Monday, 28 March 2011

Plastic Bags Sail the Seas: time for a ban or two

Back to Tap is happy to be following the trials and tribulations of the 5 Gyres Team as they set out to quantify the Pacific Garbage Patch - formed of plastic bottles and other plastic waste.

Like our friends over at the Plastiki, the 5 Gyres sailing team is seeking to explore the problem of plastic waste in our seas, but they are taking a more scientific approach. Increasing the knowledge base and general public awareness of the plastic pollution will hopefully drive political change.

Already, there have been successful attempts to ban plastic bags in cities and towns in the UK and now the EU has even proposed a national ban on the polluting plastic bag. It seems that slowly but surely, the world is waking up to plastic's destructive impact on our ecosystems.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Sustainable Design Centre for London 2012

Back to Tap has learned that Siemens will be building a sustainable design centre in the heart of London in preparation for the Olympics. The question on our minds is if the centre will actually address some of London's most pressing issues, including the worst urban air quality in all of Europe and an antiquated and wasteful sewerage system, among other problems.

According to Siemens Chief Executive Andreas J. Goss, the project “aims to create an attractive focal point that celebrates London’s ambition and leadership in green technologies and sustainability" and she hopes that the project "will act as a catalyst for wider community involvement in the debate about how we best address the challenge of climate change in our cities.” Does this sound familiar?

Two years ago, the city of Vancouver's own Olympic sustainability project seemed to echo the same passion for sustianability, but in the end if turned out to another VANOC White Elephants. Will London's corporate financed sustainability fare any better than the real estate bubble tragedy that the Olympic Village has been for the City of Vancouver?

Set to open in early 2012 the centre in the Royal Victoria Docks, it is proposed that the centre will be a flagship for East London’s Green Enterprise District. This part of the city is alternatively represented as the Silicon Valley of the UK and a Green Enterprise District, so it is a little confusing for casual observers. Do "green" software servers run on air or solar energy?

Designed as a showcase of urban sustainability, and including an office, an exhibition and education facility, Siemens project will showcase new technology from around the world and new ways of living and working in the spirit of sustainable sustainable urbanism. The interactive exhibitions and events will be open to the public - yet just how open remains to be seen. Siemens' project is still very much private property development, and in spite of members of the public being permitted to enter the space when they are invited, this will not in fact be a public space.

The space is projected to attract around 100,000 visitors a year, with school groups, and visiting research teams being a key component in the mix. Based on the dynamic centre Siemens is hoping to realise, one wonders if the financiers behind Vancouver's second convention centre could have used their imagination a little and provided a more engaging space for the public, alongside corporate conferences and over-priced inspirational speakers.

In terms of raw technology, the centre will showcase UK sustainable design and construction technologies, and will maximise the use of natural daylight, incorporating high performance glazing, photovoltaic panels, energy efficient lighting and metering. Rainwater harvesting, water efficient appliances, ground source heat pumps and solar water heating will all be integral to the design and the building will be constructed using recycled steel and industrial by-product cement. Sustainable drainage and water efficient landscaping are also part of the plans to create a relaxing waterside environment around the building.

According to Anne Keogh, the building complex will serve as a living model for London homeowners, archtiects and designers with research facilities supporting new green businesses. How this will work in practice remains to be seen.

Siemens is in the enviable position of having a testing ground for many of these projects with the Masdar City project in Abu Dhabi. The Masdar project is business led initiatives to create a sustainable satellite city using new green technology. While few countries or cities have the money to build from nothing, both of these projects drive home the need for investment in innovative approaches to sustainable urban design and more equitable living in one of the world's wealthiest cities.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Why the Tippy Tap Is Good for Your Health

Linked with today's post about hygiene and water quality in the Congo and elsewhere, we thought we should this great film about the Tippy Tap. While not everyone loves the Tippy Tap it a simple innovation that will hopefully inspire new ideas and approaches to water technology, low-cost sewerage and other areas in the future.

With the majority of the world's population under pressure to access clean water, it is time to think more seriously about how we use and manage water resources.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Moshe Safdie and Design for Humanity

At Back to Tap, we like to imagine that all architects and designers genuinely care about the world around them and how people interact with the buildings and objects they create. If people are going to go to the trouble of designing and building homes, offices and entire cities, it is important that they consider the people who inhabit these spaces.

The way we interact with water is particularly important. The way water enters our homes - the pipes and taps we use, and the way it leaves, and is filtered and returns to its source, has a huge impact on the environment, our health and well-being.

This symbiotic relationship between design, architecture, the environment and our health has frequently been ignored. We hope that in the future, more thinkers like Mosh Safdie will drive changes in the water and the built environment impact on our daily lives and the environment. We would love to read about any other inspiring designs.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The Majestic Plastic Bag

A great reminder that the vast majority of all plastic that we use ends up in our oceans. Has anyone else spotted a majestic plastic bag migrating to the sea recently?

Monday, 14 March 2011

Plastiki Redux - What can we learn from their journey?

As part of our ongoing engagement with the Plastiki team, Back to Tap recently caught up with David de Rothschilde in Australia. After completing the Plastiki voyage almost a year ago, it remains to be seen where he will be sailing next?

On our minds have been on the next step in the Plastiki team's voyage. After celebrating the one year anniversary of the voyage on March 20th, they are moving on to explore adventure, community and social change with a new online network at Check back next week to see what Back to Tap is up to on the Myoo network.

Submerged Arcology: innovative ways to clean plastic from our seas

Back to Tap always enjoys learning about innovative solutions to plastic pollution and waste, and we enjoyed a number of this year's entries to the Evolo 2011 Skyscraper Competition. In particular, the Submerged Arcology by Serbian architects Milorad Vidojevic, Jelena Pucarevic, and Milica Pihler. The ocean going column is designed to catch plastic waste for removal from the seas and recycling.

While this is a concept, it reminds us of Zigloo's Gyre Seascraper. With oil rigs and offshore gas drilling platforms being built left and right, one wonders when we are going to take seriously the need to clean-up our oceans and become aware that environmental stewardship is at least as important as exploiting the resources around us?

Plastics and Contamination in our Oceans - 5 More Reasons to Go Back to Tap!

New research suggests that fish are consuming and being affected by plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean. Plastic waste from industry and consumer products accumulates and washes into the sea. As Captain Charles Moore, the founder of Agalita explains, all the plastic waste that is generated in inland areas inevitably makes it down rivers to the sea. The long-term build up of plastic waste in our Oceans mean that there are now major plastic gyres in all five of the world's oceans.

The pollution in these oceans are five more reasons to stop using bottled water and go Back to Tap!

Friday, 11 March 2011

One more reason to ban the bottle and go Back to Tap!

Plastic waste and electroscrap damage the health of thousands of people, animals and plants around the world.

For the Greener Good: Life After Plastic from National Building Museum on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Floating Cinemas and the Olympics

After meeting them at this year's Emerging Architect awards, Back to Tap are thrilled to read in BD today that the Olympic Delivery Authority has commissioned Studio Weave to design a floating cinema which will cruise the canals of the five Olympic host boroughs next summer.

Studio Weave's "Longest Bench" and their artistic partners for the Olympic Cinema project, artists Nina Pope and Karen Guthrie.

Back to Tap's favourite Hackney practice will partner with artists Nina Pope and Karen Guthrie, known as Somewhere, for the ODA and its Create 11 summer festival.

The Floating Cinema commission is part of Up Projects’ Portavilion series which also saw temporary arts pavilions erected in London’s parks and public spaces over the summer.

The latest Portavilion project will focus on the waterways connecting the boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest, Hackney and Greenwich with the new Olympic Park.

Waterways and land are both up for private administration following the Olympics. Will the floating cinema be free to sail?

We hope that somewhere in the project they will raise the issue of ownership over resources - as the Olympic lands appear to be headed the way of Canary Wharf and will likely be one hundred percent private owned after the Games (see image), one wonders about the mobile cinema's freedom of movement. Will they be free to move along the waterways?

Thursday, 3 March 2011

World Water Day March 22 2011

Here in London, Back to Tap is getting ready for World Water Day 2011. Back to Tap will be joining millions of others to celebrate water as a human right on 22 March.

Given that World Water Day is only two weeks away we thought would be a good time to return to Jay-Z's own commentary on the plight of over a billion people who cannot access clean water for drinking, washing and cooking.

Clearly, we need simple yet innovative design solutions, such as the children's carousel playpump, the arbour loo and other ideas to build a universally accessible water future.