Design & Construction by quentin Irvine
© 2009 quentin Irvine
Design & Construction by quentin Irvine

Design Philosophy

A Love of Junk - Recycling

I think that finding discarded objects that were 1. Free and 2. seemed too good to be simply thrown away, was one of the main drivers in my starting to design and make things as a child. From the age of seven, maybe younger i loved junk! I was the kid who would rather play with the corrugated card board box than the toy which it had packaged. My brother and i would play endlessly with cardboard boxes, and big rolls of packing tape, building rockets and houses and cars, for us and the teddy bears. Still around the age of seven, when traveling around the world with my parents my dad would often take me down the lane ways and back streets of america, france or spain... we would find an old TV or vacuum cleaner and i would spend the whole afternoon playing with it and pulling it apart. As i grew up this love continued, at the age of nine i was getting bits of wood and other odds and ends out of dumpsters to play with and make things with. Skateboard ramps featured prominently and were my first introduction to power tools at the age of 9 or 10. First an old Makita cordless drill that had belonged to my grandfather and a few years later a Makita electric jig saw that i begged my dad to get me from cash converters. In my university years i started raiding the dumpsters of the faculty of physics, mechanical workshops and the electronic engineering department. These were an absolute goldmine, great materials for building and making things and great industrial/science paraphernalia, sadly in these years i was so busy with my studies that i did not get to transform as much of this junk as i would have liked, however i did have a good eye for industrial antiques/junk and sold off a number of items that i did not have the space to keep to shops like Industria(Gertrude St. Fitzroy). When i had a year off university i started making bags from PVC impregnated fabric off cuts, which after a few alterations soon became the q dot PVC shoulder Satchels. Mostly this started as a way to use up a resource that otherwise would have been wasted. But in this year as in other years i was getting very interested in systems of human habitation and how the material and energy flows in our modern society were negatively effecting human and environmental health. So i started to question the benefit of making bags of a nasty material like PVC impregnated fabric (it off gasses and it can't be recycled) even though the PVC that i was using was waste off cuts from ute tarp factories. At the end of the day i didn't feel like i was making a positive impact on this world through these PVC bag making activities... But i still have a love of junk! I still use both organic and in-organic recycled materials in my design but i'm much more selective with regards to this and more and more opt to design with all natural materials.


Design for recyclability - intro

The design philosophy that follows is not strictly taken from the book Cradle to cradle and i have a few twists to the views which are outlined in the book, but this book has been a huge source of inspiration to me and beautifully illustrates the design philosophy which i outline here and in which i believe so strongly.

This design philosophy is based around the idea that there is no waste in nature so why should there be waste in human society? Waste is a human construct and is something which is designed into many of the millions of products which humans think up and manufacture. So lets design waste out of the products which we manufacture by designing products which can easily be recycled.

Design for Recyclability - a natural (organic) approach

This is the design approach in which i believe so strongly. This approach entails the design of products which are built entirely from materials which once lived (of plant or animal origin), and as a result can be composted or burnt at end of life with little to no dismantling required. I will refer to these materials as organic materials because whether these materials have been produced using certified organic methods or not, they are all materials which could and would ideally be produced using certified organic methods. While the design of products using all organic materials is not always appropriate, the benefits to human and environmental health of these products are many and i will list some here:

- Lower energy requirements in manufacture of materials and products.

- Non-toxic and safer for humans and parts of the environment which interact with the products in manufacture, product life and disposal.

- Easily recyclable as no dismantling of product is required, as the whole product can be recycled using the one process of composting.

- The recycling of these materials either takes very little energy, no energy or actually generates energy! E.g. Generating heat from the phermophilic and aerobic composting process or generating heat from burning organic matter such as timber.

- The recycling process can even return fertility to the soil.

- The creation of pleasant and safe work in the manufacture and recycling of such products.


Design for Recyclability - mined materials, a high tech approach

This entails the design of products using hi-tech mined materials such as metals, plastics... which can be recycled and designing the product such that it is easy to dismantle into like materials for recycling.

I can not totally discount the merits of the hi-tech cradle to cradle design approach and it creates products which are far better for the environment than designing without any thought given to recyclability. However this approach is harder on the environment than the organic cradle to cradle approach and in my view has yet to prove its self as a truly eco friendly, sustainable philosophy for the following reasons:

- Recycling hi tech materials is far more energy intensive than recycling organic materials and in a low energy future(if you believe that we are heading for that) it may not remain viable.

-There is still a lot of research and development to be done to create plastics which are infinitely recyclable.

As a result i use hi tech materials where they are necessary and not otherwise, for example i would never design a table which used aluminum. Aluminum has a huge embodied energy and its impressive strength to weight ratio and corrosion resistant properties are just not needed in a table, where a material such ac timber will do just as good a job and not cost the earth.

A theoretical comparison between the life cycle of 3 products

This comparison demonstrates why a believe so strongly in the cradle to cradle design framework and even more strongly in the use of organic materials within this framework.


When I Grow Up I Want To Be Amish

Well i would not really want to be Amish (religion really isn't my thing), but i am intrigued by and have respect for the Amish - low tech way of life and being more connected to nature. I find it fascinating that there are people in this world that choose to live in such a low tech eco friendly way. Even if they are principally doing it for religions sake, they must also enjoy it too, you would think and it is a lifestyle that i would like to try out some day. The old style amish barn raising, like the one seen in "The real dirt on farmer John" exemplifies many of the things which I believe in so strongly such as:

- An organic cradle to cradle design approach: The entire porthole frame of such a barn can be constructed from natural timber using joinery and timber pegs as the fastening mechanism. No toxic chemical glues, no high tech fastening systems, just timber and perhaps some nails depending on how purest your approach.

- Community at work: Its amazing to see the incredible force of people working together as a community come together to build an entire barn in a matter of days. So inspiring!

- Human Power: Such a barn can be built using human powered hand tools alone; hammers, chisels, the bit and brace, hand saws...etc..

Most importantly the people who built the barn in "The real dirt on farmer John" weren't even amish, any one can learn to build such a barn with some tuition. It's such simple low technology.


Permaculture Design

My introduction to permaculture was watching a bunch of Bill Mollison videos in my university days. What he had to say seemed like such common sense and really worked in with my beliefs. I have a lot of respect for those out there practicing permaculture and learning about and developing the low tech systems which are most likely to be useful in the future. Permaculture systems strive to take care of all fundamental human needs: food, water, shelter, exercise and mental stimulation and emotional contentment to name what i can off the top of my head and they strive to do this in harmony with nature.

Permaculturalists have sometimes been bad mouthed for the use of non native species, and it is a practice that needs to be approached with caution. At the end of the day permaculture is often about organically manipulating nature to the betterment of humans, and this has the potential to go wrong, like the introduction of cane toads to Queensland, Australia as a measure to control sugar cane pests, this was not a permaculture design decision however it is a good illustration of the risks involved in such practices. While i mention these risks in the low tech organic approach i am still a much stronger believer in this than the hi-tech alternatives which are often systematically unsustainable and systematically harm human and environmental health with much greater force.


Traditional Japanese Craft and tools (well really traditional craft and tools of all cultures)

When I first read about the japanese pull saw i was in ore of Japanese craftsmanship and enginuity and i quickly learnt more about japanese traditional carpentry and other japanese crafts. But its noy just japanese craft that inspires me, I frequently look to the past and research the traditional ways of making things, with what ever im designing. As it is often the case that the traditional ways of making things are by defualt an organic cradle to cradle aproach to a design problem, simply because we did not have modern mined materials back in the day and where we did have them used them sparingly because we did not have the massive amount of energy available that we now have to work these materials. Other traditional technologies which interest me include, natural fibre (linen, hemp...) waxed thread sewn in treadle sewing machines, weavings and tapestry, crichet and kniting, wood fired pottery... and lots of other cool, down to earth, old school stuff!


The modernist movement, antique modern objects, Piet Mondrian, Le Corbusier, Jackson Pollock, THE BAUHAUS MOVMENT, Industrial Objects and Antiques, Australian Landscapes, Michael Hutchison, Colour Me Kubrick, Eileen Gray, Billy Eliot, Tucker: The Man and His Dream...








© 2009 quentin Irvine