What is the Definition of Good Green Design? Two Brave Little Toasters Demonstrate Two Different Approaches

© Thomas Thwaites

Thomas Thwaites is my hero. He built a toaster from scratch and wrote a wonderful book about it, that "brought into sharp focus the amount of history, struggle, thought, energy and material that goes into something as mundane as an electric toaster. Even if we still don't have to directly pay what it costs, we can at least value what it is worth."

© Adi Zaffran

Adi Zaffran has also built a toaster, working from a different principle; Tim Maly describes it in Fast Company:

Zaffran’s toaster is itself a reinterpretation of an elementary technology--the brick oven--using the common materials of contemporary construction.....Zaffran’s toaster would still require some struggle if you put it to the Thwaites test, but with its economy of parts, it would be far easier to build. It bypasses the plastic problem entirely. Besides, if the industrial economy does collapse, there will be plenty of rebar and cement blocks lying around to provide the raw materials.

Star Trek/Screen capture

It is a really important point, and I agree completely. Here is a good example; Look at Captain Kirk in Episode 19, Arena; he defeats the Gorn by building a cannon out of bamboo, filling it with gunpowder made from local resources, firing diamonds at his target. It demonstrates a cardinal principle of resilient design, that you use materials at hand appropriately. It's ugly, but it works.

© Adi Zaffran

Zaffran's toaster isn't ugly, it's beautiful. It uses materials at hand. But It is a model and not a reality; you can't turn reinforcing bar into a heating element unless you own your own generating plant. Then you have to hook the power up to both ends. Then you get the fire extinguisher for the the wooden end.

Maly's conclusion about Zaffan's toaster:

This attitude of making clever use of available materials, rather than [Thwaites'] futilely trying to create an impossible copy, strikes me as being closer to the heart of good design.

I disagree. The heart of good design is that it's gotta work.

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Tags: Do It Yourself

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