Finding a language for sustainable building

Posted on July 19, 2011


For the last few months, we have been working with the National Trust on their ‘Heart of The Park’ project at Morden Hall Park, in the South of London. Using sustainable refurbishing techniques and materials, they have been renovating a nineteenth century stable yard, which will be turned into an educational centre for the local community.

This is how pretty the park looks:

This is the roof of the stable yard, being covered in solar panels:

And this is us, getting excited about solar panels and sheep wool insulation:

The building will host a permanent exhibition on sustainable renovation and green living. We participated in the inspiration phase of the project, and advised the team on how to create a convivial and interactive space to make the sustainability narrative exciting for everyone. The challenge is to inspire people on a subject like building and refurbishing, which, let’s face it, can be quite dull, especially for a population as socially diverse as in Morden.

So we have looked at various ways to engage people, and to take an inclusive approach. To be convincing, the exhibition will have to take into account the fact that visitors will not necessarily be home owners, but might be renting and have a limited budget. It will have to value small steps towards green living, as much as big sustainable refurbishing initiatives. It should also allow local communities to take ownership of the exhibition, and find a way to reward local champions.

Having shared these principles with the team, we also felt that it was necessary to find out how much knowledge does the community already have. For this, we worked with PhD students Daphne and Sietze, from Delft University. Together, they run the Living Green Labs, which are knowledge transfer workshops on eco-products, sustainable renovation and green behaviours.

Based on their experience, we designed and organised a workshop to inspire people to mine for resources in their waste bin.

To elaborate the set up of the workshop, we co-developed the following methodology:


Get inspired’, so in this stage people were introduced to the story of some building materials through a fun game.

  1. Build‘, were we presented some examples and more information about sustainable building materials, such as natural insulation (wool, cork and hemp ), including some samples of each.
  2.  ‘Make‘, were we exhibited some examples of DIY using recyclable materials, and we also had some activities where people could make something new out of plastic bags.
  3. Be‘, where people were then invited to take action writing a green pledge.

We tried to communicate on different levels, and to speak to people who already had advanced knowledge and were interested in refurbishing their home, as much as to people who were new to the idea of up-cycling. We had balloons, bunting, a plastic bag knitting activity, a memory game on the story of materials, inspiring displays, and a pledge corner where people could share what action they would take to make their home greener.


The workshop took place last Sunday, July 17th, during Morden Park’s summer fair “Green Day Out”.

Paula, Alison, Daphne and Sietze setting up our stand:

The beginning of the plastic bag knitting adventure:

Fascinating display on sustainable architecture:

And on DIY recycling projects…

Bunting, display, balloons, and a tiny bit of sunshine:

Sietze, knitting with plastic bags and enjoying the beautiful English summer:

England being England, it rained. All day long. So despite our motivation, our beautiful display, our balloons and our bunting, we didn’t get to do much engagement. But we learned a few things:

  • never overplan an event which is going to happen outdoors (in England, that is).
  • designing a game, even the simplest, is a difficult – but fun – process of trials and errors.
  • knitting with plastic bags is quite fun and can give beautiful results.
  • the process is as important as the end result: we enjoyed the making, the thinking, the designing… never mind the failing!

We hope our approach has been useful to the National Trust and to the lovely Living Green team, and that it will inform the next steps of the project. We are looking forward to see how it develops!