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Category: Sharing learnings

  1. I have a huge interest in MATERIALS. So much in fact it influenced how I named my company.

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    I have a huge interest in MATERIALS.    So much in fact it influenced how I named my company.

    I studied Furniture & Product Design in the late 80s / early 90s - that was A LOT about materials (and processes). One of my degree projects was a piece of furniture made from a board material called TECTAN which is recycled post consumer Tetra Pak. It was not only about beauty for me even then. The materials needed to be conscious.

    At The Body Shop HQ I was part of the monitoring of materials used in their store design to marry up with their strong ethics and values
    -  avoid PVC (polyvinyl chloride)
    -   avoid formaldehyde
    -   use FSC sustainable timber (Forest Stewardship Council)
    -   avoid animal products and animal tested paint, minimal VOC content
    -  reclaimed, reused and recycled materials
    -  use of Community Trade materials


    We all should have a huge interest in materials and increase our awareness. What we use in our spaces is so important to occupant health (that's human AND animal), those in the extraction and production process, those who install them, the lifecycle - use and end of life - leaching and contamination.

    Alison Mears Parsons

    Powerful quote is from - Alison Mears - Director, Healthy Materials Lab, at Parsons - The New School.â €


    I've still got so much learning to do.   And as I said in my last Journal post - that's not going to stop!

    I've just completed the four courses that make up the HEALTHY MATERIALS AND SUSTAINABLE BUILDING curriculum at Parson's The New School which I've been studying since January. The people behind their EXCELLENT Materials Lab have created this excellent and broad-ranging course for those involved in the Built Environment. It identifies Chemicals and Materials of concern, how to avoid them in clients projects, what tools can be used - certifications and labels, what frameworks exist and the difference between them, how project teams can collaborate and execute healthier projects, how they are maintained and monitored to continue to be healthier and better spaces for our clients.


    My specifications will be improved after this!


    I really recommend it to my industry colleagues.




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    My confession


    I've been fortunate to help local company Kings Colleges with the design of their college buildings for many years. It's such a lovely team of passionate and creative people there. I've worked on most of their UK buildings and helped to create a template to apply to their buildings globally.  A few years ago we completed Kings Brighton.  It's a building that's near to where I live and next to the Level - so lots of green space nearby for students and staff to enjoy.

    This building achieved the BREEAM sustainable building rating of EXCELLENT. So this included specifications that were lower impact, there's a living roof, living wall, cycle parking.
    I know about sustainability and GUESS WHAT.....I would have loved to have done SO MUCH MORE.
    This project very much spurred me on to work harder to provide sustainable specifications for my clients - drawing on all that I learnt during my excellent education in working in sustainability for The Body Shop's HQ early in my career. Although I thought I was working with vegan and sustainable specifications - found I had drifted into the mainstream of unconsciously sourced and specified materials and WASTE! This project completely woke me up to that and what more I could do in my role of designer.
    May confession 2
    I took time out to study more to bump up my knowledge.
    I completed courses on vegan design, human centred design and sustainability. I'm currently nearly at the end of another course on using healthier materials.
    Clients want to make BETTER choices and want to be guided on lower impact specifications. They just don't know what to look out for or even what all the issues are. I feel it's my duty as a designer to guide them.
    So my learning is not going to stop and I'm working hard to influence fellow designers via INTERIOR DESIGN DECLARES and the BRITISH INSTITUTE OF INTERIOR DESIGN as well.
    Here's a short video about Kings Brighton - complete with a look around the building.
    If you'd like to read more - and tour the building in more detail - have a look here...
  3. Sustainability & the BIID - and being a judge for the Student Challenge 2021

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    I’ve been a member of the interior design professional body The British Institute of Interior Design (BIID) for 8 years.  The more I get involved in it - the more I love what they are doing for our industry and those at all stages within it.  So many members volunteer their time to support our professional body in a myriad of ways.  We all want to support those in our sector and improve & learn together.


    A year ago I was invited to join the Professional Practice Committee after talking to our then President Harriet Forde about Sustainability and the BIID.  She brought in a few of us - Simone Suss and Brian Wolfe - to join the committee who were also keen to help to bring Sustainability to our members.  

    BIID Sustainability Committee 

    A year on - we’ve got an agenda prepared for supporting members which will be released later in the spring.  We’re aware it’s a daunting step to take alone.  Many members are sole practitioners like me or with a small amount of staff.   I just know fellow members want to do what they can in their work and they will appreciate this guidance on how to start.  


    After all, we have a responsibility and part to play in this horrifying fact: 

    Buildings contribute to roughly 40% of global CO2 emission. 


    We were told this year that the popular Student Challenge was going to go ahead despite the pandemic.  Our brilliant events manager Hayley had devised a way to make it work online.  It was great to hear this as I can’t imagine what a strange experience it must be to be studying for a degree away from your fellow students.  So much our our project work was in teams.  It was great this challenge could be offered and I hope it’s provided a boost for those teams who entered it.


    The below is the brief.

    When I heard that sustainaility and biophilic design were ket parts of the brief - I asked if they needed a judge!

    The Brief 

    The British High Street has been in crisis for several years, and for several reasons’ retailers were already struggling before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. According to the Centre for Retail Research there are around 50,000 fewer shops on our High Streets than just over a decade ago, and some analysts predict it will only get worse. 

    In the last 30 years, Britain has fixated on the idea that town centres are purely driven by retail and some suggest that this has led to the generic town centre that many cities host today, with all the same shops owned by all the same big chains. The impact of this has meant that the high street is less appealing, with many shoppers favouring large out of town department stores and online shopping and according to figures from retail analyst company Springboard, the number of people visiting the High Street has dropped by 20.5% over the past decade. 

    For the high street to thrive, major rejuvenation will need to occur that does not focus on retail but rather the needs of the public, what will draw the community back and how can the high street be re-purposed to support other local businesses? 

    Your challenge is to reimagine a dynamic new space for the current Top Shop flagship store on Oxford Street. A 39,000 square foot venue arranged over two floors of retail space on their Ground and Lower Ground (sub-basement 1) floors. 

    Your client is the current owner of the empty property who wishes to re-use the space to benefit the local community of residents and workers and entice visitors from afar. 

    Please consider the following in your design: 

    • Community – who will be using your space and how will their various needs be met? 

    • Sustainability and environmental impact – how are you going to enhance and disrupt the space to be as sustainable as possible? 

    • Employment for small retail, food services and other industries – your space should be multifunctional and have several services that can support new jobs. 

    • Office workers nearby are important for the high street to thrive – how are you going to add services that office workers may require? 

    • In several large towns and cities, students make up more than a quarter of residents, which means if they do not return to university in the autumn, high streets could see lower footfall – how are you going to entice younger people into the town centre? 


    Essential criteria:

    • Hand drawn design concept sketch 

    • Design the space with the principles of ‘Biophilic Design’ in mind, explain how you have used biophilic design to improve the wellbeing of the occupants. 

    This year the entrants were…

    • Middlesex University 

    • Anglia Ruskin University

    • Plymouth College of Art

    • University of Wolverhampton

    • University of South Wales

    • Buckinghamshire New University

    • University of Lincoln

    • Bishop Burton College University Centre


    The winning three were

    1. University of Wolverhampton

    2. Middlesex University 

    3. Plymouth College of Art 


    University of Wolverhampton

    The winning inclusive concept from the University of Wolverhampton's team included a hydroponic community garden as well as a sensory garden and community skill sharing to encourage repairs (with child care to go alongside it).  The concept used recycled, repurposed and reclaimed furniture, fittings and equipment (FF&E) - combined with thoughtful material selections that were sustainable and healthy to those using the spaces - low chemical use & VOC,  and hypoallergenic.   There was a zero waste shop and clothing & book exchange - work areas - workout areas.  There was even a small theatre space and an artisan market.


    Concepts within every submission created a venue that I would VERY much love to visit!

    In just 14 hours the students achieved a huge amount of ideas by working as a team to thoughtfully and creatively consider the possible uses for reviving this huge space - especially thinking about how people will want to use it post-pandemic,  They made it inclusive, healing and restorative - and considered supporting small businesses and supporting skills - and encouraging a more conscious and mindful future for shopping and experiences. 

    Putting the emphasis on hand drawing when it was the digital version was a clever idea and it made the presentations so much more human.

    It was an honour to judge the submissions.  Thank you to the students for your submissions.  I loved being a part of this challenge.  Not having experienced the in person event - I thought it worked very well online.  

    It was very well organised by the BIID’s Learning and Events Manager Hayley McLennan.  The BIID mentors were wonderful and put in such a lot of effort in the divising of the challenge as well as the xhallenge itself.  

    I feel very excited for the future of our industry - and heartened that these talented young people have a good understanding of sustainability and human centric/biophilic design.   I so hope it's given them all a boost and will help their confidence and CVs and future job searches.


    You can read more here on the BIID website.

    IID student challenge