The Hand Tree

I like gadgets as much as the next person, and I certainly understand the appeal of turning to nifty electronics for green objectives. Not only do some of the gadgets look cool and do cool things, they also monetize green goals by making products that can help drive employment and the economy. All good things. Okay, so they also use resources and generate waste, but maybe there are work-arounds for those drawbacks.

The hand tree, for example, is a cool device on the drawing board that would act as a personal air purifier as well as a technological fashion statement.

The Hand Tree, a battery-powered purifier made from recyclable materials. Design: Alexandr Kostin/Electrolux Design Lab

The Hand Tree, a battery-powered purifier made from recyclable materials.
Design: Alexandr Kostin/Electrolux Design Lab

Conceived by students at the Electrolux Design Lab, the hand tree is a largish bangle (or other accessory form, such as a pendant or belt buckle) that filters air.

“Combining millions of personal air purifiers we can achieve the image of living in a forest,” says the web page for the project. “If every inhabitant in a big city would wear such a device, we would be all to breathe easily in smoggy air.”

Okay, this is where the cool factor rapidly diminishes for me. This is the kind of production-oriented, consumer-centered ‘solution’ that is fully in keeping with the mentality that got us into cities full of smoggy air in the first place. And that’s not the fault of the young designer who came up with this neat idea; this is how we think.

Forest pool Artist: Aristide Maillol via Davidson Galleries

Forest pool
Artist: Aristide Maillol via Davidson Galleries

It’s no surprise that these creative futuristic designs for environmental gadgets are part of a 2013 competition sponsored by an appliance company.

Maybe I’m biased because I spend a lot of my time around actual trees, but my thought is this: How about we just plant more trees, and stop cutting down the ones we’ve already got?

They do a remarkably efficient job of purifying air with almost no production cost, when they reach the end of their life span they leave behind useful biomass, they maintain ecosystems and water tables, hold soil in place and provide a natural cooling system.

Practically the only thing they don’t do, unless they are being used for timber or packaging, is generate a profit.

And that might be their biggest weakness.

Civilization Tree Artist: Robobenito

Civilization Tree
Artist: Robobenito

Pocket of Protest

We were in Trondheim, Norway, last week – the third largest city in the country. It’s a tidy collection of picturesque wood houses, some modern developments that blend in well to the existing architecture and environment – and then this small stretch of alternative existence between a posh harbor development, an industrial area of what used to be WWII submarine docks, and a natural park. It came as a bit of a surprise – a sort of free-wheeling, politico-enviro encampment that resonated of the 1970s and early 80s.

The ‘environmental experiment’ known as the Reina area is co-administered by the self-named Svartla’mon residents and the city itself. Lots of shared urban gardening in the more private space behind this row of 19th-century buildings, lots of activist shops and caf├ęs tucked here and there, a free shop (Gratisbutikken) and a large anarchic-looking playground/kindergarten that reminded me a bit of my own early childhood in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury.

Alternative neighborhood, Trondheim, Norway Photo: PK Read

Alternative neighborhood, Trondheim, Norway
Photo: PK Read

At the end of the street, just before the neighborhood morphed suddenly into a large natural park, was this piece of wall art which I imagine is a statement on plastic, consumer goods, recyclability, as well as being a good signpost to the pocket protest area itself.

Recycled wall. Trondheim, Norway Photo: PK Read

Recycled wall. Trondheim, Norway
Photo: PK Read

A couple of close-ups:

Recycled wall detail. Trondheim, Norway Photo: PK Read

Recycled wall detail. Trondheim, Norway
Photo: PK Read

We noticed that none of the items were spray-painted – they were ordered by their original colors. A nice, sassy installation. I particularly liked the bathroom segment below, including the plastic soap holder, as well as the old typewriter above, very similar to the one I learned on myself.

Recycled wall detail. Trondheim, Norway Photo: PK Read

Recycled wall detail. Trondheim, Norway
Photo: PK Read

A ten-minute hike from this area, the Lade neighborhood looks like this:

Lade Walk. Trondheim, Norway Photo: PK Read

Lade Walk. Trondheim, Norway
Photo: PK Read

An abrupt transition, but no less interesting.