Solaesthetic Ethos

Grounding Ideas

Solaesthetic researches and designs, invents, fabricates and installs beautiful renewable energy systems that are designed in accordance with an ecologically informed ethos – The Solaesthetic Ethos.

Human behaviour determines sustainability and people will sustain what they love. So, we seek to make things that will provoke the desire to maintain and sustain them in the long term by being beautiful, meaningful and inspiring.

The Solaesthetic Ethos

To make the world a better place through the things that we create…

Solaesthetic’s main purpose is to invent and make beautiful devices and systems that generate renewable energy. Motivated by ecological need and following design methodologies that are enabled by recent developments in digital design and manufacturing technologies.

Our approach fuses high level design and craft expertise with digital tools in a true fusion of traditional practical skill and cutting edge technological mastery.

Solaesthetic’s outputs constitute a ‘best effort’ contribution to long-term sustainable human culture, with particular attention to providing aesthetically viable alternatives for localised energy production. We will achieve this by following design principles that have been developed from the paradigms and metaphors provided by ecological science.

We seek to extend the use of renewable energy by creating diverse alternatives and highly attractive examples of energy generating technology.

We premise that Architectural and sculptural interventions will be sustained only if people have the will to maintain them and keep them intact. People and communities will tend invest in, maintain and protect things that are beautiful – that they have an emotional identification with. With this in mind we seek to make things that people can love. Hence, the beauty of a thing is integral to its sustainable utility.

Our Principles

Solaesthetic’s principles:

  • Be observant – Be cognisant of our products functioning within ecosystems and to evaluate them at multiple scales of reference within the ecosphere.  A products effects and inter-relationships should be considered at personal, domestic, local, regional, national, and global scales
  • Take a holistic approach – Apply equal weight to the material, social, and aesthetic frames of reference in the design process
  • To make the most positive aesthetic contribution that we can to the environme nt into which our products and systems are introduced
  • Treat all material as precious – Pursue and promote efficient and responsible use of the planet’s finite resources by minimising or eliminating environmental harm, in terms of aesthetic impact, material and energy use – both within the products life and the subsequent reintegration into other world systems
  • Be socially responsibile – Consider the social and ethical consequences of a design’s resource contributions and demands

These principles should be asserted within Solaesthetic Research and Design’s activities and in our interactions with suppliers.

We intend to fulfil these principles by doing at least the following:

  • Invent, design, make iconic objects, systems, machines and installations that produce energy from renewable sources
  • Create products, processes, systems, services, and procedures designed to satisfy human needs and provide a better quality of life.
  • Consider the whole life-cycle view on the use of materials, labour, and energy
  • Minimise or eliminate the release of pollutants in all areas of the design process and our products integration into the ecosphere
  • Invent products, processes and services that decrease environmental damage
  • Provide products and services that allow greater versatility to others in their efforts in solving similar problems
  • Create and build our devices and systems with the durable potential to last for generations
  • Provide a model of practice for others to emulate

Elements of our practice that will help to fulfil these principles are:

  • Select materials and design components whose properties are amenable to becoming part of another product/or system after it’s useful life is spent within our products, with an emphasis on durability.
  • Evaluate the provenance of goods and services used, in terms of ecological impact
  • Use methods that minimise or eliminate ongoing material and energy overheads
  • Effectively quantify the environmental, social and aesthetic benefits of our products
  • Continuously research properties of the materials and methods we specify for our products in the light of our ethical priorities
  • Seek design solutions from the properties of materials and natural processes before seeking a technological solution
  • Research the manufacturing processes and energetic consequences of products used before specifying
  • Embed the know-how of how to maintain the device/system into each design
  • Ensure that the sites of production are as close to the sites of function as possible
  • Research the extent and availability of skills in the areas we are working in and inform our designs with these factors
  • Proactively identify social benefits, avoid causing social harm, and seek to cause improvements in conditions for people involved in the supply chain

Ecological Design Elements

Solaesthetic approaches design and development in ways that address ecological imperatives. Here are seven key elements of our design thinking. Taken all together, they cross fertilise and provide a powerful framework for ecologically informed design.

People are the real power in the world. It is people who will invest in, and nurture what they love. People invest more into beautiful things and are more inclined to feel continuing ownership of them. So making our devices loveable is a functional necessity for making architectural interventions that will last for generat ions.

The things we value most will to survive inter-generationally. Things that are beautiful and that are very made well, gather the emotional investment needed to maintain them through and beyond individual lifetimes. The negative environmental impact of  originating an object, installation or machine can be dispersed over very long periods of time. The added energy impact of creating to high specification with very durable materials, is divided over each year it remains useful. If designed with consideration for it’s ecosystem, a permanent installation becomes an environmental object in its own right and should be thought of as habitat.

Maintainability should be reflected in the choice of materials, processes and standards. Minimise waste and increase usefulness by designing for indefinite servicability (like they used to). Eliminate disposable, toxic and biohazardous components. Avoid specialised procedures. Use recyclable materials. Call upon skill-sets that will be available in the long term.

The use of generic standards and sizes helps defend against obsolescence by ensuring supplies of non proprietary components. Avoiding the use of special proprietary components, except where strictly necessary, can also ease the progress of licensing products to manufacturers.

Mutability alludes to the practice of designing components for versatility and not precluding subsequent improvement or even repurposing of the device or installation at a later date.

The design process should mimic life in producing more than it needs. Evolution promotes conspicuous displays of surplus in many practical and aesthetic ways

Creating for Longevity means keeping long term effects of physical processes in mind. Reduce stress, strain and criticality, by specifying and setting tolerances for physical and energetic redundancy.


Rationale and Design Philosophy

End of the Machine Age

Designing machines to operate within the context of the ecosphere requires an intellectual shift away from the traditional simplicities (and absurdities) of Modernist design ideas, which evolved to service mass industrial manufacturing. We need to deconstruct the traditional values and analyse the problems they produce. Then we can look for different more appropriate values and principles so we can invent a coherent sustainable research design and development process.

Within the framework of mass industry, a designer’s role in is dislocated from the actual processes of making things. In many ways this apes a managerialist stance towards what, and how things are made. Modernist design aesthetics tend to have extremely rarified notions of function that valiantly attempt to isolate the creative process from the deadening effects of commercial imperatives. These aesthetics also raise the position of the individual designer, to that of being a privileged author of things. Quite a heroic position!

Another way of looking at this is that it is a defensive response amongst creative designers to the alienating limitations of the mass manufacturing complex. Design principles like ‘Form Follows Function’ that emanate out of modernist aesthetics can be seen as an attempt to make a virtue out of the denial of a craftsmanlike engagement with making things, that factory processes cause.

Monetarism is a naturalised paradigm within the organisation and managerial culture of the mass manufacturing complex. The values that this worldview promotes, produce perverse necessities in the design process. A prime example of this is the logic of built-in obsolescence, whose sole purpose is to guarantee a continuous outlet for factory processes – in turn,  the purpose of this is to satisfy the needs of large capital investors to make a return on their investment. Built in obsolescence goes hand in hand with monopolistic and monocultural corporate behaviour. Companies engage in market manipulation that seeks to achieve ubiquity of a single product or brand at the expense of any others. In turn these practices create tremendous waste, as perfectly good devices are forcibly made obsolete and non-functional on the basis of decisions made to satisfy financial necessities. These approaches evolved historically in response to capital intensive machine factories. Design priorities are skewed by financial imperatives that are driven by the drive for a return on investment in expensive tooling and plant equipment. It has been very succesful and is very powerful, to the extent that whole markets have been distorted and consumers have been trained over generations to fulfil this logic.

However, these ideas born from the metaphors of mechanisms, are wholly inadequate in the face of the complexity of meaning and relationships that exist in ecological contexts, which is why the old ways of doing design business will never be able to produce context sensitive, ecologically aware solutions to our environmental problems. Mass production practices are fundamentally and inherently destructive towards communities and the environment, they are not viable in terms of long-term sustainable human culture. They need to be replaced with something that has the capacity to deal with the scale and complexity of the problems.

New Rules
Fortunately, a new approach to design and production is becoming available to us. Digitally enabled design and manufacturing methods like 3D modelling, simulation and 3D printing and ubiquitous CNC are undermining the economic factors that gave concentrated mass production it’s vast competitive advantage over small scale localised producers. These technological advances will liberate us to design in different ways, while collapsing the disciplinary boundaries that grew up between design and production in the last couple of centuries.

Until recently the development of computer based design and modelling tools has been bound to the formal assumptions imposed by traditional machine shop techniques based on rotary, cutting, or folding processes. These factors placed severe limitations on creative engagement with CAD tools and restricted the technical imagination of designers. However, developments in software design and rapid manufacturing tools mean that these strictures are no longer valid and completely new types of form and structure can be made with an increasing variety of materials. Some of these forms are only attainable with digital processes. Networked tools also enable whole new design and research methodologies. They even offer new kinds of thought process.

Digital design tools and 3D printing technology substantially de-capitalises the design and prototype development process. The technology also has a de-specialising influence. On one hand people with non engineering skill-sets can engage directly with design and manufacture. On the other hand, those already in design/manufacture can greatly accelerate their design cycles and bring to bears more artistic skills in the process. The networked nature of digital tools also offers the potential for radical decentralisation of design development and production with remote collaborative ways of working becoming a realistic proposition.

These tools are creating the conditions for a post-industrial manufacturing revolution. Better CAD tools and cheap robotics and 3D printing are creating a growth in affordable on-demand fabrication techniques. The new reality erodes traditional exclusive professional structures and revives economic behaviours that we would associate with workshop based craft traditions or bespoke commission-based practices.

The simulative nature of 3D digital tools means that collaboratons between practitioners are facilitated and enhanced by the ability to see and interact with the 3D simulation. The same technology alters the relationships between designers and clients, by facilitating direct collaborative engagement between the maker/designer and client in the design process.

Traditional barriers to accessing the means of production are dissolving under the influence of these technologies. Factory sites, large capital equipment, and specialist knowledge are no longer necessary in order to make, even very complex things. Many manufacturing processes and knowledges are proceduralised and inscribed within software and this also brings a closer integration of design and production processes, at the same time as opening the means of design and production to practitioners from diverse fields.

The practical boundaries between drawing, sculpting, modelling, testing and manufacture are made permeable, and this creates the conditions for Solaesthetic to develop a ‘design and make’ practice that fuses methods from fine art, crafts, engineering and architecture. It brings to mind the pre-disciplined conditions of creative production in the Renaissance.

The task for Solaesthetic is to find ways of managing these new kinds of collaborative working processes.

Intellectual Capital and Assets
Digital design processes produce digital assets. And this present new opportunities and problems in terms of Intellectual Property. What is the value and relevance of patents, Design Rights and Copyright in the case of digital models, which are infinitely editable, whose forms can be casually adjusted and changed?  For Solaesthetic Research and Design’s purposes, defining IP needs to be appropriate to our practices, where both artistic and engineering methods and outputs are hybridised. In Artistic disciplines, the copyright paradigm holds sway, whereas in engineering, Patents have prime value.

For a small company, Patents can produce more risk than protection. The patent system was designed long before the internet, which now means that gaining a patent involves publishing the description of your product onto a publicly searchable world wide database. So, unless a company has the legal resources and international reach to enforce patents they offer no protection at all. This begs the question, what is a good way to protect the value of our work so that we can profit enough form it to pay ourselves and reinvest in the business. Without always resorting to seeking monopolies?

For the purposes of Solaesthetic Research and Design, the most useful approach to IP is to use a mixture of Copyright, Design Right and, where strictly necessary, Patents – whilst recognising the limitations to the protections they provides in the real world. We also need to keep in mind the ecologically driven ethical objectives of the company.

The most valuable protection of our place in the market, for a business of this type and scale, is to establish the reputation of being best and first to market. To be several steps ahead by continuously producing new ideas and improving our inventions.

This should be done within an overarching strategy that also fulfils our prothletising mission, by creating easy routes to production and assisting anyone interested in making our designs and inventions. We should aim to make it easier to approach us legitimately, than risking legal conflict by ‘pirating’. We can offer our specialist capacity to 3rd party manufacturers. They should be able to call on us to assistthem  in their setting up production and QA.

Eco-Digital Aesthetics
The specific combination of ecological awareness, digital design and computer controled manufacturing methods brings certain ways of working and new aesthetic considerations to the fore.

The process of coming to understand things and their purpose is the primary task of a designer. When dealing with ecology, which consists of complex adaptive systems that operate at many scales from microscopic all the up to the solar system, there is no quick and easy set of analytical tools that will give a rich and deep understanding of such complexity. Ecological science uses observant practices to slowly build a world-model over time.

Ecology has a number of concepts that help to understand the interrelated processes within ecosystems. As well as providing intellectual gestalts with which to think about such complexity, they offer aesthetic references that can inform our attribution of beauty. Solaesthetic can use conceptual references and metaphors like these in our approach to defining, selecting, and then solving design problems.

  • Ecotype
  • Ecotone
  • Renewal
  • Diversity
  • Abundance and Redundancy
  • Adaptivity
  • Evolution
  • Cycling
  • Intertrophic Nesting
  • Intertrophic transfer
  • Homeostasis
  • Emergence
  • Interdependency
  • Feedback Systems
  • Holism

There are many more ideas like this but this is not the place to discuss them all. It is incumbent upon Solaesthetic designers to engage with these ideas and integrate them into a design philosophy that is coherent with ecological systems thinking.

3D printing, builds up forms incrementally, mimicking living growth processes and hence it allows structures to be made that are similar to living organisms. e.g. Very complex, or convoluted geometries and topologies. Highly efficient structures, the inclusion of voids. using form for multiple purposes, etc. In combination with digital modelling tools, it really is a case of if you can think a form, then it can be made.

Biomimetic approaches to design are as old as human creativity itself, but now we have technology available to achieve the types of form that organisms actually produce. It seems an obvious route to pursue from a design perspective. Throughout their evolution, living organisms have tried endless permutations of functional forms and will continue to do so. Looking at forms that organisms have arrived at to solve problems. is a good starting point to understand how forms can be arrived at from genetical rules. Observing life also informs the mind with models of complex interrelatedness between forms and systems.

Computers are inherently good at iterative processes. This quality when combined with 3D CAD tools offers a type of modelling that uses iterative form building in order to create superstructures. It is called Generative modelling and in practice it allows a designer to make alterations to mathematical genetic rules that govern the automatic generation of geometric components and their assembly. Subtle changes to initial parameters can produce large difference to the forms that emerge. Designers can work at the level of genetic rules, in a way that is not always fully predictable, but nevertheless produces coherent structures. This way of working enables and even promotes the idea of abundant variety in produceable forms. Taking the metaphor of an organism, a product’s species-like generative rules can be regenerated uniquely for each new purpose, creating something new for each instance while keeping the essential functional qualities intact.

Complex 3D modelling and simulation offers a vastly increased capacity for envisioning how a design with work in its intended context and this in turn allows us to bring to bear ecosystemic ideas and issues within the design process.

Natural Conclusion
So what do all these factors mean to the actual practice of researching, designing and making for Solaesthetic?

These new technological conditions have created an opportunity to develop a new form of practice. We can operate with an inclusive and complex idea of functionality, whose logic is capable of reflecting the complexity of an ecological world model. When all the technological, economic and aesthetic factors are all taken together, they offer a way of working that is creatively, technically and economically liberating.

The power and versatility of the tools at our disposal enable us to give extra attention to ethical, aesthetical and conceptual matters in the design cycle, all the while, facilitating ‘model-based experimentalism’ that will ground our practice to what can be made in the real world.

Solaesthetic will provide an organisational structure whose purpose is to promote, contain and nurture this approach and facilitate the creative collaborations between practitioners from differing background and specialisms. An intellectual ecosystem.