Chapter Summaries

Section 1 — Roots
Learn more about the past...

Chapter 1 — An Introduction

This whole journey started completely by accident back in 2006, whilst reading one small interview in a special Bauhaus edition of the Berlin based Lowdown magazine. It sparked a small thought which became a short article, and then the short article grew much bigger in the spring of 2017 when an opportunity emerged to research the subject further. Two and a half years later, and here we are… with a 300 page book launching on Kickstarter! By nice coincidence, exactly 100 years since the Bauhaus School was originally founded.

Chapter 2 — The Rise and Fall of the Eclectics

This second chapter explores some of the pros and cons associated with using eclecticism as a means of thinking, designing, and moving culture forwards. Linking the fall of the Greco-Roman era with the collapse of Woodstock ’99, and our last 30-40 year postmodern foray into the eclectic wilderness with all the excesses of the Victorian Era. For some time now, culture has been long overdue a more pointed frontier, and a new set of values to help us move forward together. From one famous performance of Cypress Hill’s ‘Cock the Hammer’ to countless resamples of Lauren Hill’s track ‘Lost Ones’, via the G20 riots in Hamburg two summers ago, and the almost total failure of present day Capitalism; this chapter links these events together in one deeply eclectic, and increasingly nostalgic clusterf*ck. Chapter 2 formally says goodbye to ‘Eclecticism’ as the deceptively seductive, but ultimately blunt pathway forwards which it might always be. At least for now!

Chapter 3 — The Bauhaus Function

The Bauhaus wasn’t just the world’s first design school. It was also the first to begin to interrogate the unique relationship between form and function – especially when applied to the designed objects of our world. The famous Bauhaus maxim of ‘form follows function’ still offers us a valuable principle from which to progress this century, but only if we add the requirement that they must both follow nature’s needs. How else might we still be inspired by the school today? This chapter discovers the valuable Bauhaus theories and practices which still hold great relevance, exactly 100 years since the school was founded in the German town of Weimar.

Chapter 4 — De Stijl Meets Time

Harnessing the power of simplicity derived from working with a limited suite of shapes, and arriving at approximately the same time as Einstein’s theory of relativity. The De Stijl was the original artistic and architectural movement to also consider the fourth dimension of time. This chapter explores how our perceptions of time have consistently evolved since the Renaissance period, and how the ongoing development of our relationship with ‘time’ will ultimately form the basis for how we design, make and build in more mindful ways this 21st Century.

Chapter 5 — The Role of the Magazines

100 years ago newly formed avant-garde magazines were flying off the printing press at a speed not previously witnessed before. Many were independently run, and whilst some pinned their hopes on revolution, the more successful tended to be those which remained politically neutral. This C20th explosion in independently led content generation helps to demonstrate that neutrality does not have to be vague. In fact the power of neutrality lies in its ability to rise above the bulsh*t and talk directly about the matters which people really care about. This chapter finds that in the making of new movements, finding ways to bridge gaps and appeal directly to the concerns which we all share as common ground, is a sweet spot itself, for positive action and progress.

Chapter 6 — DADA

There are few coincidences when it comes to how and when the phenomenon commonly known as ‘Dada’ comes out to play. 100 years ago at performances of the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, artists recited meaningless sound poetry in protest against the ills of society and the moral bankruptcy which led to the destructive forces of WWI. Meanwhile today, in somewhat deep irony, some of our world leaders have taken to new forms of culture-jamming. Whilst mocking ideology originally intended to protect us, and sometimes even counterfeiting the dreams their own electoral bases, they have become the new masters of the Dada performance. Perhaps then Dada serves best as an alarm bell of its time? Which consistently begins to ring loud and clear at points in human history when all is not well with the commonly accepted ways of the world.

Chapter 7 — War – A Redefinition

A growing consensus amongst us increasingly views the present system as one of never-ending aggression against both people and the planet. Whilst fires burned out of control in both the Amazon and Siberia this last summer, the widespread devastation caused, prompted Greta Thunberg to declare with perfect clarity: “Our war against nature must end”. As we continue to rethink our relationship with the natural world, this can only start with a wholesale redefinition of what the destructive and wasteful boundaries of war encompasses. This chapter is an open call for this urgent redefinition.

Chapter 8 — The Ulm Age of Methods

As a resurgence of interest into the ‘methods behind making’ and the ‘designer's collective responsibility’ gains only greater relevance, the HfG (or Ulm School of Design)’s influence on the C20th should not be underestimated. The ‘Ulm Model’ was the original flexible, methodological and multi-disciplined approach to the task of solving design problems, which paved the way for the reinvention of the modern world post WWII. The school was an early benchmark which helped seed within the world some fundamentally important values – one of which being that ‘Design must meet the overarching needs of society’ – an idea which today demands to be thoroughly revisited. This chapter explores the concept of a new age of methods based on HfG principles, whilst taking a mindful look at where the points of friction might well surface once again.

Chapter 9 — Modernism and the Ongoing Project

Wikipedia’s entry on Modernism describes the poet Ezra Pound’s 1934 declaration to “Make it new!” as the touchstone of the movement’s approach towards what it saw as the obsolete culture of the past. The movement embraced the spirit of constant change, which when fully flexible to external factors, is a philosophy which still shines brightly with great promise today. However, Ezra’s mantra suffers from a naivety which is in desperate need of a reboot. For much of our activity this century already holds a heavy paradox, in that it will be rooted in us attempting to reverse the damage caused by our C20th predecessors. So what might we learn not just from Modernism’s rise to prominence, but also from its mistakes? To finally build a movement fit for purpose this present century.

Chapter 10 — Capitalism Eats Itself

We all now know it, but where and why did it all go so wrong? And more importantly what valuable lessons can we learn from the things which Capitalism once did so well? After all, for most generations alive today, at some point we have all been charmed and seduced by it’s spell. This chapter takes a closer look at the most dominant of twentieth century shadows, from which one day very soon, we will desperately need to find a way of escaping.

Chapter 11 — Roughly Where We Stand Now

So, Capitalism is more than a little screwed, populism is on the rise, and our planetary systems are tipping towards climate breakdown and the critical point of no return – unless we take drastic action within the next 10 years. Yet to quote one well known British musician: “Climate change isn’t necessarily the problem, it’s actually the solution”. In fact, when combined with tremendous leaps in new technology, a gentle dose of human imagination, and the helpful shunt of collective willpower, this is probably the best opportunity we’ll have for centuries to set humanity’s course towards a fairer and healthier collective future. For all artists, designers, and creative people, this chapter explores the poignancy of precisely where we stand in history today.

Interlude — Transitions

A selection of typographic illustrations representing the threshold over which we’re presently leaping, or which we still need to make the jump.
Section 2 — Leaves
To build a better future...

Chapter 12 — How Do Movements Happen?

Where do they come from? What are they made of? And how exactly do they begin? Surely there is more to it than the luck of good timing, or subtler affectations of the shared human ‘spirit’. Some movements must be content to sit on the shelf of history for centuries, waiting for just the right circumstances to collide and set them free. Learn more about what makes movements finally start moving, and manifest to become part of history’s great chain. Or at best define it! After all, in order to build anything useful, most designers, artists and engineers will tell you that it first helps to know a few of the secrets as to how it works.

Chapter 13 — Energy Makes Energy

The world has been through big energy transitions before, with every new cycle fundamentally changing the course of human history at the same time. Whilst the media tends to get fixated on the type of energy being harvested, whether that be coal, oil, solar, hydro or wind. In reality we often forget that through any period of dramatic change, it is always first and foremost a human story, and the people themselves who power it. How do we make the most of this insight to power an even faster and more fundamental transition? This chapter explores how we might change the narrative to one of human passion and ingenuity – an exciting new era within the Sustainable Movement where energy makes more energy!

Chapter 14 — Digital Need Not be Digital

The Digital Revolution, whilst undeniably ground-breaking in changing the way we communicate, network and share, has arguably under-delivered thus far in some of the basics of how we live. This is partly because so many givens to the natural world’s systems fall completely outside of the digital sphere. Nature after all is a closed loop system. Basic human requirements too, such as water, food, sleep, love and shelter, exist largely outside of technology’s reach. Today, whilst there is no shortage of ‘technical innovation’, we do drastically need to innovate on what we think of as ‘innovation'. So how do we use technology to help us solve these truer problems of life and living, through a more sustainable lense? This chapter shows that whilst the future will rely on digital tools, it need not be digital at all.

Chapter 15 — All the Signals of Hope...

As the global race to decarbonise the global economy gathers pace, this chapter celebrates some of the incredible progress made to date. Whilst there is still much work to be done. To help you feel inspired by the dazzlingly progressive activity which already exists all around us, principally within our desperate bid to ditch fossil fuels, read Chapter 15 – All the signals of hope are already out there blinking and flashing — In action!

Chapter 16 — Defining Sustainabilism

‘Sustainability’ has become a word, so often abused, it is now almost devoid of meaning. Words are important, because they are the very foundations of the ideas by which we live; and when they are misused, they risk devaluing the cause which they were originally tasked to represent. So how do we claim this poignant umbrella word back? And how do we finally make the crucial transition from ‘ity’ to ‘ism’, or from hopeful theories, to well documented and solidly proven principles? This chapter suggests, by not using the ‘sustainability’ word at all. ‘Defining Sustainabilism’ looks at the history behind this most hotly contested of words, and the benefits of talking about more fundamental details too, like regeneration instead.

Chapter 17 — Sustainable by Design

In 2009, the celebrated designer Dieter Rams poignantly said: ‘The future of design is in enabling us to survive on this planet.’ This declaration only stands a fighting chance in a world where it is not our explicit aim to make ‘Sustainable Design’, but instead to ‘Design more Sustainable Methods of Living’. Wherever possible this includes actively avoiding conversation about ‘Sustainable Design’, and much more talk about how ‘things’ come to ‘be’ more “Sustainable BY Design”. As such, these 3 words hold the potential to become a powerful model of thinking and making for this present century. Learn a little more about the history behind the word ‘design’, and how it will only keep extending the breadth and depth of its ever-stretching reach.

Chapter 18 — The Future Will Take Us in Circles

Circularity, circular design, and breakthrough concepts such as ‘donut economics’ are only increasingly being talked about with ever-growing enthusiasm. Yet our unique relationship with the circle has always been deep and worked at the most natural of levels. How do we understand these inbuilt connections better and claim this fundamental affinity back?

Chapter 19 — Where Do We Go From Here?

Besides feeling exasperated, frustrated or taking to the streets in protest. What other options are available to us when it comes to building a future which is more Sustainable by Design? If we can change our stance from one of ‘resistance’ to ‘liberation’, on this sunnier, more pro-active and inclusive path forwards every detail becomes connected. Here the task for all of us becomes one of making healthier and more resilient connections between all the different pieces of the puzzle. Picture this pivotal collective, and yourself within it, as a powerful generator for change!

Chapter 20 — The Role of the Arts

In the making of a movement finally fit for purpose this 21st Century, how do artists of a variety of skill sets help build, define and refine a buoyant culture which captures not just people’s hearts, but their imagination too? The role of the artist throughout history has always been to go fishing in the collective subconscious, and then to visualise or vocalise what people are already thinking – to essentially make those feelings more precise. The role of the arts within the making of a Sustainable Movement is therefore crucial in terms of how it nurtures the cultural relevance which is so desperately needed.

Chapter 21 — The Value in Meaning

What will be the new principles which we can imagine for living more harmoniously within the earth’s natural systems? How do we fill these new ideas with meaning, in order to add value to whatever we imagine or make next? A Sustainable Movement finally offers us the new frontier which we’ve been waiting so patiently for, and everyone gets to be a pioneer of this new thought space. Here we end the search for where we can add the most value, by changing instead where we perceive there to be the most value. For the conscious artist, adding meaning to the things we make, can add value by reappearing in the next actions we take – perhaps it doesn’t get any more wonderfully circular than this!

Chapter 22 — Be More Tree

What can we learn from trees? As well holding nutrients, water, and storing vast quantities of carbon, are they hiding any wisdom deep down in their roots, or up high within the gently swaying canopy, from which we can also learn? This penultimate chapter offers a thoughtful break and an opportunity to reflect. At times, perhaps we could be a little ‘more tree’.

Chapter 23 — An Ending. A Beginning

One last chapter (for now!). And one which connects all the dots. From John Constable to Lauren Hill, via insights from the Dalai Lama, foreign diplomats and Texan punk bands. This chapter reflects on what we’ve learnt about how movements come to be, and how a Sustainable Movement might just one day come to define the century which we’re still very much just beginning. The only question which remains is what role will you play?

The Sustainers — 21st Century Pioneers
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