As an artefact, the swallows’ nest is not exactly the Taj Mahal. It’s a ramshackle structure, made of mud pellets and straw, that’s stuck crookedly to the wall. But it seems to suit them well – or rather, the surrounding habitat does.

swallow nests [continue …]

2022-10-04T10:17:56+00:00September 3rd, 2013|energy, urban-rural|

A Reading List for Mr Monti

As an exercise, I thought I’d share with you (and Mr Monti) the best writers on my reading list – in the order I’ve read them, not in chronological order.



ff-score-1024x155.png [continue …]

2022-10-04T10:23:06+00:00February 10th, 2012|energy|

Energy: A Sense Of Loss

Transmission and Distribution %22T&D%22 loss - image.jpg
Whenever electricity is transmitted from one place to another a certain amount is simply lost. In older grids, energy is wasted overcoming resistance in the lines themselves. In extremely high voltage lines, so-called corona discharge [continue …]

2022-10-04T10:29:08+00:00May 9th, 2011|energy|

A smooth journey

Two images have preoccupied me in recent days.
The first one [below] was taken in a lounge at Paris airport. I remember being struck by the intense design effort that had been made to create a controlled and insulated environment. On the tv screen were images of the popular revolt [continue …]

2022-10-04T10:29:11+00:00May 3rd, 2011|energy, most read, moving|

Utopia is here

Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner, made in 1982, portrays a dystopian Los Angeles as it might be in 2019. In just eight years from now we are due to discover find out whether or not the film was an accurate prediction.

Do [continue …]

2023-05-07T08:20:56+00:00March 30th, 2011|energy, most read|

Salvage design

(Summer re-run: first published 26 July 2008)
Bamboo scaffolding, knotted aerial lines, hand painted signs or converted plastic bags: German photographer Thomas Kalak has published a book called “Thailand – Same same, but different!” that celebrates the Thais’ exceptionally gifted art of improvisation.
The strange objects and [continue …]

2022-10-04T10:46:06+00:00August 12th, 2010|energy|

Tech push and social pull

I’ve been reading a special issue of Innovations called “Energy for Change: Creating Climate Solutions” which claims to be “as thorough a survey of energy and climate solutions as has yet been compiled”. (I’m not putting a link here because the publisher – naughtily – has changed a contents page [continue …]

2022-10-21T12:11:00+00:00November 6th, 2009|energy|

City Eco Lab: neighbourhood energy dashboard

In the central space of City Eco Lab, a variety of live projects were on show that dealt with energy, water and mobility. Two key questions emerged: What variables make a neighbourhood sustainable, or not? And how do you measure them?
Magalie Restalo, a designer from [continue …]

2022-09-28T15:27:03+00:00December 7th, 2008|energy|

City Eco Lab: dry loo solutions

Many people ask, “What has design got to do with sustainable development?”.

Well, take toilets.

In the South, 40% of the global population lives without toilets. In most places, scarcity of water renders sewer systems impossible, while ad hoc human waste disposal spreads waterborne illnesses that prey upon millions, and cripple developing [continue …]

2023-05-17T06:55:02+00:00December 6th, 2008|energy|

Drops in the bucket

Further to my note yesterday on the UK going nuclear, my attention was drawn to Charlie Hall’s celebrated (in energy circles) balloon graph.

As Kurt Cobb explains, “it is not always obvious to modern industrial people that it takes energy to get energy. The more [continue …]

2022-10-07T15:31:21+00:00January 12th, 2008|energy|

UK goes nuclear

Yesterday’s announcement that Britain is to ‘go nuclear’ was a foregone conclusion, but is nonetheless a dispiriting reminder of the institutional inertia that stands between us and a radically lighter economy.

As Polly Toynbee points out in The Guardian today, “no voice in cabinet queried this decision. Faced with persistent [continue …]

2022-10-07T15:37:27+00:00January 11th, 2008|energy|

The dance of the big and the small

Although hundreds of millions of people are now demanding that “something must be done” to avert climate change, they – we – are confronted by a debilitating cacophony of often contradictory ideas and solutions. (Alex Steffen and Sarah Rich from Worldchanging asked some people to send them an end-of-year reflection. Here below is mine).

2022-10-07T15:48:35+00:00December 24th, 2006|energy|

The birth of the transistor

Join Joel Shurkin, author of the book Broken Genius, on a tour at the Science Museum in London. He’ll be in conversation with the Curator of Computing and Information, Tilly Blyth. Their topic is the birth of the transistor; its marriage to the computer was one of the key moments [continue …]

2022-10-07T15:50:59+00:00November 9th, 2006|energy|

The power used by television

Decentralised energy – using waste heat, and encouraging individual home owners to generate electricity with solar panels and new boilers – could provide nearly 70 per cent of all Britain’s electricity, and reduce emissions by as much as 60 per cent. The development of solar and and other micro generation [continue …]

2022-10-07T15:51:21+00:00November 4th, 2006|energy|

Fuel cells to Newcastle?

What would it mean, in practical design terms, to make one household carbon neutral? We’ll discuss this at the next Dott 07 (Designs of the Time) Explorers Club meeting on 11 July. The event takes place at the Robert Stephenson Centre in Newcastle, UK. Many of the greenhouse gas [continue …]

2022-10-07T19:25:21+00:00July 5th, 2006|energy|

Low-carb clusters

As noted yesterday, it makes me nervous that so much money is pouring into biotech clusters; the sector has bubble-like features and is based on a absurd proposition: that technology will help us cheat death. New and renewable energy is a surer bet for a region’s economic future. World leader [continue …]

2023-05-07T08:19:19+00:00March 31st, 2006|energy|

Rocks to rubble

I know our focus in Doors 8 is supposed to be on social infrastructures, but interesting material on the hard kind keeps turning up, too. I found a report about rocks and rubble, for example, which describes a more sustainable system of resource management. The life cycle of construction [continue …]

2022-10-07T16:09:34+00:00December 4th, 2004|energy|

Is carbon-based energy yuppy crack?

This article was written for Tornado Insider, the European business magazine, for publication in its November 2002 edition.
On a recent visit to Telluride, in Colorado, I was terrified to see a huge black Humvee draw up at the gates of a kindergarten. At the time, American newspapers were full of [continue …]

2022-10-07T16:10:55+00:00November 12th, 2002|energy|
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