the upcycling cycle

I love social media, to be specific Facebook.  I quite like twitter and Whatsapp is great for group conversations but if I want to waste an hour without noticing then Facebook is the place for me.  I follow news outlets, political parties, craft groups and an upcycling group.

Upcycling- the new shopping.  Don’t buy something new, don’t throw away something old, upcycle it into something totally different.  It  ticks all the boxes for the eco-friendly.  You can create new, useful and beautiful objects from stuff that would otherwise go in o landfill, and at the same time you are not buying new and unnecessary stuff that will probably end up in landfill in a few years time anyway.  Perfect.

Or is it?  There are two types of upcycling projects.  The one where you find something lurking around the house and instead of chucking it out a light bulb goes off in your head and you say “wow this cracked decanter that hasn’t seen a bottle of wine in decades would make a perfect lampstand”.  Using my highly accurate survey methods (i.e. asking around, looking on social media and following a huge range of upcycling blogs etc) about 80% of potential crystal lampshades will remain as cracked decanters; 10% will get part way there and will metamorphose into decanterlamps that are missing vital parts and will never make the full transformation; 5% will be transformed but never switched on and will remain in the workroom/shed and a lucky 5% will shine bright on the table shaming every failed upcycler who comes into the room.

The second type of project is that created by the pro-active seeker upcycler.  This character scours markets, auction houses, freegle, swap and sale groups and second-hand  and charity shops actively looking for potential projects.  No three-legged chair is without potential and nirvana is a pile of pristine, unwanted pallets.  It is also not unheard of to purchase new (“what?!”) items purely in order to turn them into something else.  I will confess to  having fallen into that category.  Why buy something already made, when I can buy the constituent parts and make it myself.  We are not talking saving hundreds or even tens of pounds.  I suspect my rather lovely cake tin stand would have cost as much to purchase ready made as it did for me to make it (but it wouldn’t have wobbled quite as nicely as mine does).

tin-tidy

Returning to my highly tuned research methods I had assumed that these projects would have a higher success rate.  The people who take the the time to seek out the unpolished gem and part with hard earned cash for it are surely not going to let it languish unloved in a shed?  These are people who frequently sell their completed upcycles.  They have a vested financial interest in getting the job done.

Ladies and gentleman, we are all the same.  Whilst there are of course exceptions to every rule (and the standard deviation for my statistics here is probably in the region of +/- 2,500 or thereabouts!) the proactively sought and paid for projects stand just as much chance of making it to that final 5% as granny’s whisky decanter did.

As the build on the Barn and Gin Gan comes nearer to completion we have to move even more stuff out and rehouse it in our now smaller home.   The picture frame that I was going to turn into a gilt mirror, the china kept for mosaic work.  How long have I had them?  Have they magically transformed themselves in my absence?  Reader, they have gone.  Perhaps somebody else would like to house them in the vain hope that they might one day make a mosaic effect mirror?

messy and the magic of building 20

According to a study by the University of Minnesota messy people are more creative and more intelligent and more creative than tidy ones.  As I like to think of myself as reasonably intelligent and quite creative I was slightly put out as I cannot bear an untidy desk or an untidy kitchen or studio.  Where I work (and even where I sleep) I need order.  I have watched my husband put a chopping board on top of the Sunday papers and start preparing dinner.  Now whilst I am delighted that he helps I want to scream at the disorder.  Instead I remove the newspapers whilst his back is turned.

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How I like to work

I can understand the theory behind messy spaces and creativity.  I just can’t put it into practice, it pains me too much.  So it was with some trepidation and some excitement that I started to read Tim Harford’s book “Messy”. Subtitled “How to be creative and resilient in a tidy minded world”, I wondered what I could learn about how to bring messiness into my life.

Beginning with Keith Jarrett’s famous concert in Cologne which almost never happened because the piano was frankly rubbish but became an iconic and best-selling jazz album, he takes us through a wide range of stories about people, music, books and even buildings that became something amazing because in one way or another they were messy.

My favourite example was Building 20 at MIT.  Built during the Second World War as a temporary structure and only given planning permission on the grounds it was knocked down as soon as the war was over it went on to survive 55 years and became a magical incubator of ideas, research and innovation.  Why?  Because it was in theory a dreadful design.

MIT

Building 20 MIT  (copyright MIT Computer Graphics Group

Huge long corridors with more corridors coming off at right angles, the corridors were named by letter and the rooms by number, unlike most American buildings and all of the rest of the MIT buildings  where the ground floor is 1, the first floor 2 etc. building 20  began with 0 for Ground and 1 for the floor above etc.The main corridor was corridor C  and those that came off it were  A, B, D, E and F.  So a room on the first floor on corridor B could be 20B-133.  Even the permanent residents were always getting lost.

Second, it was a dumping ground for projects that had nowhere else to go.  Amar Bose was struggling to finish his dissertation and decided to buy a hi-fi.  He was appalled by the quality and noticed that he was next to the acoustics lab.  The dissertation was abandoned and he practically moved in to play in the lab.  Three years later he produced a contraption with 22 speakers inside.  Thus was the Bose Corporation born.  There was a homeless botanist who squatted where he could find space, apparently he turned down a job at the Field Museum in Chicago to remain in Building 20, MIT later tried to evict him but lost the case!  Noam Chomsky the anti-establishment linguist was next to the Reserve Officer Training Corps and the ice research lab.  Solar car researchers (who used the corridors as roads) were next to the anthropologists.  There was even a piano repair shop with the proud sign “computer free zone”.

The geography of the building and the chaotic allocation of rooms forced people who would never normally have crossed paths to become friends.  People were always getting lost and found new labs and projects.  The long corridors gave people time to talk as they looked for the room they wanted.  Ideas and  projects grew out of chance meetings and lost souls.

Finally, nobody worried about the building.  It was supposed to have lasted only a few years after all.  The infrastructure was run along exposed walls.  If you wanted a phone line, an electric socket you just hacked straight in.   If you wanted to run a wire from one room to another you didn’t have to put in a request and wait six months.  You got out your drill and made a hole.  The team building the atomic clock removed a whole floor in order to make room for it!

This is the messy I can understand.  It is why places like Hubud in Bali work so well.  I have a friend who spent 3 months building her online personal styling business there.  She speaks glowingly of the mish-mash of people and skills in a small place which encourages and supports cross-fertilisation not possible in a trendy co-working space in Shoreditch where everyone goes home at the end of the day.

I have an idea for a small start-up.  It is nothing like anything I have ever done or even thought about before.  The idea came to me during a conversation with a dentist, and it has nothing to do with dentistry or teeth, but her need lit up a little bulb in  my head.  She has no idea of the seed she planted.

Messy is not, for me at least, being untidy it is about getting out of boxes, it is about building your own Building 20.

Love Gillie x