Sustainability is one of those words that lends itself to dangerous misunderstandings. But we are experiencing the decade of the turning point on the theme of the environment and for this reason it is right to clarify its meaning

We have decided to rethink the world. Perhaps the 1920s will be remembered for this reason. In the meantime, however, design is serious and constantly relaunches new cultural and production models with the aim of saving the planet, one project at a time.

Sustainability is one of those words that lends itself to dangerous misunderstandings.

The first concerns a persistent and not too sophisticated way to create controversy or hasty judgments. Example: plastic as a demonic material.

The second, son of the first, concerns the complexity of the topic and the impossibility of forming an opinion without first having thoroughly studied the entire production cycle of a product, from materials to logistics. Furthermore, as the designer-entrepreneur Maurizio Montalti explains (read here), sustainability is a difficult word even for trivial psychological reasons. It forces us to think about the birth / death cycle, forgetting a fundamental and omnipresent passage in nature: transformation.

However, what is very clear and, all in all, comforting, is that we are already sustainable. At least we try. Because sustainability is something that is measured only by comparison with what already exists. You can't be completely sustainable, but you can certainly be more sustainable than a week, a month or ten years ago – Odoardo Fioravanti explains it well here.

The years we are living are fundamental, from this point of view. Companies want to do things well, in most cases. So they take action to avoid the pitfalls of simplification, betting on research. Net of shameless and useless actions of greenwashing, the intent is rigorous and serious. Although, and this is good, design is not really one of the main producers of the carbon footprint, or the production of greenhouse gases that characterizes any activity on the planet. In any case, the 20s will hopefully be remembered as the decade in which we redesigned the world and, in this operation, it is right and proper that design is at the forefront.

Read here how greenwashing should be avoided greenwashing

Different speech for architecture, which instead seems to have more obvious faults. According to Joseph Grima, activities related to architecture are responsible for about 40% of the carbon footprint. Data is always a good starting point, because it often describes unexpected realities. As innocent as building a palace is, in effect, a minor environmental disaster.

Thus was born the idea of a year-long research at the V-A-C Foundation at Palazzo delle Zattere in Venice, which thanks to Space Caviar (Grima's studio) has been the headquarters of Non-Extractive Architecture: Design without extinguishing. A path that involves designers and architects in residence, an exhibition in progressive preparation, a cycle of transversal events that involve the public in the dissemination of results. The first stone is the book of the same name, Non-extractive Architecture: On Designing Without, published by Sternberg Press, which through the words of researchers, designers and artists, philosophers and economists, marks the boundaries of research for a new definition of architecture.

The idea is to remove the production chains from invisibility, by ceasing to assume that architecture can exist only to the detriment of those who suffer from its externalities, that is, those environmental and economic costs that affect the entire community and the planet. And of which the construction sector is not responsible. Grima argues that there are some pragmatic antidotes.

First of all, the refusal of a bottom-down architecture of modernist inspiration, which imposes a constructive and compositional model unable to dialogue with the environment and man. Then the invitation to make informed choices, which evoke a new vernacular and draw on local traditions and materials. Finally, universities and schools, which have the task of not feeding backward and essentially heroic ideas of a discipline that today must above all mediate needs and create social networks.

The V-A-C Foundation at Palazzo delle Zattere in Venice hosts Non-Extractive Architecture: designing without extinguishing until March 2022, with guests selected by an international open-call. The artists of N55 / Ion Sørvin and Till Wolfer have designed a content distribution system  calling it an exhibition project is an understatemen t with a wheeled library and a broadcasting station. Because research is beautiful and important, especially when the results are disseminated well.

These days Interni focuses on companies that work to produce sustainably or offer products that increase the degree of functional sustainability. It is only a small part of an industrial landscape in full transformation, which enjoys the liveliness and productivity of sorcerer's apprentices. And in fact we are all very young when it comes to sustainability. Nonetheless, the argument is serious: it is about taking many small cultural and technological steps to protect our unique habitat.

For example, Samsung does this with the new Bespoken refrigerator, which in addition to saving energy is modular, therefore adapting to the evolution of the family composition and the needs of the owners. Graniti Fiandre does this by giving new dimensions to its architectural marble surfaces, to create less waste when laying. Finally, Arper, does it, with a serious cycle assessment and the new Kata and Mixu chairs, which declares the composition of the materials to make its products easily recyclable.


Cover photo, Teunland installation by Teun Zwets, a designer who focuses his creative process on the moment, reducing design and production to a single day. The objects, made with different pieces and waste materials, in a mix of ready-made, prototypes and mock-ups, celebrate practicality and recovery. This, like other projects in the article, are presented as part of the Isola Design Festival, a hybrid event, between a digital platform and an in-person event, lasting 6 months: started in April, it will end with the FuoriSalone, from 5 to 10 September 2021.