Next Salon Discussion

First Tuesday current affairs discussion - Tuesday 3 September 7:00pm start
PDF Print E-mail
Manchester lifestyle reviews

Adnan Sawar (host), Sara Darwin, Mark Iddon, Paul Iddon - photograph by Ric Frankland

Do Stuff: Sustainability vs. Progress

North Tea Power Cafe - December 2010

Reviewed by Mark Iddon, panel member

Do Stuff is the initiative of Manchester architect, Ric Frankland, and aims to be a series of events on the subjects of design and sustainability with the intention to ‘listen - discuss - debate - Do!’ and will take place on a bi-monthly basis.


The first event took place in December 2010 at the North Tea Power café, Tib Street, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, with a debate on the subject ‘Sustainability vs. Progress’.


North Tea Power is a café that prides itself on its tea, but also offers a range of coffees like the really nice and well presented Mocha that I enjoyed. It is a recently opened café and with its modest decoration and friendly patrons, is an unpretentious venue conducive to open and forthright debate.


The host for the evening was Adnan Sarwar who introduced the debate with a short animation compiled by Ric Frankland called ‘The story of Stuff’ suggesting that the material economy may be in crisis due to the over-accumulation of ‘stuff’. A diagram was also shown which illustrated the relationships between ecology, economy and social issues, such as recycling, energy production, and fair trade. This gave rise to questions as to the scale of solutions (individual vs. global) required? Also, is it fashionable to be green or is human activity really killing the planet? What is the impact on progress, and do sustainable proposals inhibit progress?


The panel introduced themselves as;
Sara Darwin, an architect at Walker Simpson Architects, and an enthusiastic proponent of sustainable architecture.
Mark Iddon, an architect and writer at Urbanization who is sceptical of the sustainability movement.
Paul Iddon, (no relation to Mark), a brand strategist at Kernal Global Ltd, who is also an architect, and refuses to be categorised (pro or anti sustainability) but takes a common sense view.


Sara started the discussion with images illustrating some of the problems the world is facing at present, such as traffic congestion, increasing population of the world, pollution and waste disposal. Visuals of ‘BedZED’ housing, a zero carbon development for the Peabody trust, a glass house by the architect Greg Timberlake and a visitor centre by Walker Simpson Architects, were presented to show that sustainable architecture does not mean that buildings can’t be beautiful or elegant. The glass house incorporated discreet solar strips for energy production and the visitor centre incorporated straw bales to achieve a high standard of thermal insulation. Other slides indicated how wind turbines can be incorporated into the design of a building to compliment a contemporary form, rather than appearing like incompatible additions. Sara noted that although new houses achieve good standards of efficient energy distribution and thermal insulation performance, older houses were in need of upgrading to avoid haemorrhaging heat, which is wasted to the atmosphere.


Pont De Garabit, Eiffel, 1885Mark’s presentation suggested that the concept of development had changed over the last century, by recalling a view of the architect, Le Corbusier. He wrote about the potential of the dynamic city, urgently required to meet the needs of modern man, and his concern that the city will be stifled if it fails to adapt. In contrast, current policy by Government, the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Royal Town Planning Institute, all seek to limit the impact of development being mindful of the prospect of climate change. Mark stated that the environmentalist respect for nature was problematic (for progress) when the history of building has always been a battle of man vs. nature.


This was illustrated in an image of the Pont De Garabit, bridge, an elegantly engineered structure crossing a valley that was inhospitable to rail transport. Mark suggested that we should oppose the reductionist agenda and demand more innovation, research and development to solve future issues such as the energy crisis and climate change to achieve real progress.


Unsustainable PetsPaul highlighted the fact that there has been a lot of exaggeration and ‘hilarious’ distortion of facts around environmental issues. Examples of this, ranged from the notion that mobile phones cause cancer to the comparative carbon footprints of pets, such as, hamsters, cats and dogs to Volkswagen cars. Visuals were presented to illustrate the above by proportionate ratios of each. Paul suggested that there is apprehension of the unknown and there is a perception that nuclear energy is feared as if it were like ‘witchcraft’. He was emphatic that nuclear energy is the unquestionable way forward for future energy demands and that this view is endorsed by eminent scientists, such as James Lovelock. He did concede that research into the by-products of nuclear energy production is ongoing. Paul’s final illustration was a graphic of the mean happiness assessment of nations. He noted the paradox that people want more and more stuff, that they think will make them happier, but on acquiring it they still feel the need to want more ‘stuff’.


One audience member asked Sara, if there were cost implications in developing houses to the zero carbon standard? Another asked what is the problem with burying landfill and landscaping the site for recreation purposes? He also questioned the rationality of making improvements to old houses when they could be demolished and replaced by hi-tech prefabricated ones that could be more efficient, functional and erected quickly. Sara said there were different levels of sustainability that would be appropriate according to the budget criteria. She was concerned that burying landfill would contribute to increasing contaminants in the ground, and advocated that recycling should be encouraged. In response to another question on nuclear energy Sara was concerned over the residual life of nuclear waste and suggested more research would be required prior to nuclear energy being a viable proposal.


Do Stuff: critical questioningAdnan challenged Mark, as to whether there was enough space to keep on expanding the city and what about the destruction of rainforests. Mark noted that actually in Britain, only 10% of the landmass is attributable to urban built up areas and that there is still room for further expansion of the city, and was not convinced that the tree cover across the world is diminishing, as is widely perceived.


There were clearly many conflicting ideas that could have been debated for much longer, but the time passed too quickly to really challenge the panellists’ views and interrogate the implications of their argument. Fortunately, there was time for people to mill around and discuss more informally in the relaxed atmosphere of the North Tea Power café. This was indeed a taster event for ‘Do Stuff’ and we can look forward to the next event on 7th February 2011.

For more information on Do Stuff, visit their website or Facebook page.

Join the Salon Email List
Youtube Video of discussion on Energy
RSS Feed for discussions
Manchester Salon Facebook Group
Manchester Salon Facebook Page
Manchester Salon on Twitter