Culture and Climate Change – Architecture and Urbanism

POC21 – Crazy Dreamers or Clever Pioneers?

Photo: Stefano Borghi “Sustainability” is a big word, under which it is often difficult to imagine anything specific. It is different in Paris, where young inventors from around the world are devising things that will make our lives very practical and sustainable.

POC21, the name and the time of a huge innovation camp housed in a château located 40 kilometers from Paris, are well chosen: in advance of the UN Climate Change Conference COP21, which will meet in the French capital beginning on 30 November 2015, young engineers, designers and scientists from around the world are showing citizens how they themselves can shape the development of a more aware and supportive coexistence and sustainable methods of production. “Don’t talk, just do it yourself” is the camp’s motto. The inventors are working on twelve projects selected by a jury. Nothing out-of-touch, but rather simple constructions, from which in the end prototypes are to be built that anyone can recreate. This at least is the aim of the thirty-something co-organizer Daniel Kruse from Berlin: “The Open Source principle is important to us. We build things without patents, which can be copied and further developed by others. It’s about sharing knowledge. Here we’re developing a culture of shared responsibility”.

From kitchens to shower loops: plenty of ideas

The ideas for a sustainable, greener life go in different directions. In the imposing halls of Château Millemont, where several historical films, including Marie-Antoinette, have been shot, there is an atmosphere of concentrated work. While a team of French designers work on the design of a fully ecological kitchen, in which fruit and vegetables can be grown and the resultant waste recycled and used for the power supply, a British engineer is tinkering on a mini-wind turbine, which anyone can recreate for 30 euros with very simple materials from the hardware shop. In the château gardens there are two fabrication laboratories, or fab labs, state-of-the-art workshops equipped with 3-D printers and laser cutters, where the prototypes are produced.

One of the most advanced inventions is the “shower loop” of the 29-year-old Finnish environmental engineer Jason Selvarajan. This invention is a shower that filters water during showering and pumps it back to the shower head. “In this way you use only ten liters of water and so can shower as long as you like. Normal showers use ten liters per minute, and I know no one who showers for so short a time”, explains Selvarajan confidently, even if his construction still has a few technical flaws.

A Franco-German innovation camp dedicated to Open Source

The innovation camp is organized by the French community OuiShare and the German foundation Open State, two networks that are committed to solidarity economy, environmental protection and Open Source. More than 20 partners are providing financial support for the meeting: 40 per cent of the budget of almost one million euros comes from companies and foundations, 20 per cent from government grants. This should certainly enable the initiation of valuable projects, but in the end the idea is that something presentable should come of them.


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To this end there are mentors who lend their support to the participants; they are mainly designers and marketing experts who check whether there is a demand for the product, whether it can actually solve an environmental problem and whether it is at all technically feasible. They also pay attention to the right marketing, for often the idea is good but the design still not fully developed. As, for example, with Sunzilla, a transportable, foldout solar generator which, for instance, could supply energy for music systems at festivals. “Sunzilla was a huge object; we needed a ladder to hinge up the solar panels”, recalls the Berlin business designer Rieke. Designers turned Sunzilla into a pull-out track system, which is not only practical but also chic and already can supply the camp with electricity.

In early December, during the Climate Change Conference, all the projects will be on display in Paris. Later, at a still undetermined future date, they will be presented in Berlin.

Katja Petrovic
lives in Paris and works as a freelance journalist for press, radio and television, particularly for ARTE, Deutschlandradio and Courrier International.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut Frankreich
Oktober 2015
Translated by Jonathan Uhlaner

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