Tuesday, 30 November 2010

P&G and Aga Rayburn Case Studies - driving Green Sales through Smart Eco-Design

P&G - Changing consumer behaviour through Eco-Design
At the CBI Climate Change Summit in November Irwin Lee, Vice President, Proctor and Gamble (P&G), illustrated how good design was driving behavioural change amongst consumers in fast moving consumer goods in his business. 
Mr Lee outlined the scale and scope of P&G operations as the largest consumer group in the world selling 50 leading brands including Ariel, Fairy, Pampers, Flash, IAMS pet food, Duracell, Lenor.  They had 130 manufacturing facilities worldwide making $23bn turnover and selling their brands in 180 countries.  
P&G decided to prioritise energy consumption and water use focussing on Ariel in the first instance.  They found the vast majority of consumers were more demanding and more savvy, although a sizeable segment also wanted to behave sustainably by lowering their carbon footprint. 
They realised innovation was needed to develop sustainable products meeting consumer needs with no compromise on quality.  Lifecycle Assessments showed the energy used to heat water during the wash cycle created the biggest CO2 impact. Their challenge was to convince customers to wash at lower temperatures by providing them with a ‘no compromise solution’.
The first breakthrough was with Ariel ‘Excel Gel’ working at 15 degrees centigrade. Consumers were saving money through energy savings.  “Cold is the new hot,” said Irwin Lee. “Excel Gel now has 15% of the laundry market.”
This came after earlier progress following the Ariel ‘Turn to 30’ campaign launched in 2006 when only 2% of consumers washed at this temperature.   After just four years 25% of households were washing at 30 degrees, with Irwin Lee claiming that the power saved as a result was equivalent to the energy needs of a country the size of Ireland. P&G aimed to have 70% of the population doing cold water washing by 2020, having formed a global partnership with WWF and Energy Savings Trust.
With their Pampers brand P&G aimed at reducing bulk, pulp use and packaging as priorities.  Design innovation had resulted in the creation of the “driest and thinnest nappy to-date,” said Irwin Lee “through the development of ‘Dry Max’ providing slimmer nappy cores.  Innovation is the foundation but education remains key.  If we can inform consumers we can bring them with us.”
Future Friendly represented an approach helping to improve communication with consumers as a partnership between, “P&G brands and leading sustainability experts, where each P&G brand in the partnership is being designed to use at least 15% less energy, water or packaging – whether it's in the way they're manufactured or used.”
Pampers had also partnered with UNICEF over the past five years through its ‘1 Pack = 1 Life-Saving Vaccine’ campaign.  This had resulted in Pampers donating 200 million tetanus vaccines protecting women and their babies around the world from Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus.  Mr. Lee announced that P&G was intending to reach the remaining 170m women and babies at risk by 2012.
Working in partnership with organisations like the Red Cross and Save the Children, P&G delivered PUR water packets providing clean water for relief in disaster areas - like Haiti, Chile and Pakistan. “Thanks to the work of one of our brilliant scientists in household research in Newcastle, we’ve provided more than 2 billion litres of clean drinking water,” said Mr Lee.  
Last month at the Clinton Global Initiative P&G had declared their intent to “save a life an hour by 2020” which meant increasing their distribution to an extra 2 billion litres per year.
To realize this "save a life every hour" target by 2020, the company had committed to build a new manufacturing facility for its PUR water packets. Apparently, one small PUR packet quickly turns 10 litres of dirty, potentially deadly water into clean, drinkable water.
As a result of P&G’s Smart Eco-Design plan and other initiatives aimed at promoting sustainable behaviour across their brands P&G’s results from 2002 – 2010 were:
CO2 reductions           -53%
Energy reductions       -50%
Waste reductions        -55%
Disposed waste           -55%
Their new 10 year goals for 2020 were to have 100% renewable energy plants and 100% renewable materials for packaging their products together with 0% consumer or manufacturing waste.

Aga Rayburn - Smart Design through the Eco-Connect System
Closer to home Aga Rayburn has recently developed a unique sustainable solution targeting their customers’ needs.  I visited the Aga shop in Kidderminster a couple of weeks back to see their new Home Energy Management Centre.  This Centre has a full size display showing customers how various components, such as a boiler stove, Central heating range cooker and solar panel, can be configured together to maximise the use of renewable energy.

To help them do this the Aga Rayburn research team in Telford have created the Eco-Connect system.  This clever, neatly-sized device acts as  a heat exchanger enabling the water cylinder in any home to be connected to a different energy sources, such as a wood burning stove, a wood burning, solid fuel or oil fired Rayburn cooker (and central heating system) and other sustainable energy sources, such as solar thermal (hot water) panels. 
Aga wood burning stoves have energy efficiency ratings of over 81% and the Rayburn 680 KCD, for example, is an oil fired boiler and central heating system with 92% efficiency for its A-rated condensing technology.
The innovative Eco-Connect Panel has the ability to interconnect different appliances ensuring that energy is intelligently drawn from the greenest source at all times.  The Eco-Connect panel senses the temperature of the water in the system and whether it needs ‘topping up’ always opting for the most sustainable source whether that might be the stove, Rayburn or other source. 
Aga Rangemaster’s Nigel Morrison told me, “No other manufacturer is doing this. We are the first to market with this sort of product and within the first few months we have seen signs of early enthusiasm for this technology and it is selling well across the country.   It has already won an Award in the Innovative Renewables Category at the Ricoh Arena Oil & Renewables Exhibition earlier this year.  It has just been voted ‘Innovative Product of the Year’ at the OFTEC Awards for Excellence 2010 on 29th October with the Rayburn 680 KCD a runner up in the same category.
Smart eco-design innovation
Aga Rayburn - Eco-Connect Panel
“With systems of this sort vitally dependent on technical details one of the key technological challenges has been in enabling connections to be made between Stoves as vented systems and cookers, such as the Rayburn, as sealed systems, something that had not been possible prior to this. 

Smart Eco-Design can change consumer behaviour driving Green Growth

Richard Lambert, Director General, CBI
 At the CBI Climate Change Summit in November Richard Lambert explained that there was still a big opportunity for more businesses to use design to change people's behaviours and buying habits.

He stated, "the process of capturing the public's imagination has hardly started. There is no sense of excitement.... Not enough breakthroughs to excite consumers for them to drive the market.
"Businesses need to demonstrate that switching will benefit families and improve quality of life by making it real for them."

He added, "Martin Luther King didn't get to where he got by saying 'I have a nightmare'. There was a sense amongst consumers that they simply were not going to buy more expensive products just because they would have a better carbon footprint. Whilst white goods companies were doing things differently and cars were improving, consumers remained sceptical."

There is not so much time left for business to rise to this eco-design challenge. In climate change terms the next ten years are critical for Britain and the rest of the planet.

Yet, in spite of this, the media have recently been full of warnings by many, including our Chief Scientist, Sir John Beddington, that we are unlikely to reach any comprehensive agreement during the latest climate talks in Cancun, Mexico.

This follows the failure to reach agreement in Copenhagen last year. Sir John's uncertainty also extends to any positive outcome for next year's talks in South Africa.

Despite failure at Copenhagen to reach a comprehensively binding agreement, 140 countries had made pledges in the 'Copenhagen Accord', with developed countries aiming for cuts in CO2 emissions and developing countries aiming for lower increases.

Sir John thinks it would be 'unwise' to work on the basis that the UN will achieve its target of limiting global temperature rises to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius (C). He suggests we need to prepare for 'rapidly warming temperatures over the rest of this century'.

His views are echoed by experts I meet in universities across the region with some now seeing a 4 degree C temperature increase as a quite possible outcome. A new paper published today in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society , timed to coincide with talks in Cancun, argues that even with current promises to cut emissions, a rise of 4 degrees C is possible, happening as quickly as 2060 in a worst case scenario.

This could lead to droughts, desertification, extreme water shortages, especially in drier places such as southern Europe and northern Africa, leading to possible large scale loss of rainforests in South and Central America and parts of Africa.

"There is now little to no chance of maintaining the rise in global surface temperature at below 2C, despite repeated high level statements to the contrary," Kevin Anderson, University of Manchester was reported as saying in yesterday's Guardian (29/11/10). "Moreover, the impacts associated with 2C have been revised upwards so that 2C now represents the threshold [of] extremely dangerous climate change."

"2010 represents a political tipping point," Anderson said, "this paper is not intended as a message of futility, but rather a bare and perhaps brutal assessment of where our 'rose-tinted' and well-intentioned approach to climate change has brought us. Real hope and opportunity, if it is to arise at all, will do so from a raw and dispassionate assessment of the scale of the challenge faced by the global community."

Dr Peter Rayson, Associate Dean Faculty of Technology, Engineering and the Environment, Birmingham City University says, "The UK's Natural Environment Research Council's (NERC) programme, Quantifying and Understanding the Earth System (QUEST), has been working to throw some light on these issues, making its final report in early November.

"The QUEST programme has been operating since 2004. It involves 300 scientists investigating land use, bio-energy, forestry and mitigation; fish stocks, crops and food security; bio-geochemical feedbacks; carbon cycle feedbacks, rules of fire and large and rapid climate change.

"The key learning from establishing this Earth System Model is the interdependency of these issues and the fundamental impact that human economic activity and population growth has on our future Sustainability. From the final QUEST report it was apparent that the view was we are heading for 4 degree C plus outcome, probably 6 degrees C by the end of the century.

If you have access to Google Earth 5 you can load the QUEST scenario's for a 4 deg temperature rise http://www.fco.gov.uk/google-earth-4degrees.kml"

Richard Lambert suggested that in spite of these warnings for rapid temperature increases, "the needle on the dial for consumer behaviour has scarcely shifted." Apparently climate change was ranked 21st out of a list of 21 consumer concerns in recent US research by the Pew Research Centre.

"The CBI is working alongside Ipsos MORI and others to get a grip on what is required here," said Richard. "Already it's clear that by increasing the knowledge about the energy efficiency of a product or service, and explaining this in a coherent fashion, consumers will behave accordingly."

The CBI Director General cited the economic turmoil as a reason for this, adding that the public's trust in climate change had been damaged by manipulations of data resulting in a feeling of 'greenwash', especially following the email leaks from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and the mistakes admitted by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in asserting that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035.

Vested interests in the USA (using around ¼ of world oil supply) made radical breakthroughs unlikely even though business was keen to invest and saw the potential for this area to drive recovery.

"What was once a niche topic for members had become central to the CBI," said Richard. "There is a need to become 'green to grow' with increasing evidence that recalibrating businesses to 'green' can provide benefits to business," quoting the M&S Plan A, P&G, Ford, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Siemens, GE, Clipper Windpower and Tesco, saving £0.5bn a year from energy efficiency strategies, as leaders of this approach.

However Richard Lambert told the Climate Change Summit that the CBI Climate Change Tracker was still showing more red than green. It had been set up by the CBI following the introduction of the Climate Change Act in 2008 to chart the government's progress in developing the policy framework and conditions to encourage the delivery of a sustainable economy focussing on the key areas of power generation, buildings, transport and industry.

"Companies don't have to wait for political leadership when they set about designing new products, or launching new services for the low carbon world," said the CBI Director General. But they did need some policy clarity - and consistency....For example on feed-in tariffs, green taxes, carbon pricing, the Green Investment Bank.

On Green Deal loans to homes to pay for energy efficiency measures he added that it was, "a nice idea in theory, but fraught with uncertainty about the appropriate scale of the scheme, about who is going to pay for it, and about how much demand there will be from homeowners in the first place."

However, despite the lack of clarity, lack of customer engagement to-date, and insufficient use of design to ignite consumer desire, the EU outlook, as articulated by Danish Politician and former EU Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard, was for strong growth in sustainable jobs from 1.6m in 2005 to 3.5m in 2020, with global market values either doubling or tripling during that period.

Gavin Patterson, Chief Executive of BT Retail echoed Richard Lambert's concerns about the need to drive the market stating that the consumer space was still to be seized and solving consumer pull was critical to driving forward sustainable solutions.

Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Chris Huhne, stated that the "shifting landscape of public opinion" was itself a challenge, "Threatening to undermine the collective will for action".
Apparently 7 out of 10 people already thought it was too late to do anything on Climate Change and 1 in 4 that Britain couldn't act alone. His fear was that fatalism could take hold and that uncertainty was not an excuse for inaction.

"We have the 3rd largest insurance sector in the world in the UK, managing assets valued around ¼ of the UK's net worth," said the Minister. Companies in this sector were being exposed to the cost of UK floods which soared to over £3bn in 2007 hitting premium costs.

"According to the ABI, if global temperatures were to rise by 2 degrees, average annual insured losses from inland flooding would rise by 6%. And the losses from an extreme weather event would rise by 18%," said Chris Huhne adding that it was estimated the sustainable home insurance markets would reach £4Tr in value by 2015.

On the CRC (Carbon Reduction Commitment) Energy Efficiency Scheme the government outlined its objective to make things simpler and easier for business, having published consultations on delaying the start of the CRC scheme by a year, in an effort to reduce the administrative burden on business.

They were intending to exempt more than 12,000 information declarers from the scheme. However the Minister was under no illusion regarding businesses' disappointment at the withdrawal of the commitment for revenues raised from the scheme being recycled to participants. Government were anticipating raising £1bn from the sale of CRC allowances by 2014/15.

The Green Deal was seen as the answer to bringing ageing housing stock up to today's standards through a nationwide refit. It was also being designed to apply to business allowing businesses to pay for energy efficiency improvements through a charge on their energy bill with the level of expected energy saving being higher than the cost of repayment.

It was anticipated the insulation industry could quadruple in size. "Britain accounts for just £112 billion of the global trade in low-carbon and environmental goods and services. We can do so much more," concluded the Minister.

Friday, 26 November 2010

European Innovation and Enterprise Academy to be launched by Birmingham City University, Faculty of Technology, Environment and Engineering

From left: John Rainford - Strawberry Fields
Barbara Rainford - Strawberry Fields
Pilar Haro - AJE Zaragoza
Marc Banaszak - SAXEED
Professor Adrian Cole - BCU
Tom Mcdermott - BCU
Timo Nevalainen - TAMK
Beverley Nielsen - BCU

An innovative partnership between leading European providers of higher education focussed on developing enterprise and innovation within businesses has been launched by Professor Adrian Cole at Birmingham City University (BCU) that will result in a new European Innovation and Enterprise Academy.
In launching this pioneering initiative Professor Cole has brought together leading exponents in Enterprise and Innovation learning who have a track record of supporting enterprise activity within their regions.  The partners include Tampere University of Applied Sciences in Finland, AJE Zaragoza from Spain, SAXEED Centre for Entrepreneurship based in Chemnitz Germany and Birmingham City University.
Professor Cole, speaking at the launch said, “I am very excited by this innovative development in bringing together leaders in entrepreneurial and innovation teaching from across Europe.  We have a big challenge in Europe and in the UK to stimulate our economies again and get young people into exciting work that can provide future opportunity for them and others.  We are setting ambitious goals for ourselves and over the course of the next year we will be developing the details plans for the Academy.”
“Our goal is to have the Academy operational in a number of European locations with each location serving the enterprise development needs of its local region but also being able to take advantage of expertise and resources from across the EU”
The Academy partnership  brings a diverse and rich set of experience in developing entrepreneurial and innovation learning. 
Birmingham City University has established expertise in enterprise and innovation development at national and international levels. Support for 4000 plus smaller businesses has seen its technologies and skills transfer programmes result in significant product developments. Projects have included the EU Asia programme (with partners in India, China, Spain, Poland and Germany).  Industrial partnerships have included Microsoft and Cisco resulting in international computer and IT-networking academies. Further initiatives have resulted in links with Apple, Rolls Royce, NEC, SAP and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation
Tampere  (TAMK) University has over 10,000 student and 800 members of staff focussing on technology, business, tourism and culture with a partnership involving the School of Art and the School of Vocational Teacher Education.  TAMK cooperates successfully on R&D with institutions across Finland.  Its entrepreneurship unit, the respected and internationally-renowned, ‘ProAcademy’ is working to renew the education system by promoting early student entrepreneurship. Students establish new businesses on entry and engage in team learning involving the unit’s trainers, entrepreneurs and students. Their approach focuses on ‘values’ based learning encouraging a can-do attitude and the courage to do business through coaches rather than lecturers and where lecture theatres are replaced by offices where students engage in team enterprises with responsibility for their own learning and success. 2008 revenues generated by student businesses amounted to Euros 400,000 with 20% of graduates continuing as entrepreneurs following graduation that year and 40% of 2009 graduates continuing in entrepreneurial roles.
AJE Zaragoza in Spain supports the growth of entrepreneurship through direct incubator support for start-ups including a training support programme.  It has a partnership with the University of Zaragoza enabling it to provide expertise on financing and development of entrepreneurial culture and mindset.  During 2003 it hosted the first World Virtual Congress of Young Entrepreneurs and SMEs with more than 130 countries, 600 organisations and 3,500 individuals participating.
SAXEED Centre for Entrepreneurship in Chemnitz Germany offers entrepreneurship education and advice for start-up companies at 4 universities in South-western Saxony – Chemnitz University of Technology, TU Bergakamdemie Freiberg and the two universities of Applied Sciences in Mittweida and Zwickau. As a direct result of the Centre’s activities in the last 5 years more than 120 start-up companies have emerged out of 300 business ideas, creating more than 420 jobs most of which have been in the technology sector.
For further enquiries please contact Prof Adrian Cole at +44 (0)121 331 5400 or via email at Adrian.cole@bcu.ac.uk

Sunday, 21 November 2010

John Heskett, Professor of Design, urges business to Use Design to Create Market Demand

Professor John Heskett
Design can create markets
and drive economic growth
“Markets are created, they do not just exist,” said Professor John Heskett to me last weekend when I visited him at his new home in Brighton.  “The best way to achieve this is by embedding design into all aspects of managing corporate activities.” 

He added, “Understanding by a company’s senior management of the full complexity of design, how it can best be matched to company needs and most effectively integrated into development processes at all levels is imperative.”

John Heskett has just returned to the UK from most of the past decade in Hong Kong. There he was Chair Professor of Design at the School of Design, Hong Kong Polytechnic University.  Before that he spent fifteen years in the USA as Professor at the Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. 

Entering his beautiful home is a bit like entering a design museum. He and his wife Pamela have filled it with objects providing  ‘balm for the soul’...from Han Dynasty artefacts in the hallway to lighting designed by Louis Poulsen, furniture by Gilbert Rohde, Børge Mogensen, Arne Jacobsen, Niels Diffrient and others too numerous to list.  Of particular interest to me were the Marcel Breuer chairs designed for renowned former West Midlands’ manufacturer, PEL.

In recent years Professor Heskett’s research has focused on how design creates - and not just adds - economic value and the role of this in design policy in government and business.  
His design credentials stretch back, I hope he won’t mind me saying, for some time.  His first book ‘Industrial Design’ (Thames & Hudson) was published in 1980.

As a young lecturer, then at Coventry University, he felt his students did not have a text helping them to gain a structured understanding of how design can impact on our quality of life. Whilst they learnt about the history of art, they did not learn about the history of design. 

“It became very obvious to me that you couldn’t neglect design history as this was an important part of the whole.  It would be a bit like expecting individuals to exist without knowing who their family was. 

“Students were being expected to re-invent the wheel. However, in other disciplines there is a body of knowledge to learn from and refer to, so you can ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’ rather than examining your own navel.”

Since then John has made his reputation internationally for the quality of his writing and thinking into how design can enhance our lives – and our businesses.  As he points out, “almost nothing in our environment is completely natural.  The wider social and economic world we inhabit is pretty much all designed, all man made - our homes, workplaces, schools, churches, malls, transport systems and places of entertainment.”

His last book, “A Very Short Introduction to Design”, published 2002, (Oxford University Press) ends with the chapter, “Future” posing the question, “Will the future pattern of what is produced and why, continue to be primarily determined by commercial companies, with designers identifying with their values; or by users, with designers and corporations serving their needs?”

How does John define that much-misunderstood term, ‘design’?

“Design,” he says, “is a basic human capability. Like language and music it defines us as human beings, derived from but also different from the rest of nature.  This capability enables us to shape our physical environment, giving it meaning, with its outcomes clustered into objects, communications, spaces, services and the combination of some or all of these into systems.”

To this end it is vital that design teaching is oriented not only to the generation of ideas but to solutions to meet user needs enhancing quality of life.

“Generating creative ideas is relatively easy.  The ideas in principle can be generated in large numbers at low cost. The biggest problem is bringing those ideas into reality within the productive processes and to the market in question.  How to ensure ideas are appropriate to technologies, marketing, producer capacity and meeting the needs of users for the right price is crucial.”

His concerns are rooted in some of the current thinking behind design teaching.  As he puts it, “Much of the confusion stems from perceptions of design as a branch of fine art, which limits understanding of design to the subjective manipulation by individuals of physical elements, such as forms, colours, materials, textures and so on, with ‘creativity’ being viewed as the polar opposite to processes of analysis, thought and methodology.”

Prof Heskett quotes Herbert Simon, 1978 Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics, who emphasised design as a process of decision-making directed towards change that could encompass both objective and subjective approaches and is a fundamental component of any professional activity.

As Simon put it, “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. ...Design so construed is the core of all professional training; it is the principal mark that distinguishes the professions from the sciences.”

A consequence of Simon’s definition is that a designer’s work is concerned with application and implementation, not just observation or reflection. Which means it cannot be justified solely in terms of self-definition, as in fine art where the integrity of any work stems from it being the essence of an individual’s vision. 

“We are going nowhere in future if we have design students who do not understand technologies, manufacturing processes, distribution, social and cultural elements of how design structures our work and life and how design is woven into a social, cultural, ethical and political context. 

“If we could get this right for our students this would be a very powerful learning experience for life and would get the very best students into design – competing with the other professions such as medicine, economics, management and law and laying the foundations for a career that could move right up through companies to the boardroom.  How many British FTSE companies today have a designer on the board, or running the business?

“Whilst for designers individuality and creativity are crucial characteristics, designers also frequently work in teams and have to satisfy specific criteria on multiple levels such as - the requirements of employers or clients; compatibility with available technology, marketing and distribution systems, legal and environmental standards, economic criteria. 

“This implies,” says John, “that design must ultimately be judged by its contribution to business success, in terms of profitability.”

If there are two key themes to Professor Heskett’s thinking about the power and relevance of design to our lives in future it is in thinking about systemic design and interactive design approaches.

As companies become more complex in response to the growing sophistication of users and their requirements, business needs to increasingly create new markets through innovative products and services.  “It will do this using communications, environments and services combined into systems intended to demonstrate that the whole exceeds the sum of its parts.”

Examples include Samsung and 3M.  3M has invested substantial resources not just in encouraging experiment but in providing an environment in which the search for innovation is continuous, describing it as a ‘way of life’. “The company was founded in 1902,” says John Heskett “and since then they say they’ve introduced over 50,000 innovative products.”

“Samsung similarly encourages innovative design at all levels. When Samsung arranges meetings to negotiate loans for future development, the Chairman doesn’t only take along his financial advisors, but also a team of designers to talk about scenarios of the future. The company is now one of the best managed in the world in terms of its integration of design.”

Explaining the need for a greater emphasis on interactivity John says, “above all, designers must satisfy users or customers in a wide range of cultural conditions and contexts who determine whether any project is successful.  The integrity of design here springs from the degree to which it satisfies actual and latent human needs.

“Only if what is designed is affordable, useful, accessible and pleasurable will it sell and give continuing satisfaction.  In other words, I’m suggesting that users ultimately determine what constitutes value and innovation, and a focus on their needs and an emphasis on providing greater and deeper satisfaction to them is the key to sustainable profitability.”

Professor Heskett emphasizes: “Size is not a necessary factor in these approaches.  ERCO, a German company specializing in architectural lighting, focuses on producing lighting fittings known for overall quality as well as quality of light produced.  They employ about 600 people. Their former MD decided they were not going to produce any products made by other architectural lighting businesses—and it was this strategy and the systems needed to achieve this that ensured they’ve become Number 1 in the world in their sector.”

 John Heskett concludes: “Where high levels of economic performance exist around the world, you will also find high levels of design performance integrated into organizations. Competition, moreover, is going to get fiercer. Brazil is strengthening its design education and practice. China is moving from the approach of Made in China using outside designs, to Designed in China and developing its own brands. We are facing a fundamental transformation and we cannot expect in the UK to achieve different results by doing the same kinds of things as in the past. If we want to be competitive in new technologies, it requires a rethinking of the roles design can play and how these can be managed, as a matter of urgency.”

Monday, 15 November 2010

Francine Houben – Interpreting Birmingham’s Future through its Past

“Libraries are the Cathedrals of this decennia”, said Francine Houben speaking about her design for the new Library of Birmingham.
This was the third in the series of ‘Design Built-In’ lectures, held jointly by the Birmingham Institute of Art & Design and Aston University’s School of Applied Science and Engineering Design attended  by over 140 students and business people.
Some months back Prof Verganti of Politecnico di Milano said in the same lecture series that you innovate the meaning of things by “working through ‘interpreters’ – people with capacity to combine the ‘big picture’ with profound insights at company level.”
Francine Houben, architect and director Mecanoo, and designer of the new Library of Birmingham is just such an interpreter.
“I have been coming to Birmingham for two years, but this is the first time I have spoken about it,” she said.  “I am struck by the colour, diversity and energy of the City and its people... For me, Birmingham is a city of incidents and ideas with a proud industrial heritage.”
Francine’s global experience combined with her unique vision of Birmingham and our place will, I believe, help us to recreate ourselves. 

Francine Houben's design for the new Library of Birmingham

By looking anew at what we have achieved (and more often than not taken for granted) she will help us recognise afresh the wealth of creativity combined in our past and present.  Perhaps, I hope, giving us renewed confidence about ourselves and our culture as we shape a dynamic and vibrant future.
Francine Houben is a remarkable woman by anyone’s standards.  Appointed the first Professor of Architecture in Holland and a Visiting Professor, Harvard during 2007, she has received many honorary Awards in recognition of her talents including - Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year 2008, Honorary Fellow, RIBA UK, as well as Honorary Fellow, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and the American Institute of Architects. 
She describes her work as, “warm, human, playful, using beauty and light, colour and strong materials... For me architecture is not a purely intellectual or conceptual game. In the end the result should touch all the senses.”
Her practice employs 90 people providing services covering architecture, urbanism, interior design, restoration and landscaping.  

She does not believe she has a style as such – a perspective associated with many of our most famous architects of the past century - but rather a set of principles, amounting to a philosophy or form of expression,  guiding her approach to design including, “a love of nature, handwriting and language, composition of empty space, analysis and intuition, arrangement of form and emotion, with a focus on durability – making things that will last.”

When Francine first visited Birmingham she bought a guide book to the UK which had two pages on Birmingham – not much, she felt, to reflect the UK’s greatest industrial city, poised to take advantage of the emerging knowledge economy with three respected universities hosting over 60,000 students.  She bought a map of the city and started trying to walk the streets before realizing the map was intended soley for cars. 

To get a feel for the city she started walking ‘the red line’ from the Rotunda where she always stays in Birmingham, up through Paradise Circus, Centenary Square (the site of the new Library) and onto the Canal District of the city and Broad Street. 

“I noticed people were walking through the city but not stopping to enjoy the open spaces very much, not using them to socialize or relax.

“I wanted to bring a coherence to the City.  Local historian and commentator, Carl Chinn, took me around the buildings and I observed the styles and materials being used, taking in something of the spirit of the city.

“I did not want to create a new glass box but a building growing out of and representing something of the essence of the city.” 

For example, Francine has reflected the industrial craftsmanship of the new Library’s location on the site of the Cambridge Street Winfield Brass Works by incorporating a distinctive external steel filigree work that builds connections between past and present.

“It was clear to me that we should create a BREAM excellent building – quite a challenge…for example by installing mixed mode ventilation – natural and mechanical.”

Francine spent a lot of time reflecting on the arrangement of the Library’s functions with escalators taking people through the buildings’ layers to new sources of knowledge and discovery. 

Music Amphitheatre, new Library of Birmingham

The Children’s Library will be located on the lower ground floor connecting to the new Amphitheatre outside the Library, hosting concerts – for example by the Citys’ renowned Conservatoire and other musicians. 

The entrance will enable access to both the new business and learning hub on the ground floor and connecting through to the REP, housing new dining facilities reflecting Francine’s vision for the REP to become the ‘social hub’ of the city. 

Level 2 will house the extensive Reader Service collections. “I imagine a lot of student’s working in this area and I have created many different spaces for sitting and working with laptops and books alongside the window…For example looking over the city as the Library is located on one of the highest points in Birmingham.” 

A new Gallery and Terrace will be located on level 3, including a small restaurant and café and a separate Research Area.   “I also noticed the city was built on a gently rolling landscape with much greenery.   I wanted to create more green opportunity in the city through rooftop gardens in the new Library.”

Section through new Library of Birmingham

Archive collections will be housed in a rotunda structure rising upwards to the top floor with external imagery reflecting some of the inspirational source material contained in the 3 million photographic images and over 6,000 archive collections.

As outlined in an earlier blog, the Library's Shakespeare Collection includes the first Folio Edition of Shakespeare's works, published in 1623, worth an estimated £3-4m. Sitting alongside the Library's collection are those of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust- if connected digitally this would represent a huge cultural resource, unequalled anywhere else in the world.
For Francine this piece de resistance is highlighted in her ‘Shakespeare Memorial’, sitting atop the building, crown-like and coated in gold, with a central opening providing a view to the heavens above – a dramatic touch that perhaps even Shakespeare might have appreciated! 
New Library of Birmingham in construction, picture 21st October 2010

Francine Houben, Background:
Born in 1955, Francine Houben attended the Department of Architecture at the TU Delft, graduating in 1984. Today, she is one of Europe’s most active architects, responsible for projects such as the TU Delft Library (1998), St Mary of the Angels Chapel, Rotterdam (2001), Montevideo Tower (2006) La Llotja Theatre and Congress Centre, Lleida (2010), Spain and the Wei-Wu-Ying Center for the Arts, Kaohsiung, Taiwan due for completion in 2013.

 Houben has held Professorships in the Netherlands and abroad, and in 2007 was appointed Visiting Professor at Harvard. From 2002 to 2006 she was City Architect of the Dutch City Almere. In 2001 she published her seminal manifesto about architecture: ‘Composition, Contrast, Complexity’ and, as a highly influential director of the First International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam in 2003, brought the theme of mobility to the forefront of international design consciousness.

She lectures all over the world and sits on many prestigious international design competition juries. In 2001 she was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Institute of British Architects and, between 2003 and 2005 was a member of the International Design Committee in London. In 2007 she was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and the American Institute of Architects, and in 2008 received the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year Award. 2008 also saw the publication of a monograph on the work of Francine Houben and Mecanoo: ‘Mecanoo’ published by Images Publishing in the Master Architect Series.