January 7, 2014

Unbuilding vs Building

Discovering this simple list, assembled by philosopher Michel Onfray, was a moving moment:
it was the first time somebody was putting words on an obscure fight (call it opposition, although I don't like the black-and-whiteness of the term) which I had been struggling with since architecture school, but couldn't really put my finger on, since nobody was clearly addressing it.

We're surrounded by SO MUCH of UNBUILDING.
And the voices of BUILDING are still so few and small. Hope we'll be able to join.

September 15, 2013

Objects we can stop mass-producing right now #1: pencil holders

cleaned-up jam pots on my desk

A pencil holder needs to do one thing: hold pencils.

Which means, pretty much anything, ANYTHING will do the job quite right as long as it's able to more or less contain things: re-used metal cans, glass jars, cardboard tubes, etc.
Plus: a lot of these look good too. AND, you can throw them away with the regular trash if you move out!

So basically, any company manufacturing 'professional' pencil holders could stop right away, the world wouldn't miss them, and an entire branch of useless mass-produced objects would disappear (and the associated waste stream at the same time).

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June 16, 2012


Espadrilles worn in the Andes
photo by chaquetadepollo

If you wear shoes this post may interest you.
(if I don't get a billion views this time...)

Espadrilles are an old type of summer shoe which you can see a lot in the South of France (apparently they originated in the area around the Spanish border).

- Sole = jute rope
- Upper = cotton canvas

Doesn't this equate to 'great human-made object fullfilling a basic need with benign environmental impact and full biodegradability'? (if you really push I'll agree that the impossibly virtuous version would be locally grown organic jute soles + locally grown organic linen canvas, but here I'm making myself sick).

There seem to be some traditional makers left [see the awesome manufacturing process here].
I am yet to see a pair without the addition of vulcanized rubber on the sole though.

Fun fact: as if to explain their decline in the 20th century, French Wikipedia writes the bizarre statement: '[The espadrille] has now become unfit as a walking shoe'.
I suspect this sentence was inserted by a malicious Nike exec.

June 10, 2012

Make Do

Hello world!

I've got so much posting backlog it's not even funny.

An important piece of news is that The Bare Necessities is now part of a larger entity called Make Do - a creative endeavour to make with what we have.

Check out our work and don't hesitate to write comments, suggest collaborations, etc.
Oh, and thanx for bearing with the in-progress Make Do website. It felt better to put projects out there whenever there was time to publish them, and we're starting to like the 'tweaking-as-you-go' process.


April 1, 2012


Hey good people. Haven't written in a long time, so busy with work.

Today, another of our David vs. Goliath battle: BODY WASH vs. BAR SOAP

I don't know if it's the same for you; as a child growing up in the eighties, I was washed and learned to wash myself with bar soap, and that was pretty much it for the first decade of my life. Then, somewhere in the nineties, shower gels started being the way to go. Waaaay cooler, adieu slippery soap and minuscule leftover bits. The modern man wants a sexy, tropical shower experience smelling like passion fruit, in a civilized vertical bottle.

I was trapped into this marketing dream until very recently myself. Awake now.
Been having a few conversations with co-workers, about how plastic packaging makes us feel guilty ('where the fuck does the freaking bottle GO after I've dumped it in the trash while closing my eyes?'). More and more I want to try to have all the stuff I buy and use be biodegradable or compostable. And stop giving my money to Procter & Gamble, in exchange for garbage I'll have to dispose of myself.

Cause let us be clear: when you spend $3.99 for a bottle of mainstream shampoo, you buy:
- 1 month-worth of liquid shampoo (containing potentially harmful chemicals)
- a bottle-shaped 100 years-worth of soft plastic, which society will have to dispose of one way or another. This might include having a poor chap wearing a mask and gloves dig into your pile of garbage at the sorting factory, the killing of baby birds on Midway Island, bringing your own personal addition to the Giant Garbage Patch, etc.

I have this secret dream that one day I'll gather up the time to make pretty cardboard packages and send back to L'Oreal each one of the plastic bottles I've finished using.

Meanwhile, I am switching back to bar soap, preferably without palm oil. I found Aleppo Soap (not a brand, but a type of soap made in Syria). Ingredients: olive oil, laurel oil, water, lye. 100% DISAPPEARS after use.

For $3.59, you buy SOAP, and you get...SOAP. That's it.
Easy switch, no?

Note: the one I just got isn't totally perfect, as you can see on the photo it's wrapped in an extra thin layer of cellophane (yuk), but I've seen soap bars in other places which have no / or just a paper wrapping. Next time will aim for that.

Btw, this particular Aleppo soap smells deliciously of jasmine, suds just as much as the old gels, and gives this clean feeling on the skin that only bar soap manages to create. 

January 23, 2012


The Italian movie 'The Golden Door', by Emanuele Crialese, tells the story of Sicilian peasants leaving their homeland for America, at the beginning of the 20th century. It's very beautiful - I highly recommend.

At the beginning of the film there is a scene which particularly moved me: the three main characters are preparing their crossing. As shepherds they have always lived bare foot, wearing their simple mountain clothes. Knowing that they are about to leave for the New World, a man in the village takes them to a room containing wooden chests. Inside are leather shoes and sunday clothes, which have been carefully preserved after their owners passed away. The man proceeds to distribute a pair of shoes and proper garments to each man, so they can start their journey with adequate attire.

There was something very touching about seeing people put so much value into these items, because they were rare and costly. Seen from the point of view of a middle-class consumer of today, such care is surreal. Transmitting a pair of shoes. Keeping it for the next generation. Owning only one pair, and keeping them for Sundays.

How precious must the world's production seem, when seen through those eyes. When there is rarity, objects that are well done, materials that last, and few things to look at. This scene told a humbling story of respect for things, and at the same time of respect for people - I was imagining the shoemaker, the tailor who had made these in the first place, of how their work was being honored by this care.

Wishing there was more of that. Yeah that post was totally artisan-crafty-nostalgico.

November 8, 2011


Inbuilt furniture at Enfield Shaker village, New Hampshire
original photo by Walter Parenteau

Back to moving.

More and more I find the idea of carrying furniture around close to insane.
If you strip down pieces of furniture to absolutely vital ones: namely, perhaps your bed and some storage - do we really need to own them? At the scale of a city, does it make sense to be moving around thousands of similar looking bed frames, wardrobes, and bookshelves, like a huge swaping game which in the end consumes gas, human energy, and leads to the familiar left-behind casualties on the curbside?

Recently I've been mulling over possible alternatives. Among the first solutions: inbuilt furniture. One where architects and designers would participate in taking the load off the inhabitant's back, by making it a necessity to provide inbuilt storage.

The 'student dorm' model, improved. Of course it means accepting the idea of sharing furniture over time, but that's what we already do with buildings. A little clean up, and it's back on tracks for a new life. Wouldn't it be a fine system, where in theory you would only have to bring in your 'soft material' - linens, clothes, books, etc.?



A wonderful example of integrating furniture into the design of buildings. Among the most graceful features of this practice: 'The drawers graduate in height from top to bottom, a typical Shaker design feature that combines practicality with pleasing proportions - the larger drawers are a the bottom so that heavier contents are not precariously near the top.'

Storage cabinet in Hancock Shaker village, Massachusetts
photog by Daveybot

Another thrilling highlight: 'cleanliness - no dust could collect on top or underneath'.

Both quotes are from the wonderful book 'Shaker: Life, Work and Art' by June Sprigg and David Larkin, with photographs by Michael Freeman.

November 7, 2011


Visit of Cienfuegos, Cuba
photograph by Patrick Nouhailler

I was browsing through available data on ecological footprint - the previous article about overconsumption made me want to know more.

A type of graph that often pops up on the internet is the one below, showing, for each country, human development index vs. ecological footprint:

 graph by the Global Footprint Network
(they have great reports, by the way)

The Human Development Index is a single statistic which serves 'as a frame of reference for both social and economic development'. It combines 'indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income'.  

The Ecological Footprint represents 'the amount of biologically productive land and sea area necessary to supply the resources a human population consumes, and to mitigate associated waste'.
(source: wikipedia

Looking at this graph, it is striking that the only country which consumes less than its share of the earth's biocapacity AND has reached significantly high human development is Cuba.

I know very little about Cuba, beyond the postcard pictures and the occasional political bits in the media. Regardless (but not disregarding) of what one may think of the Cuban regime, the fact that it is up there, alone, in the green window, makes me immensely curious about the details of its functionning.
I want to research and post more on this - meanwhile, if any of you have stories to share about Cuba's economy, things you've experienced yourselves there, feel free to tell in the comment section.

November 2, 2011


Yesterday there was an interesting article published in French newspaper Le Monde, titled
'The real threat on the future: overconsumption' (also available here - sorry, no English version).

I couldn't find a lot of information about its author ('Frédéric Julien, a political science PhD student at University of Ottawa, in residence at King's College Departmenf of Geography.') - but the contents are worth mentionning.

Julien's thesis is that society should fear overconsumption much more than overpopulation, as it is growing at a faster rate, and unlike demographic evolution, is showing no sign of being curbed any time soon: there are no 'growth control policies' equivalents to birth control policies.

If they are accurate, the following numbers are quite telling:
[note: 'ecological footprint' means the productive surface of soil and water necessary to sustain a lifestyle]
  • 'between 1961 and 2007, North America (the United States and Canada) have seen their population grow by some 39%, whereas their ecological footprint has made a leap of %160'.

  • 'as a result, in 2007 North America represented %5 of the world population, but %17 of its ecological footprint'.

I also like the phrase 'increase of revenue - i.e. 'permit to consume''.

October 19, 2011

Patching post #1 : Woolfiller

Woolfiller® was invented in 2009 by Heleen Klopper, a Dutch designer working in Amsterdam.

photographs by Mandy Pieper

Woolfiller is a patching device for woolen thingies - 'jumpers, cardigans, jackets and carpets.'
It consists of
- very loose felt (any color you like)
- that you push through the weave by pricking it with a felting needle
- while a little foam pad underneath provides the right surface porosity to work on.

video by Pieter Wackers

The genius of Woolfiller® comes from
1. The brilliant observation that wool fibers bind to each other, if they are mechanically encouraged to do so
2. Apparently survives washing
3. The process requires no sewing skills. ANYBODY can do it, from children to clumsy men to grandmas. Truly democratic, and easy to pass on.

I love the simplicity of this project, the fact that it comes from somebody who tried to listen to the properties of a material, and derived a graceful solution from this understanding. AND that it brings patching into the present, in a fun and easy way.

All images and references are reproduced with the kind permission of Heleen Klopper.