For all of the litter, waste and galloping consumption, cities are also dense epicentres of culture, business, research and progressive innovation. The sheer volume of people and activity breeds new ideas and perspectives, drives the evolution of design and methodology, and opens up boundless possibilities for collaborative efforts.
The challenge for the sustainability-minded individual is in filtering out the waste, the distortion and the hustle of city life, seeing the abundance of junk around you as a resource, connecting with the right opportunities, communities and initiatives and thus becoming a force for change.
Little over a year ago, a unique Open Innovation Lab called Green Lab (www.greenlab.org) was founded on these principles. Ande Gregson, a founder of the former Fab Lab London located in Bank, requisitioned a horde of equipment from the former makerspace, partnered with the non-profit 3Space who are experts in space regeneration, and opened Green Lab in an ex-cafeteria and kitchen of an old school building in Bermondsey. The interior was constructed using upcycled timber from a theatre company, the 3D printers reclaimed from Fab Lab, the reverse osmosis water filter a donation from a hydroponic pepper farm, the garden planters and compost box constructed from pallets scavenged from skips.
I first heard about the Green Lab from a friend and attended one of their monthly open-house evenings. I was immediately impressed by how the ex-derelict building has been transformed not only through the use of recycled materials, but also by the co-designing effort of the thinkers, researchers and companies who share the facilities to experiment, design and scale sustainable solutions to problems within (but not limited to) three main challenge areas: Food, Water, and Waste.
Aside from being a makerspace and a centre for innovation, the Green Lab also serves an educational purpose. Innovative urban gardening techniques such as vertical grow towers, hydroponic (soilless growing) and aquaponic (combined aquaculture and hydroponics) growing systems are on display, showcasing the existing technologies that have huge potential as productive, resilient urban farming methods. The million-dollar question here is not about developing new technology, but about how to implement existing technologies affordably for domestic use and commercial use, to transform cities from food deserts to urban gardening oases. True to the Green Lab upcycling ethos, these public-facing systems are DIY-accessible, designed using low cost kit and recycled materials.
I had been designing aquaponic installations for about a year before my first brush with Green Lab. I jumped at the opportunity to help evolve the space when Ande explained he was looking for someone to help expand the aquaponic systems on display. In return for helping to co-develop the facilities I got the chance to construct and refine my prototypes for urban farming systems that maximise the amount of food that can be grown within a 6 x 4 foot space.
Parallel to my aquaponic endeavours, I’ve been using the Lab to play around, sample other disciplines, and experiment. Consequently I’ve developed a passion for another food system: brewing kombucha. Kombucha is a fizzy, fermented tea beverage spanning many thousand years of history as a respected health drink, and heralded by the Chinese as an elixir of long life. The health benefits of Kombucha are a product of the fermentation process enacted by a host of pro-biotic microorganisms that feed on sugar and generate healthful acids that aid the drinker’s digestion, detoxification, and mineral-uptake. Kombucha is also a delicious and wonderfully versatile beverage, and so easy to brew yourself that I refer to it as a ‘health food hack’. Now the upshot of my brewing endeavours is to test whether, if marketed correctly as an alternative offering at bars, schools and shops, kombucha could help erode the nation’s appetite for booze, sugary drinks and coffee.
One year on from joining the Lab and I’m teaching an Intro to Aquaponics course and Kombucha Brewing workshops as part of the Lab’s event offerings (see events at www.greenlab.org/events. I’ve found that being involved in the outreach and education efforts, the creative-driven collaboration and social side of the Lab has paid back by inspiring, diversifying and strengthening my own independent research.
Now Green Lab is welcoming new initiatives that embody the Lab’s guiding principles to apply to join the space.
Do you have a proposition or design that you think would help us achieve sustainability in our management of food, water or waste systems?
Are you heading up research in a related field and looking for incubation space to prototype and develop an idea?
Get in touch through the Lab website or come to the next open house evening. (www.greenlab.org/events)