In 2015, the Bioregional Learning Centre collaborated with the Department of Architecture and Design at Plymouth University to create a trans-disciplinary module. We provided BA Hons 2nd Year 3D design students with an opportunity to work bioregionally and operate across social, environmental and technological design practices. To quote design theorist John Thackara, “A bioregion re-connects us with living systems, and each other, through the places where we live. It acknowledges that we live among watersheds, foodsheds, energysheds, fibersheds, and food systems—not just in cities, towns, or ‘the countryside’.” Three interdisciplinary groups (product designers, designer makers, spatial & interior designers) explored design opportunities in relation to either a “Bioregional Learning Centre” that could be sited at Dartington Hall and/or the Sharpham Estate, “Journeys to Sharpham” or “Energy in the Dart Valley” focusing on hydropower at Totnes Weir.
Deliverables were open-ended; products, services, artefacts, objects, experiences, places or spaces. Our role as visiting lecturers was to provide real-world context through field trips and to review their designs. We asked the students to ground their work in real needs, asking them to take into account the influence they might have on people’s lives and the ecology of the places they visited.
The students produced a wide range of solutions; architectural, sculptural, engineered, technological. A few stood out:
An app by Mikey and Aidan (Maidan Design) for Totnes Renewable Energy Society that would provide live performance data on their solar and hydro projects, and background information on renewable energy, the bioregion, wildlife and community events. The app also had the capacity to link in to individual homeowner’s electricity usage, comparing it to others in the community.
- A product and architectural solution by Connor and Kaysee for an energy storage system that utilizes graphene, a single, tightly packed layer of carbon atoms that are bonded together in a hexagonal honeycomb lattice.
- A conceptual model for on-site signage that transforms live electricity usage data from the Totnes area into an easily-understood display, highlighting the type of electricity being utilized, either from the grid (red illumination) or from renewable energy sources (green illumination).