesthetic and not just reacting to short term market trends. 

I find our consumer culture with its throw away mindset quite disheartening. We seem to have lost our sense of the value of our possessions.  I think that the best way of all for us to foster sustainability is to simply consume less by focusing on quality and through our own work produce objects which will be the antiques of tomorrow and still cherished a many years from now and far too precious to throw away.   

Nick Randall website
Sustainability stories link 
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Thursday, November 17, 2011

What people are saying

The following are example of open letters to the Arts Minister, The Hon Mr Simon Crean and local ministers.

Crafts downgraded by the Australia Council again
Helmut Lueckenhausen
In a review of 40 key organizations 12-13 September, the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council decided to bring a 40-year history of national and international advocacy for the Australian craft design sector by CA to an end. Others have written, and will continue to draw attention to the issue of the inadequacy of the process, even in accordance with the Australia Council’s own published procedural guidelines. Read more

 OPEN LETTER: Why would you defund a cultural institution? 
Ray Norman 
 RE: Why would you defund a cultural institution?
Firstly, it must be said that neither you personally, nor your ministry, are seen as having defunded Craft Australia – an Australian Cultural Institution – but the 'institution' has nonetheless been defunded by the Australia Council's Visual Arts Board (VAB) [1] and ultimately in your name – albeit at arms' length. Read more

LETTER TO A LOCAL MEMBER: An expression of dismay!
Marion Marshall
I am writing to register my dismay that Craft Australia the National peak organization for the Crafts has been given notice that it will be defunded by the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council.
As a craftsperson (a gold and silversmith) who has operated her studio and gallery for 37 years, successfully building a creative business which has employed and trained 19 people.  Read more

To send your letter in response to the defunding of Craft Australia more information  
Read submissions about the defunding of Craft Australia  Read more 
Comments on the petition Read more

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New Articles in the Craft Australia Library

Catalogue essay:
Grace Cochrane, Here by hand: 70 years of Sturt. 
Read more

Catalogue essay:
Patrick Snelling, Textiles Sensorial Loop. 1st Tamworth Textile Triennial. read more

Tale of Adventure:
Diane Moon, Seven Islands - curating Land, Sea and Sky, a tale of adventure.  read more


Top Ten articles read more

Monday, November 14, 2011

Laura McCusker: Musing on a sustainable practice

1957. Rio de Janeiro. My mother, aged 15, looks out the window. She’s waiting for a chair. A chair that has been measured, designed and handcrafted in Jacaranda just for her by the local maker down the road. When my grandmother died, this chair was shipped from Brazil to Sydney, then down to Tasmania for my young daughter. Although she shouldn’t, she swings on it the just as her grandmother's did fifty years earlier.

This is furniture with a story. Furniture made to last. Handcrafted, to be used and loved. In my mind this is deep sustainability. After all, an item that is made well can be mended and re-made again.

 Mums chair and portrait of mum

My aim as a designer and maker is that my work will inspire stories such as this one. I design objects that are appealing on different levels; pieces that people will enjoy relating to and using. They need to be beautiful, useful, and perform the task for which they were designed, well. Not just for this season or for this decade; but indefinitely.

I am passionate about combining traditional craftsmanship with contemporary design...The philosophy of Slow Design resonates strongly with me, I seek to infuse my work with a richness that deepens the ways in which people connect with my pieces. As much as possible, I am integral in every step of the process, from design through to manufacture and delivery.

Living in Tasmania, I am acutely aware of the precious resource with which I work. The idea of buying a piece of furniture for a look or as part of a fad promotes the wider problems of our throw-away society. The limited availability of natural resources is an important issue in my design, and so I aim for a timeless aesthetic and ensure longevity through the use of the highest quality materials and traditional joinery techniques.

Slow Design is a branch of the Slow Movement (personally, I think ‘slow’ is a misnomer ... better to think of it as thoughtful, considered or deliberate), and as with every branch of the movement, the overarching goal is to promote well being for individuals, society, and the natural environment. Slow Design aims for a holistic approach to designing that takes into consideration material and social factors and both the short and long term impacts of the design.

Naked table, Photographer Peter Whyte

Fuad-Luke nailed it in 2005 when he wrote: “What is clear is that modernist, organic, post-modern or any other doctrine with recognisable semiotics, is easily subverted in the service of industry and to the glory of consumerism and economic progress. ... Corporate ambition, encouraged by the capitalist political doctrine, continues to ensure that inbuilt obsolescence, the touchstone of industrial design, keeps producers producing, consumers consuming and designers designing.” .... the question then becomes, what am I going to do about it?

I have made a conscious decision whenever possible, to produce using local materials for the local market, working with other local practitioners. Invariably this means that my work develops a local flavour and collaborations encourage the vernacular. But more than this, working in this way is about pulling back on the reins and taking time to do things well, do them responsibly, and do them in a way that allows the designer and the end user to derive pleasure from it ...or in other words: put some soul into it.

The reason for the resurgence of craft in the last decade seems to me fairly self-evident. Manufacture and design has now become so globalised that cultural influences are fast disappearing with shops on opposite sides of the planet selling more or less the same items, whether it be foods, furniture or footwear.  This fact has generated a deep desire for authenticity, and when this is combined with increasing environmental awareness, the purchasing decisions become more weighted according to sustainability and local sourcing.

 Barcode is a screen with multiple uses, Photographer Peter Whyte

For me, designing and making is an organic process, inseparable from the everyday goings on of my life. Moments of inspiration such as making origami with my children, a barcode on my cereal box, or the light flickering through stands of trees often form the seed of an idea. This is layered upon the cross-cultural influences of my childhood; the knowledge and skills gained through studies in design and fine woodwork; and an intimate knowledge of the materials I work with. As I chat with clients in my workshop and they see their furniture taking shape, these influences and layers are shared, and hopefully, so begin their stories.

Laura McCusker website
Twenty21 website
Craft Australia interview with Laura McCusker on  youtube 
Sustainability stories link 
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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sign the Petition

  Dear friends and supporters of Craft Australia,

Since we were notified on 12 October that the organisation will not receive any more program funding from the Visual Arts board of the Australia Council beyond the end of December 2011, we have had overwhelming response in support for Craft Australia. We thank you for this amazing show of strength for craft and design practice.  Responses have come from our readers and supporters from all over the world.
We are sending you this update to keep you informed of the developments in our campaign to save Craft Australia and how you can continue to help us.  

Make your voice heard in support for craft and design. 
  • Spread the word, pass this notice on to your friends and networks, get them to do the same.
  • Sign our online petition. The more people that sign, the stronger our argument for the importance of a national craft and design organisation.
  • Write a comment on our blog, tell us how this will impact on you.
  • Write a letter to the Visual Arts Board and tell them what you think, please send us a copy as well so we are all on the same page
  • Write a letter to the Arts Minister, the Hon. Simon Crean MP
  • Write a letter to your local government member
With your help we can show that craft and design matters.

Again, thank you for your ongoing support; we will keep you informed of our progress.

Catrina Vignando
General Manager

Related links
Sign our petition
Follow the Story  
CA, Presidents letter to the Visual Arts Board
Review Committee letter 

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    Kent Gration: Musing on sustainability


    What is Sustainable?
    General acceptance of the term “sustainable” goes hand-in-hand with conducting well-maintained practices, which are environmentally and sociologically aware. These practices, by definition, should be able to be maintained to a certain standard without impairing the planet’s ability to support all forms of life for an indefinite period of time.
    What concerns me is the flippant use of phrases such as “sustainable”, “eco-friendly” and “green” and the cynicism that will follow when the general public realise they’ve been manipulated by the ambiguity of these terms.

    A product is considered to be “sustainable” based upon current and future management of available resources (renewable and non-renewable), hence some materials are more “sustainable” than others. The term “sustainable” when used in conjunction with selling a product, is becoming more diluted as businesses scramble for a piece of the “Green Pie”. Sustainable, may also relate to the general running of a company, it’s financial position and ability to meet market demand based upon forecast modelling. A company that markets it’s product as “green” in order to sell or unnecessarily make more of it, may in fact counteract the environmental benefits gained by switching to a “greener” option, requiring more energy, materials and finances to meet higher production or demand.

    Image: Tectonic,  Tectonic was created as part of the Miniatures and Multiples exhibition (SGAR gallery)

    The fundamental driver of sustainability is the rate at which, and how we consume resources, in connection with events outside our control.
    Over-consumption is only created by oversupply and its impact is amplified with increases in global standards-of-living in accordance with global affluence. As the population grows, so does the number of designers, and as design becomes more democratised, true is the adage that “everyone wants to be a designer”. So do we really need all these new products (necessary and unnecessary), creating an oversupply in the marketplace, and impairing the planet’s ability as a biological support system. The answer to that comes down to design awareness, rather than design for design’s sake. How many designers have stopped to think that there are more chairs in the world than people? In what way is it an environmental and social imperative that more chairs need to be designed and produced, unless you’re using furniture as a medium to communicate that there are better, more environmentally preferred materials and processes to make chairs with, that needn’t be a memorial to a designer long after they’re gone?

    By definition it is impossible to classify a product as “sustainable”, as there are no assurances that our quality of life, ecological standard, and resource availability will endure indefinitely, or that every single process in the supply chain is environmentally-aware. The most realistic assumption of sustainability modelling is a generational projection, the here, the now and not to distant future, based upon what we have and know today. Therefore, it is only the next generation who will encounter and have to address the miscalculations in our “sustainable” models.

    Image: Wambamboo, Zhu lights

    As a result of the ambiguous use of “sustainable” associations, and the fact that all resources (renewable and non-renewable) are finite, many governments and businesses have not properly implemented conservative supply and demand ratios. They have in fact opted for more aggressive strategies, in order to compete on a world stage that is driven by increasing resource demand, production expectations and profit margins. The problem with these strategies is that they’re not able to fully allow for, and react to future supply issues and events, such as climate change, reduction of available materials, delay in proposed technologies, political upheaval and a growing global population.

    Image: Wambamboo, Zhu pendant lights

    In order to be truly sustainable, governments and businesses must conservatively self-regulate their consumption and production levels, in order to find a rational supply and demand ratio. This may inturn achieve an equilibrium within a global consumptive ecological system.
    Examples of ecological equilibrium are found in nature and the human race must adopt these symbiotic relationships to remain “sustainable”
    in the future.
    Wambamboo website 
    Sustainability stories link 
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    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.

    Wambamboo website 
    Sustainability stories link 
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    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    craft research: Craft Australia Need Us!!

    International Support for CA
    Read the link below to see what they are saying in Scotland about defunding Craft Australia.

    craft research: Craft Australia Need Us!!: Craft Australia Defunded by the Australia Council Craft Australia is challenging this decision and is also seeking our support. If Craf...

    Yellow Diva: Musing on a sustainable practice

    2-3™ by CK Goff for Yellow Diva

    CK Goff and Yellow Diva have collaborated to create 2-3™, a new flat pack plywood chair that bridges the divide between furniture and product. Presented, jigsaw fashion, in an attractive cardboard carry box, the ingenious design has rigorously explored the most economical use of materials.

    Designer Chris Goff describes the theory behind his design:

    “The 2-3 Chair was designed with efficiency, sustainability and technology firmly in mind. The concept of this chair is to obtain every piece from within a limited space on a flat sheet of material, and assemble the final product using no screws, glue or fixings. The profiles are CNC cut from 16mm birch plywood using a common-cut nested layout that leaves minimal waste. When assembled, the chair is designed so that each tab/slot join stiffens itself through compression generated by the angles and splayed legs. The application of weight to the seat pulls everything more tightly together.

    After the initial sketching/idea generation process, designing the object was done almost exclusively in CAD software, alternating between two Solidworks assemblies built from common parts. This allowed me to edit sketches in a flat layout to affect the assembled chair, and vice versa. The only additions post-cutting are the cable ties on the back piece. This was both an aesthetic and practical decision, ensuring the back is secure when moving the chair.”

    Yellow Diva sourced a local manufacturer who is able to provide a one-stop-shop, supplying and cutting material for both product and packaging. Low volume production of components obviates holding surplus stock and short lead times facilitate a swift response to customer demand.

    2-3™ Adult chair is now joined by a Junior chair & table. By devising multiple variations on cutting layouts, dependent on order requirements, further efficiency is achievable from each stock sheet of plywood .

    Another ecological benefit of the slimline packaging is cost-effective and straightforward transportation from manufacturer to retailer and retailer to customer.

    2-3™ is available directly through Yellow Diva & selected retail outlets.
    Sales inquiries: or 03 9421 8844

    Yellow Diva website
    Sustainability stories link
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