E Floor

Jan 09 - 2020

Sustainable materials and products – masses of them out there apparently, but how do we properly assess exactly how sustainable anything is? There are various schemes, labels and means of accreditation, great variation between and within countries, huge scope for monetising the sustainability industry and the larger the organisation the more obscure the details.

One way of negotiating this minefield is to seek out smaller businesses who produce one or only a few things. For example Foresso who have a single product, a timber terrazzo sheet material made from timber and plaster waste and 0% VOC resin cast onto an 18mm birch plywood substrate. Locally sourced, using 85% recycled material and aiming for 100% asap by developing a resin-free binder, the finished product is inherently durable and can be returned and ground down to start again at the end of its use.

Perhaps because this is a relatively small business, or maybe because they are highly skilled and totally committed, Foresso have clear sight over their whole operation and make all decisions based on environmental consideration.

A beautiful material, with clearly described sustainable credentials.


Foresso timber terrazzo

Dalston kitchen flooring

Azure Mono / British Oak in a pale blue binder

Ivory Duo / British Walnut and Cedar of Lebanon



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Foresso kitchen floor Foresso Ivory Foresso Azure

Park Life

Oct 16 - 2019

Cabinet de Lecture Fête du Fleuve June–November 2019, Jardin Public 

At first sight a large shed in the park, the timber box designed by Konstantin Grcic nods to the 18th and 19th century Cabinet de Lecture or reading room and is part of the City of Bordeaux Cultural Season dedicated to Freedom.

The earlier reading rooms were not free but made access to books, papers and periodicals possible for a small fee at time when print was expensive and exclusive, opening up conversation and learning in a public place. This one has pinned texts on the freedom theme, and hosts weekly episodes of Aurélien Bellanger’s summer novel.

Also like the forerunner this cabinet gives shelter; the original was a place of warmth, light and relative comfort open all day and into the evening, the modern version has a seat in the shade.

Their heads are uncovered and their hair too is exposed, in all its darkness and sexuality. They wear lipstick, red, outlining the damp cavities of their mouths, like scrawls on a washroom wall, of the time before. I stop walking. Ofglen stops beside me and I know that she too cannot take her eyes off these women. We are fascinated, but also repelled. They seem undressed. It has taken so little time to change our minds, about things like this.

Then I think: I used to dress like that. That was freedom. Westernized, they used to call it.

The Japanese tourists come towards us, twittering, and we turn our heads away too late: our faces have been seen.

Margaret Atwood The Handmaid's Tale, 1985

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Reading Room parc Reading Room visitor Reading room doors open

Simple Luxe

Sep 29 - 2019

Grand Parc: Cheap is more

Employing their trademark luxury in simplicity, or cheap-is-more, Lacaton & Vassal have revived an unloved block in Bordeaux by changing its face and restoring interiors: a fast, low budget scheme with no displacement and minimal waste or environmental impact.

Original facades have been replaced with a new layer of winter garden providing an impressive public front, more internal space, improved energy efficiency and glorious views across the city from each apartment. In total 530 flats were refurbished in 12 to 16 days, at around €50,000 per unit, roughly half as much as a new-build scheme.

Compare and contrast with the typical approach in London where unfashionable blocks on large areas of green space are seen not as homes to be improved, but opportunities for private profit. Elephant and Castle is a case in point with the Heygate and Aylesbury estates razed, communities split and residents ‘relocated’ for dense blocks with minimum so-called affordable rents.

Travelling in Europe I am struck by the difference in attitude to building and managing urban communities. In France and Spain there is a positive commitment to making the city liveable, with open spaces, modern markets, small scale industry, trams and cycleways fully integrated with commerce and civic activity. In the UK profit rules, with no widely-heard public debate on the value or relevance of the developer-led built environment, and little room for the kind of clear design-thinking exhibited at Grand Parc.

UK, could do better, 



Grand Parc before, after, winter gardens

Aylesbury Estate SE17 demolition



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Grand Parc before Grand Parc after Grand Parc winter gardens Heygate SE17

Seaside Seatrac

Jul 06 - 2019

Solar powered Seatrac consists of cross-beach decking, a transition platform and an elegant track-fixed Marcel Breuer-inspired chair to make getting into and out of the sea possible for anyone who would normally find this a trial.

Great example of something simple, useful, beautiful - there could surely be one on every beach.

The result of a research project at the Applied Mechanics Laboratory, University of Patras, Greece, now manufactured by Tobea which exists to make this and related designs and services commercially available.




Seatrac access Seatrac seaside

How To Live It

Apr 21 - 2019

Paul Smith in the FT How to Spend It magazine, dedicated as suggested to outrageous consumption, advises contrarily exactly how not to:

“Many people commission interior designers and have beautiful houses, but they often lack a strong personal connection to the owner. Another way of doing it is to build up your interior over time, by buying pieces when you travel or spontaneously when you see them. To me, home is made up of all those things you've collected in life.”

This makes me wonder if living the throwaway-life is a generational and possibly short-lived thing. Growing up in the 60’s we not only did we not have any money, there was nothing to buy anyway. Hard to imagine – no on-line, takeaways, gadgets, Ikea, cheap flights, instead a lot of charity shopping, making and cooking, writing letters.

Will kids revert in the wake of climate emergency, social inequality and instant-access boredom?

 Paul Smith

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Paul Smith FT quote

24 hours in Milan

Mar 27 - 2019

Broken Nature Design Takes on Human Survival

Alice Rawsthorn wrote about Paola Antonelli and this exhibition in Wallpaper and in her series of Instagram posts on women in design, which led me to visit this vast, staggeringly beautiful, revealing and even hopeful exhibition.

Humans and the natural world: what have we done, what are we doing, and is there such a things as restorative design? Too much to see and take in in one visit, I'm working through the catalogue.

One example, a housing project by Chilean architects Elemental where limited resources are used to design and build half a good house, for completion as and when by the resident. Incremental design, shifting prejudices and addressing social inequality.

XXII International Exhibition of La Triennale di MilanoMarch–September 2019 

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Elemental Chile Broken Nature Broken Nature poster

Northern Bright

Nov 27 - 2018

Holmen Industrial Area, Vesterålen, Norway

Industry, weather, landscape, architecture & graphics combined:

4 rectangular structures housing a modern fishing facility – farming, trawling, processing and corporate HQ – arranged to camouflage industrial traffic, protect from a severe winter climate and safeguard the landscape. The composition of necessarily functional, durable materials in surprisingly strong colours make this a beautiful addition rather than an interruption.


Architect Snøhetta

Client Holmøy Maritime

Photography Ketil Jacobsen, Stephen Citrone

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Holmen 2 Holmen 3 Holmen 1

Quiet & Brave

Sep 07 - 2018

A peaceful few days by the sea near Girona in a hotel hiding a green ethos behind its high-design walls – the first hotel in Europe to receive LEED certification. With the benefit of a perfect centre-bay site, surrounded by pines, the original 1907 building and new additions are connected and wrapped by dry-planting and vegetable gardens. What you see is an age-old sympathetic fabric of plaster, stone, corten, cement tile and natural fibres, behind which are the less visible but vital systems to allow tourism to co-exist with environmental respect: water management and recycling, herbs and veg grown organically on site or close by, kitchen waste composting, PVC and formaldehyde-free materials, natural ventilation and solar panels. A thoroughly local experience, and an example of how to design well in and for all senses.

If visiting don't miss Mar d'Empuries Beach Bar practically in the sea, drinks & music, treading lightly.

Spotted: Marset Jaima lamps.


Hostal Spa Empuries

L'Escala, Costa Brava

Design Francesco Ranocchi

In collaboration with Eco Intelligent Growth

LEED Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

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H Empuries 2 H Empuries 7 H Empuries 5 H Empuries 9 H Empuries 4 H Empuries 3

Green Extra

Jun 07 - 2018

While I was thinking about green walls and noticing them, and noticing also the proliferation of plastic plants outside hotels for example, and astroturf all around, I saw this sweet spontaneous outburst on my street. 2 days later it was gone, pulled out or sprayed I can’t tell, but it seems to be making a comeback now.

Bonus: the photo won the Desso #CDWStreetView Twitter Competition, so off to Sky Garden to review their landscaping next.

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Spontaneous green wall Spontaneous death

Green Elephant

May 24 - 2018

A story of three green walls on my walk to work.

Best of all the magnificent wall at the side of the Bakerloo Line entrance at Elephant & Castle, well established and now in full glorious bloom. Presumably this space could be earning someone a large amount of advertising cash, instead if you glance up for a moment you get a vertical garden above the traffic. Brilliant.

New-ish on the side of a residential tower opposite the Castle Pool is a more modest but no less lovely block of planting, at people-height so more visible, part of generally good landscaping around this part of the development. While it gets settled in it looks like a half-finished tapestry and the stop-start of the plants is the thing that is so enjoyable, in stark contrast to

this: very new and very sad, an entirely plastic green wall outside Uncle, designed by Rogers, Stirk, Harbour + Partners. With a weirdly uniform repeat and hyper-green colour it has nothing to do with anything natural. What is the thought process here? No doubt a living wall is an investment, and a bit of a hassle to maintain but this poor relation looks hideous, and I wouldn't bank on it lasting very long. More importantly, surely indefensible while we are banning plastic straws and talking plastic-free isles in supermarkets, amongst other things. If you can’t afford a green wall don't have one, do something else, but don't substitute plastic.

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Glorious Elephant green wall New Elephant green wall elevation New Elephant close up Uncle plastic plants 3 Union plastic plants 1