But what happened next was unexpected; whilst I thought I knew which direction the speakers and conversation would take, I was wrong. Each of the four panelists was asked to introduce themselves and outline what they do, what they’re passionate about, and why it would matter to them where their ‘stuff’ (materials, resources, skills etc.) comes from. Preliminary introductions unfolded smoothly. And then, surrounded by beautiful furniture and great minds, we disappeared into a fascinating world of stories. Stories of Aboriginal design, the links between sustainability, beauty, spirituality and function in boomerangs and buildings, heirloom products, handprinting and restorative development, and the development, evolution and skills behind the knowledge, routine and physical jobs around NSW.
Speaking in the session were designer, artist and film-maker Alison Page, architect and sustainable development advocate Caroline Pidcock, furniture design curator, storyteller and our host at the CULT showroom Richard Munao, and business strategist, design thinker and jobs-for-the-future advocate Tony Stephens. A gender-balanced panel – well played Sydney Architecture Festival!
Alison outlined concepts of design from an Aboriginal perspective, noting the materials used, the traditions embraced and how communities each have a unique cultural identity and spirituality that needs to be reflected in the built environment. Caroline talked of handprinting; where a range of positive business impacts from best practice products to sustainability programs can balance an organisation’s footprint. Richard referenced the importance of authenticity and longevity in design, particularly in the creation and passing down of heirloom products and pieces. And Tony spoke of the importance of the skills and narratives within engineering, architectural and technical services here in NSW and the need to build on infrastructure investment domestically and expand internationally; whilst the Jobs for NSW initiative focuses on fast-growing SMEs and start-ups, the real ‘wicked problem’ is how to transition regional SMEs away from older industries and into newer ones. Their challenge is to create 150,000 new jobs in the four years to March 2019, and these need to be sustainable, lasting jobs.
With CULT’s stunning furniture and design around us, and conscious of Alison Page’s words about Aboriginal design blending function, beauty, spirituality and sustainability, we also examined increasingly popular rating tools such as the Living Future Institute Australia’s (LFIA’s) ‘Living Building Challenge’. LFIA Board member Caroline Pidcock explained how the design and architecture fraternity is embracing the concept of not only doing ‘less bad’ but developing buildings with a positive, regenerative impact. The Living Building Challenge recognises and rewards buildings around not only categories of their Place, Water, Energy and Materials use, but also themes of Health and Happiness, Equity and Beauty – including elements of Spirit, Inspiration and Education.
And behind all of these themes were woven the stories – those stories of buildings we love, stories of materials and their sources, stories of crafts and traditions, and stories of history and heritage. The conclusion? That whether we’re talking developments, designs, dresses or desks, people are showing more and more interest, and attaching more and more value, to the stories behind their production.
So the panel, audience and I got to a conclusion, confirming that there is a growing demand for stories, beauty and quality, as well as a better blend of all three. As architect Richard Buckminster Fuller pointed out so accurately many decades ago, “When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”