Designing for destruction
Part of my mission is to help clients think more sustainably, and while most are very open to this we’re still not creating as much positive impact as we could.
When we talk about ‘sustainable interior design’, or ‘sustainable business’, the implication is very optimistic and indefinite. It seems to suggest that if a project can start out sustainably then it will sustain itself forever. In reality, all things come to pass. A project is only truly sustainable if the materials are being sourced in a low impact way, and once they are no longer in use will be disposed or reused in an equally low impact way.
This is obvious really, and yet it isn’t part of the conversation. Very few designers or clients are thinking about ‘designing for deconstruction’ even though it’s a fairly obvious sustainable win. Why?
The problem with starting at the end
While no one expects their interior to last forever, none of us are comfortable talking about the end of its life at the beginning of the project. While there is a welcome implication of how materials might age, such as wood or brickwork, it feels like bad form to meet a new client and immediately start talking about what they should do when their design is defunct.
But sustainable design is only sustainable if it plans effectively for that eventual inevitable moment. In other words, designing for deconstruction.
We’re only now waking up to the harm that the interiors industry has contributed to globally. The construction industry has one of the worst climate footprints of any industry – contributing around 40% of the world’s emissions. But it wasn’t till 2020 that we began to do research into the impact inside those buildings – and realised that, over the course of its entire lifetime, the interiors can equal or exceed the impact of the construction itself.
This is no small thing, but it’s the by-product of very blinkered thinking that we’ve all been guilty of.
So we need to acknowledge the scale of the impact this is doing, and the responsibility we all have to think beyond the kudos of the first year and recognise the entire life of a design.
What do we mean by designing for deconstruction?
‘Designing for deconstruction’ is an emerging phrase and movement within the sector. Far from limiting designers, its intention is to give them more tools to thoughtfully design for the inception, use, and eventual disposal of their project. It’s not dissimilar to the natural world. A tree provides the perfect habitat for all kinds of living things. When it dies, it is dismantled by other living things and recycled positively back into the ecosystem. We need to aspire to that.
When designers talk about ‘deconstruction’, they are referring to the idea of dismantling and removing existing structural components in a way that salvages as much as possible. Materials should either be reused or recycled, if they can’t be either then they shouldn’t have been used in the first place.
The more proactively and knowledgeably designers can think through this kind of positive and fluid re-integration the more we can avoid landfill, embrace the true ‘lifecycle’ of our material resources, and build the partnerships and networks with specialists who can make it happen – like award-winning Yodomo.
As a designer and a client, it’s not just about choosing recyclable carpets instead of non-recyclable ones. Starting a space thinking about the end of a space is an entirely different philosophical mindset. I’ve worked with clients before, such as Our Future Health, who knew they wanted a design that could move with them when they left those offices. Impermanence and physical evolution was hardwired into their business.
The good news is designers have a disproportionate amount of control during the initial phases of a project. Which means that we have the ability to create a disproportionate amount of positive change.
Design your next project with deconstruction in mind
The only way that this kind of shift in approach can occur – and create meaningful change – is by working together. Builders and architects need to collaborate and communicate closely with interior designers and most importantly clients to make it happen. These conversations need to happen as early as possible, in as much detail as possible.
So if what I’ve put here resonates with you and your priorities as a business or individual, please get in touch. I’d love to hear more about what you have planned, and start thinking about ideas for making sure your design is just as low impact at the end of its life as it is at the beginning.