My first month in the jungle was crucial for many reasons, not least of which was the chance introduction to John Hardy who, with his wife Cynthia, had recently founded Green School. Watch our first project together, his inaugural TED Talk... My Green School Dream.
The first big decision was choosing to live in the trees instead of the concrete ...so I built Bonzu. More than just a home, it is an attempt to challenge and reassess what can be considered high quality contemporary living. An effort to be as close as possible with nature without removing any of life's luxuries.
Bonzu has hot and cold running water and electricity yet the structures have no walls, doors or windows. This was the first major amendment from my original designs and it has been the most exciting because the only way to realise this and still feel comfortable in terms of security was to remove ‘stuff’ from daily life – no paintings, no ornament, nothing extraneous or without practical purpose and nothing that can’t easily and cheaply be replaced or repaired. It also greatly helps being amongst a trusting, strong, local village community.
Our planet retains a vast trove of natural resources that can allow us to design a sustainable life. The trick is to think local. Indigenous crops and raw materials are more likely to be reliable, easier to source and replenish and locals who still live off the land will likely have plenty of historical knowledge and experience with them. One of my favourites here is bamboo.
Having not really considered bamboo in my urban upbringing much beyond a cheap material for chopsticks, it came as an eye-opener to see it used in the tropics for products of all shapes and sizes, from toothpicks to fabrics, bridges and homes. But the real turning point came with that first visit to Green School and the love affair with this wondergrass really started.
Prior to moving to the jungle, the only thing I had grown was a pot of watercress on a windowsill as a child. There was much to learn but with the right guidance from friends and neighbours and following the principles of permaculture my garden was soon providing a steady and varied crop.
In a land regularly struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and what seems like an unending list of natural and manmade perils it has been prudent to wholeheartedly accept impermanence.
Having spent years designing and helping promote products that are pitched to last a lifetime or worse still, go out of fashion or be discarded after a single use, the jungle was soon able to correct this indoctrination. Nothing lives forever in the jungle - nothing is supposed to.
There is a reason it's called a lifecycle (birth, growth, death, re-birth). The beauty of the jungle is that lifecycle times are greatly reduced making the process more visible. This gets cradle-to-cradle design thinking pushed much higher up the list of priorities.
It's all too easy to be swept up in day-to-day stresses, allow ourselves to be swayed by negative influences or even just succumb to apathy. The natural antidote to all these is play. Go outside - even if it's raining, smile at every opportunity, laugh with friends and if you're fortunate enough to have a body that moves... move it!
Bamzu was not just born from my love of playing at the beach. It is an experiment in how to re-think product development and in turn, customer involvement in the 21st century. It is also a great way to encourage local craft and help get us off our devices from time to time.
None of this has happened in a vacuum. I have an incredible community of friends, mentors, teachers, craftspeople, permaculturists, designers, inventors and family throughout the world. The more this group grows, the more we are equipped to take on the challenges that are facing us all.