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The Paper Trail of Design

by Worldchanging LA local blogger, Vanessa Rutter:

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Directly tied to the urban ecosystem of our concrete jungle is a less-obvious paper forest. Usually housed neatly in blue bins on the curb, this forest is brought into the light through ah'bé landscape architects' recent landscape installation "Shreddings Part 2: So What?."

ah'bé acknowledges that the process of design is traditionally paper intensive. But last year, when they decided to shred all of their waste paper from six weeks for the first installation in the three part shreddings series, A Garden Redrawn, they were awakened by the outcome. Their temporary garden turned out to be 160 feet-long by 18 inches-high.

In their most recent installation, this urban landscape architecture firm has fabricated a forest of 20 tree-like forms from three months of office paper shreddings (1000 lbs of material). They then ask, "so what?" to challenge our understanding of the word "sustainability" because, as ah'bé is concerned, "the word may be on the verge of becoming meaningless."

As landscape architects, we are both encouraged by the tremendous outpouring of energy in pursuit of a "greener" world currently and yet concerned that these efforts might eventually be swept downstream in the torrent of promotional buzz...The allure of these options invokes a strong emotional response in most of us as we hope to individually participate in minimizing our impact on the environment. The growing risk though is that the real purpose of all this effort will be lost amidst this clamour for our attention.

I asked Calvin Abe, principal of the firm, where the forest goes next in its lifecycle. He told me that they have been looking for a use for the shredded paper rather than dumping it back into the recycling bin. For now, each of the trees are for sale for a $250 donation to TreePeople.

Ask yourself "so what?" at Shreddings Part 2, open through May 18 at the MODAA Gallery, Museum of Design Art & Architecture, 8609 Washington Blvd., Culver City.

[top image courtesy of ah'bé landscape architects]

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One possible use for all this shredded paper is re-use as fibercrete. Using one part portland cement to three parts paper by mass, a mixture can be made which is suitable for construction. It's not wise to make loadbearing walls with this material, but you could certainly make interior walls. An addition of borax into the mix would probably help to deter any termites which might find the walls edible.

Of course, fibercrete is a decent material for various art projects as well. It makes decent sculptural material, somewhat like a slurry of paper mache.

Posted by: Christian on 6 May 07

I work for a printing house that also does design work. We're all pretty politically-minded people, and the issue of sustainability is often brought up around the office. I think it's interesting that ah'be's installation pushes the importance of doing more than just recycling, but at the same time seems as caught up in generating "promotional buzz" as anyone.

The important thing to focus on here, I believe, is that recycling is not the only issue, production is also a huge issue! Many companies brag about their use of recycled paper, but few make the effort to work with local mills and suppliers as does, I'm proud to say, my employer, Hotcards.

Keeping the cycle of production and use local (rather than, for example, buying paper that is shipped overseas) has a significant environmental impact. We have to remember that reducing our use of resources is just as important as recycling our output. In this regard, I agree with the statement made by ah'be, but I think their vehicle is a bit self-defeating.

Posted by: Anne Stewart on 10 May 07



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