PARIS — Throughout much of the Nineties, it wasn’t easy being green, with environmental consciousness taking a backseat to sleek modernity.
But suddenly, "eco" is looming again as the new black, with European architects and industrial designers leading the charge with a range of products and projects, from biodegradable cutlery to a tent-like house that blends in with the landscape.
There’s even a magazine, Organic Style, devoted to the movement. Peggy Northrop, editor in chief of the year-old Rodale publication, said the title was inspired by a hunch, with subsequent research proving "people were looking for ways to lead stylish, beautiful lives in good conscience."
She linked heightened interest in eco-friendly products to growing consumer awareness of personal and environmental health. But also, thanks to the work of architects and industrial and fashion designers, consumers are no longer forced to compromise style for products that are environmentally friendly. She cited Giorgio Armani’s hemp clothing, Arking Tilt Architects’ bathroom counters made of recycled glass bottles and the popularity of bamboo flooring as examples.
The Eco-Design Handbook, published this year in the U.K. by Thames & Hudson, ranks as the new manifesto for environmentally aware design. In it, author Alastair Fuad-Luke calls for designers to "reappraise their role in the production of fashionable lifestyle products or at least strive to minimize the impact of these ephemeral goods, by concentrating on durable, multiuser, multipurpose designs."
Industrial designer Tom Dixon has long been a proponent of the movement. Famous for his work for design firms such as Habitat, Cappellini and Eurolounge, Dixon has used high-tech, yet environmentally gentle materials like galvanized steel and polyethylene for more than a decade.
He also came out with a book entitled "Rethink," which encourages readers to review the materials around them and reuse them in creative, functional and economical ways. Among his do-it-yourself suggestions: use wood cargo pallets for decking or a bed base or a halogen utility lamp for pivotable and adjustable lighting for a living room.
Eco design is turning up in surprising places. Even fashionable caterers are in tune with the earth.
Milan-based caterer Pandora Box, whose clients include Romeo Gigli, Roberto Cavalli and Vivienne Westwood, is prized for its use of biodegradable and recycled materials. Pandora design manager Daniela Danzi said it’s "a reaction to a world of plastic items that we were forced to use but never liked." Pandora’s cleverly packaged cutlery kits come in bamboo or starch-based varieties, supposedly made of pasta, neither of which depletes natural resources.The Greenage boutique, a recent addition to Paris’ posh Rue du Bac, takes eco design a step further. It showcases Ceralin, a plant-based material that is transformed into chic and useful home accessories and tableware such as lamps and candleholders. The boutique even solicited guest designer firms like Tsé Tsé and Martin Szekely to experiment with the materials.
Further afield, French architect François Roche and his colleagues at R&Sie (pronounced "heresy") are at the forefront of a movement to create structures that co-exist with nature. Their Maison Barak in the south of France boasts a green tent-like form that follows the topography of the ancient stone wall around which it was built. The $146,000 home is made of polyurethane panels and boasts an eco-friendly heating system.
Northrop stressed that consumers no longer need to sacrifice style to help the environment. Dixon agreed: "It’s the designer’s job to make the products appealing, fashionable and wanted."
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