SO many wonderful green-minded people such as Najib Saab – head of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), the Green Sheikh from Ajman, my amazing peers right here on Green Prophet, Friends of the Earth Middle Earth (FoEME), and many others strive to remedy environmental issues in the Middle East. But it’s hard to ignore the trash in Egypt, Jordan’s lack of water, Dubai’s unfettered growth model, and a general lack of awareness about the importance of protecting biodiversity, conserving energy and water, and recycling.
When I lose sight of just how much our global awareness has grown in the past decade or so despite the crises we currently face, I find that getting involved in a good green project always restores my hope and perspective. Which is why I contacted Tabitha Pope of Recycled Venues and Jenny Hall of Crafted Space, organizers of the Woodland Design Lab that took place from 18 August – 21 August, 2011 in Wales, and asked if I could join the fun. Luckily for me they brought me on board (though Jenny’s mom did warn her about journalists!) and it was exactly what the green doctor ordered.
The Piddle Paddle Plonk was built using a hollowed out log which channels water that in turn powers a wheel and attached musical notes!
Roughly 20 high-spirited people from different walks of life attended the site-specific design program at the Snowdonia National Park Graig Wen Campsite, where in wet weather and in a very short amount of time, they put together three beautiful art/architecture pieces from locally-sourced natural materials.
After walking the rolling grounds, which once hosted a slate quarry, the larger group split off into off-shoots and brainstormed a host of interesting ideas for projects. Those that were finally realized included the Piddle Paddle Plonk – a musical water installation made from wood, a few nuts and bolts, and a lot of human ingenuity, the Sky Bowl – a sweeping upside down tepee that facilitates communal star-gazing, made almost entirely out of local logs and sawn timber, and finally the Fungidome – an organic piece that grows out of a dead tree that was put together using traditional mortice and tenon joints.
The Skybowl consists of seven inclined poles united at a slate base, which acts as a foot rest. This is a wonderful space for socializing, playing music, and spotting the stars through the clouds (Jony Easterby captured this image when the sun finally showed its beautiful face)
Although it rained for most of the time allotted to actually building, and although the site was wet and muddy and difficult to work in, each of the projects was completed, with the exception of the more ambitious Skybowl that came pretty darn close. Here are a few of the things that struck me most about this inspiring weekend:
- Not only did every artist, architect, designer, and engineer present show incredible talent, but they also showed humility and a profound respect for the earth;
- Everything was accounted for: energy was provided using solar panel or natural gas, all of the meals served were vegetarian, we followed the rules but broke through typical barriers of what is considered proper and beautiful; people were cooperative, friendly, and took responsibility for themselves, everyone got along – with only the bare minimum of power struggles;
- We composted our organic waste, and prepared everything else for recycling;
- If we made a mess, we cleaned up after ourselves such that when the last person left, (I wasn’t there when that happened), it would have been like we hadn’t been there at all, save for the new and inspiring interventions left in our wake.
- No one showed up in fancy clothes or makeup. It was literally us and the elements;
- Many people played musical instruments, which imbued the whole weekend with an additional sense of can I say connectedness?;
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, although it was hard work, everyone had loads of fun! The exertion and challenge was not a hindrance to the experience, but rather one of the most positive elements.
The most enigmatic of the three projects, the Fungidome created life out of a dead tree in the thick of the forest. In addition to creating a wonderful nighttime retreat complete with a small fire pit, it’s not a bad drum either!
Jenny, the organizer whose mother warned her about journalists, has a strong but fair personality and ran an organized, flexible ship. She was surprised that I had picked up on the project’s sustainability, because she said that this building or design process comes naturally to her and her group of friends. Tabitha – also incredibly organized and easy-going – is her long time project partner. She woke us up each morning by playing a few notes on the violin – quite possibly the best alarm clock I’ve ever had.
I’ll be returning to the Middle East and North Africa soon. When I do, the inspiration derived from this wholesome experience will travel with me. And when my spirits run low again, I know that a similar experience in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, or the United Arab Emirates that will lift them back up again.
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