Book Review: Green Design by Marcus Fairs

marcus-fairs green design book

The cover of Marcus Fairs' new book Green Design: Creative Sustainable Designs for the Twenty-First Century demonstrates so many of the contradictions in writing about green design. It shows the Accordion House in rural Sweden. It is a small and off-grid thing of beauty, designed by Maartje Lammers and Boris Zeisser.

But one might also note that it is a second home for people who are travelling from Rotterdam, it is essentially designed to contravene zoning and setback regulations by expanding on rails to cantilever over a river, and is insulated with reindeer hides. And the shingles are imported from Canada.

blow pendant light

All images on this page are from TreeHugger posts, many sourced at Dezeen, like these Blow pendant lights by Tom Dixon.

That is the double-edged sword that is writing about green design. Marcus Fairs is one of the better design writers around, and is founder editor of Dezeen, a regular source for design finds on TreeHugger. He gives his definition of green design:

Green design can loosely be defined in terms of a set of objectives: to reduce the use of nonrenewable resources, both in the manufacturing process and in the finished object or building itself; to enhance the lives not just of users but also of everyone in the supply chain; and to minimize the environmental impact of the product or building during and after its useful life.


Bees Build Vase for Artist

That is a big tent, and much of the beautifully presented objects and designs in the book fit in it with a bit of a push and a shove. These are difficult times for designers trying to find their place in the new green world; many of us who have always been strict modernists are having second thoughts about how (and where) things should be made. Marcus writes:

The dream of the early-twentieth-century Modernists--that architects and designers could improve the lives of the masses through better-quality mass-produced goods--has turned out to be a chimera.

Many are looking back to the Arts and Crafts movement,

The movement was both romantic--idealizing a mythical preindustrial era when skilled craftsmen worked natural materials to produce objects that were made to be used locally and to last--and elitist--the products and architecture it espoused were only affordable to a fortunate few.

ross lovegrove car on stick

Car on a Stick by Ross Lovegrove

It is fundamental problem that none of us have successfully resolved. For the book is a carefully edited and crafted catalogue of beautiful things, some greener than others, mostly one-offs and almost all very expensive. I love almost every page of it, but to paraphrase Marcus:

The dream of early twenty-first century design writers- that architects and designers can help solve the problems of climate change and resource depletion by making beautiful green objects that are affordable only to a fortunate few- will turn out to be a chimera.

Green Design
Creative Sustainable Designs for the Twenty-First Century
available at Random House and Dezeen Books

Related Content on